Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

A lesson learned?

August 24, 2009 · 3 Comments

Following another group’s visit to the Docklands, I had the advantage of advice. Based on their stories of their experiences, I knew to pay close attention to the part of the museum that focused on London’s role in the history of slave trade. The advice proved true as that was possibly the most interesting parts of the museum. Interesting only begins to describe the section, however. Nothing could have prepared me for the emotions the exhibit hit on. Opening with a list of numbers of people that were traded as commodities, the exhibit never ceased to be emotionally gripping as it portrayed the cruelty that came out of such trade. The photographs, video clips, personal accounts- everything on display made the reality of this blemish on all our histories keenly felt. The exhibit ended, for me at least, with a feeling of hope. Hope that we have learned that people are to be treated as just that- people. Hope that such mistakes will never be repeated.

Empire Windrush

Empire Windrush

Just a floor below this part of the exhibit, this hope was shaken quite a bit. Mixed in with videos of pretend interviews with the leaders of the dock strikes and boxes of exotic spices to smell, a small posting stands unassuming amongst the rest of the other relatively unimportant/of moderate importance posts. This posting mentions Windrush. As I have just visited Brixton, I knew the name to be an important one. Windrush had been a ship used just after World War II to bring Caribbean migrants over to England (advertised as “the home land” or “the Mother Country”) for the purpose of those migrants to work on the docks. To the world, this transportation of immigrants was advertised as a ‘multiculturalization’ (my word, but I think it works here) of England.

Arrivals off the Windrush

Arrivals off the Windrush

Let me start of by saying that yes, I recognize that this is in no way slavery. These immigrants were asked to come to London through job postings, they made the decision to come over, and were offered jobs, houses, and lives of their own once they arrived. But I cannot shake the feeling that there are striking parallels (or at least common threads) between these two acts. Firstly, referring to England as the Mother Country only harkens back to their days of imperialism. It would be difficult to convince me otherwise. Secondly, asking those from a country that has at any time been a colony to come to your country for the sole purpose of providing cheap labor and enticing them to come with the promise of cheap transportation seems to me like asking them to come and assume the role of someone just one step over what a slave might have been. Then to claim that this is the beginning of a multicultural society is an act that just seems ludicrous to me. Yes, these immigrants settled in community of Brixton which does bring diversity to London but to claim that this was the intent of the invitation to come to the country seems (again, this is a personal feelings) less than honorable. So while Windrush Square is in the process of being built as a community center in Brixton, I wonder if the community should feel such a strong connection to the name. Maybe using the word “should” is a bit vague. But I wonder why the name is used. Is it really honoring the community or placing a reminder of one’s place in society? Maybe I’m reading too much into things. But I’m not convinced that that’s the case. I would argue that if Brixton wanted a community center, it could be named the Brixton Community Center and no one would demand that the name have any more historical value. Again, maybe I’m wrong. I guess the hope is that I am.

Categories: Audrey · Museums
Tagged: , ,

3 responses so far ↓

  •   russella // Aug 24th 2009 at 13:01

    The posting was so unassuming, I missed it completely; keen observation. The contrast was quite startling, but it is easier to say ‘oh look how horrible things were’ rather than ‘oh look how horrible things still are.’ Possibly too far of a stretch, but while reading your description of the British/Carribean relationship, I couldn’t help but think of the now American/Mexican relationship.

  •   roseam // Aug 24th 2009 at 13:26

    I hadn’t read your post before writing mine, but they’re strangely similar!

  •   russella // Aug 25th 2009 at 12:19

    great minds think alike it seems.

You must log in to post a comment.