This year, no-one can escape the fact that Black History Month is coloured by the revelation of the Windrush scandal; the re-writing of Britain’s history to exclude from it the role of the ‘Windrush generation’ of migrants from the Caribbean – a slap in the face to long-settled communities in the UK.
Yet, the uptick of all this is that it has inspired has been a conscious effort to recover the histories of resistance of Black people in Britain – to reconnect with a Black history from below. Sidestepping cliched references to the US Civil Rights Movement, communities have strived to piece together the specific history of antiracist resistance in Britain, and the role of Black communities in energising these movements – from combatting police violence, to establishing organisations to support Black communities.
It was also a history inextricably bound up with the fate of others fighting racist oppression at the hands of the British state, each struggle interconnected like pieces of a puzzle – it’s for this reason that the Windrush scandal and the ‘War on Terror’ are more closely linked than we think.
How the Anti-Racist and Muslim struggle has many overlaps and opportunities
Since the onset of the War on Terror just after the turn of the millenium, there has been an unbroken drive, headed up by Britain and the US, to identify one external threat after another in order to to justify their foreign and domestic policies adopted in the name of “fighting terrorism”. The frontiers have creeped from Iraq and Afghanistan into South-East Asia and slowly but surely across the African continent, in what commentators have described as a new militaristic colonialism, a perpetual war and a scramble for Africa.
Simultaneously, Britain took it upon itself to bring the war home, and isolate the apparent ‘enemy’ communities within – drawing, naturally, on that long proud history of British racism.
Through the targeting of, predominantly, Muslim communities with discriminatory legislation there has been a gradual rollback of legal safeguards, paving the way for a range of civil sanctions encompassing powers to deport British citizens and deprive them of their citizenship.
Whilst the legal roots of the Windrush scandal go back decades, it is against the modern political backdrop of the ‘War on Terror’ that recent governments have felt empowered enough to attack citizenship rights in the same ways they have to the Windrush generation.
Similarly the anti-migrant ‘Hostile Environment’, of which the Windrush scandal forms a part, share features of the PREVENT counter-terrorism programme – a flagship policy of this ‘domestic war’.
They both rely on atomising society and citizens, bringing about an environment where we are forced into policing one another on behalf of the state.
PREVENT has been legally imposed on nurseries, schools, GPs and more through the 2015 Counter Terrorism and Security Act, while landlords, universities and more are being recruited in to enact Hostile Environment policies.
Both rely on the perpetuation of a permanent state of suspicion, be they of alleged “terrorists” in the midst of society, or ‘illegal’ immigrants. Regardless of the target, their effect is to amplify racial and religious prejudice.
Living as second class citizens
One of the issues raised in the early days of the War on Terror was the question of citizenship and belonging.
Through exceptionalising ‘terrorism’ as a crime apparently beyond precedent, the government began to strip its’ British born and bred young men of their British citizenship. At times this citizenship stripping was suspiciously timed with either the kidnapping or extrajudicial killing of these men. So long as these men were eligible for other citizenships, through ancestry, the state viewed them as second class citizens. It seems that this citizenship stripping was an opportunity for the government to wash its hands of the problem – echoing their treatment of the Windrush generation this year.
This policy, refined through the War on Terror, has now extended, predictably, to other aspects of law – as symbolised by Sajid Javid’s latest announcement to extend the state’s citizenship stripping powers to other crimes. These decisions, alarmingly, would not require prior approval from a judge or parliament.
Drawing strength from our mutual struggles
31 years ago Black History Month was started in Britain to build a sense of heritage and pride in Black schoolchildren, and bring to light a history that had been erased.
Today, Black communities are struggling against erasure in an even more literal sense.
The interconnections between Windrush, the Hostile Environment and the War on Terror illuminate the fragmented nature of state racism and oppression in Britain; how policies practised on one community always reverberate to impact another.
These developments cut to the heart of notions of ‘belonging’ and ‘identity’ of communities in Britain, and highlight the never-ending tightrope of their ‘inclusion’ in British society.
They have, and will continue to, provoke soul searching over the precariousness of citizenship rights, the nature of ‘Britishness’ – and the question of who the government is really speaking of when they reaffirm so-called ‘British values’.
The reality that Black people, Muslims as well as peoples confronting racism on the whole, have always drawn strength from our mutual struggles, and in building ‘community’ from below. There’s no better time than this Black History Month to strive to recapture that essence of struggle.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)