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Britain 's Forgotten Citizens | History today


Ben Jones

The debates surrounding the 2018 windrush scandal, in which people were wrongly deported by the UK Home Office, have revived discussions about Britishness, race and ethnicity. They also triggered clues to history, from the traffic of enslaved Africans to Caribbean plantations, and confirmed Michel-Rolph Trouillot's claim that "the past is only over because there is a present." Despite all this, the historical retrospective dates back to Empire WindrushLanding in 1948, but then made a chronological leap into the days of enslavement. 110 years of British colonial history from 1838 to 1948 were virtually silenced as "loyalty to the king and empire" and "fame, protection and civilization that bestowed the British Empire" were the focus of the colonial project. During this time, too, around a third million British became part of an inner Caribbean diaspora in America, including Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. There they worked in (mostly) US infrastructure projects and agro-industrial export companies. Herein lies the immediate prehistory of the windrush generation in experiences that illustrate an older, controversial story between blacks and Britons outside the imperial realm.

British in the Caribbean

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, black British Caribbean migrants in Hispanic areas made strong demands for British support and asked for help from the Federal Foreign Office. But historian Glenn Chambers concludes: "Despite the West Indians' propensity to claim British citizenship in Honduras, the British Empire has not taken the needs of its black citizenship abroad seriously." The United Fruit Company's banana workers strike across Costa Rica and Panama shows that "racist attitudes of consular officials have had an impact on the assessment of the strike," even though these officials have met their obligations to the British.

The criticism by the Foreign Office staff that the claims of Caribbean-British subjects were not fully taken into account also applied to the Dominican Republic. In 1930, the vice consul in the northern coastal town of Puerto Plata was accused by migrant workers of not protecting them from "inhumane treatment of British subjects" that was "degraded to our nationality". A letter to the British Consul in the capital, co-signed by 93 members of the British Defense Society, argued that the Vice Consul's "disinterested attitude" was due to the fact that he was not born and raised as a Brit – and hence his vague opinion on the principles of equality and mutual respect on which the great British Empire rests. As persons of "British descent and ideals", they therefore called for the appointment of a new vice consul.

British consuls were also criticized in Cuba, where more than 140,000 British Antilleans were immigrants between 1898 and 1948. Consuls were part of diplomatic clashes with the Cuban government over abuses against British subjects in Cuba, as evidenced by the aftermath of the 1917 massacre, Jobabo, and the 1924 white paper on ill-treatment on the island. However, this diplomatic mission was characterized by race differences within the British Empire, similar to those that emerged later in Britain after 1948 (and certainly in 2018). In a statement, for example, showing the treatment of British subjects on the basis of race, Barbadier wrote Joseph Hall out of prison and claimed to the British authorities that no representative came to see whether I was white or black. However, the allegation was considered "inaccurate" by the consuls and no further explanation was given. The racial differences in relation to the British subject became clear in a report by Inspector TD Dunlop about the Vice Consulate of Cienfuegos in the 1920s. & # 39;

In Central America, a report by the British legation in Guatemala found that some of the migrants are "inherently bad characters" who arrive with an exaggerated sense of their importance as British subjects. She recognized her "legal rights" as a result of the happier conditions of British rule and called her "Negroes". The Vice Consul Archibald Beer in the Dominican Republic used the same race name when he reported on "various deputations of Negroes" that he received in the 1930s from the immigration tax levied on them. He described them as "British subjects" (allegedly) and expressed doubts about their statements. For example, Neil Hone, who considered himself one of the "few British" in northeastern Cuba in Cuba in the 1930s, wrote to the colonial office about "poor men who claimed to be British subjects". It is clear that (white) racial understanding of British was rehearsed in an encounter between the British office and black British subjects outside the Reich area and before 1948. Migrants faced double discrimination in Hispanic host societies and the denial of the British by officials.

disposable workers

When economic depression and domestic politics came together in the Hispanic Caribbean in the 1930s, thousands of migrant workers from the British Caribbean became available. They encountered increasing hostility in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, where measures such as concerted mass deportations, special taxes and compulsory ID cards were implemented. But the British Caribbean colonies had their own problems in the late 1930s. As a result, the colonial administrators looked for ways to prevent migrants from returning to their home islands and acted as labor administrators trying to get them to where they would not disturb the already fragile social conditions in suffering colonies.

The condition of British subjects in foreign areas was examined by Frank Stockdale in 1943. British migrants from the Caribbean met in Cuba and in the same year they founded associations that indicated their British affiliation, including branches of the British West Indian Progressive Association. In Chaparra, northeastern Cuba, the majority of Stockdale respondents wanted to "return to their island homes," but were open to "traveling to other parts of the British Empire." The British Antillians also experienced "despair and abandonment" in the Dominican Republic. A report to the Federal Foreign Office said many wanted to "leave the Republic under the British flag or return to their own island".

In negotiations with the Cuban and Dominican governments, the British used their position as consumers of Caribbean sugar as a lever in their negotiations on colonial work: it was clear that the fate of the Caribbean workers was linked to British economic interests and not to their desires and interests welfare. Indeed, a report by the Federal Foreign Office by M. E. Vibert in 1948 dealt with the aid measures recommended by Stockdale for destitute migrants in the Hispanic Caribbean. It reaffirmed the official disregard for the British Antillians, some of whom had served or worked in the British Army during the World Wars to produce the sugar Britain needed during these conflicts. Vibert argued that it was "almost impossible to get colored people to do something to help each other". In addition, he wrote that there should be no concern about "losing these people as British subjects" because "their loyalty to us is mostly sentimental" and "offensive to the people of the country they despise". In the end, the loyalty of Caribbean-British subjects was downplayed and the position of political power was withheld.

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It is ironic that Vibert's verdict was made the year hundreds of Jamaicans were on the Empire Windrush, To use the rhetoric of 2018, the denied British Antillians fought "for British identity" and became "citizens of nowhere".

Black British subjects who fought for a living in the aftermath of emancipation had left the colonies in search of opportunities. They faced extreme working conditions in the construction of the Panama Canal for the French and the United States, encountered the deaths of Latin American soldiers in the Masica incident in Honduras and the Jobabo massacre in Cuba, and were racially harassed by U.S. Marines in the Dominican Republic , Hostility also came from British officials who repeatedly disregarded their complaints, particularly according to Stockdale's report, when the official UK strategy was to keep migrants away from their islands of origin while promoting assimilation in the countries to which they had migrated.

This story is part of the remarkable journey of generations of people from the African diaspora who were determined to succeed and thrive despite the challenges of living under British colonialism, fleeing to foreign countries with different languages ​​and part of to become the black British post-war diaspora in Britain. Traces of this can be found in literary works by George Lamming In the lock of my skin (1953) to Caryl Phillips The last passage (1985) and Andrea Levys Lemon fruit (1999). As can be seen from these works, this story is not hidden and the Windrush documents were not "secret" for a long time. Because of what Trouillot called the "moment of review", the historical silence was broken.

A participant in a 2018 Channel Four News discussion hit the nail on the head when she replied to Home Secretary journalist David Goodhart's claim that there was no historical memory. She explained that such an idea was "in itself a choice". "We choose not to educate the masses," she said, "about the historical links between us and the Commonwealth," which "will increase ignorance of why we are in this place." It was reported that the Home Office review of the windrush scandal would emphasize the need for education "on British history, including the colonial past". That is another choice and indeed a challenge.

Jorge L. Giovannetti-Torres is the author of British Black Migrants to Cuba: Race, Work and Empire in the Caribbean in the 20th Century, 1898-1948 (Cambridge, 2018).

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