The Legacy of the Windrush Generation and what it means for us today

As the UK commemorates Windrush Day on June 22, 2024, we take time to reflect on the historical significance of the HMT Empire Windrush‘s arrival in 1948 and the enduring legacy of the Caribbean migrants who helped rebuild post-war Britain.

Amid the celebrations, we also confront the persistent challenges faced by the Windrush Generation, their descendants and communities, highlighting the ongoing struggle for equality and justice many still face today.

Windrush Day, celebrated annually on June 22nd, marks a pivotal moment in British history and serves as a profound reminder of the contributions made by Caribbean people in the UK.

This day, first held in 2017, commemorates the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks in Essex, carrying over a thousand passengers from islands including Trinidad, St Lucia, Grenada and Barbados.

Read English Heritage history and see incredible photographs here.

These individuals, invited to help rebuild infrastructure and services, played a crucial role in shaping society as we know it, particularly in sectors like the NHS and Transport for London.

As we observe Windrush Day in 2024, we can truly understand the significant impact they have had on the cultural, social, and economic fabric of the UK.

A Call to Action

But the importance of Windrush Day extends beyond historical recognition. It is also a day to acknowledge the ongoing struggles and achievements of people of colour as a whole.

Despite their invaluable contributions, the Windrush Generation and their descendants have and continue to face numerous challenges, including systemic racism and social inequalities. This day serves as a call to action, urging us to address the disparities that still exist and to foster a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

Persistent Inequalities

The 2021 census shows that people of colour make up 18% of the population of England and Wales, an increase from 14% in 2011. While this indicates increased representation and diversity, significant inequalities persist across society and in our organisations.

These can result in poorer life outcomes and quality of life, including maternity rates, infant mortality rates and other health inequalities.

Cross-section of data looking at life for people of colour in England & Wales:

  • According to NHS statistics from 2021–2022, ‘black or black British’ people are four times more likely than people from ‘any white background’ to be detained under the Mental Health Act (MHA), and over eleven times more likely to be given a Community Treatment Order (CTO)
  • Students of colour are more likely to be expelled. Mixed white and black Caribbean pupils had the highest suspension rates in special schools, with 2,077 suspensions for every 10,000 pupils
  • There is a 10% awarding gap, and students of colour are more likely to drop out and are four times more likely to experience bullying
  • Black employees hold just 1.5% of top management roles in the UK private sector, a figure that has increased by only 0.1 percentage points since 2014.
  • Two in five ‘BME’ workers experience racism at work
  • Black and brown workers often face being overlooked for promotions and Continuous Professional Development (CPD), as well as experiencing microaggressions and racism, which can detrimentally affect mental health and wellbeing

The Reality of Hate Crimes

The highest number of hate crimes reported in England and Wales 2022-23were race-based, with 101,906 incidents. This equates to 77,000+ more based on racial discrimination than any other category.

To provide perspective other categories in 2023 included:

–              sexual orientation hate crimes (24,102)

–              religious hate crimes (9,387)

–              disability hate crimes (13,777)

–              transgender hate crimes (4,732)

Racism in the Workplace

While in society we can see the significant problems we have in trying to tackle discrimination, what we do when it is ‘up close and personal’ can be just as hard to navigate.

Great strides are being made in the workplace, for example, but racism remains a very real problem.

As an employee, this is an area where you as an individual may have a role to play. It takes all of us to create safer and more inclusive environments where racism cannot exist.

And, in fact, by collectively committing to anti-racist practices, organisations can build a reputation as inclusive employers, making them more attractive to a broader pool of candidates.

Remembering the Windrush Generation – Religion Media Centre

A study by McKinsey & Companyfound that companies with more diverse workforces are better able to attract top talent and have higher employee retention rates. This is because potential employees – and especially Gen Z – are increasingly looking for workplaces that reflect their values and where they feel they will be treated fairly and equitably.

Stronger, more cohesive teams are another benefit of an anti-racist workplace. When employees from diverse backgrounds feel included and respected, they are more likely to collaborate effectively and bring a wider range of perspectives to problem-solving and innovation.

According to a report by Deloitte, inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% in team-based assessments. By embracing anti-racism, organisations not only foster a healthier and more supportive work environment but also drive better business outcomes through enhanced teamwork and innovation.

By imagining a workplace where everybody can thrive because they are treated with equity and understanding can be made possible as long as we work together.

Impact on Mental Health

One thing we hear time and again about in the workplace is microaggressions, a form of interpersonal racism. These kinds of behaviours are by far the most common type of racism reported by employees.

However, many incidents also go unreported due to the ‘he-said-she-said’ nature of the interaction and general lack of evidence.

There are common problems with this around hierarchy-related issues and fear or reprisal or being called out as overly sensitive. However, it cannot be said frequently enough that racism is a major stressor and prolonged stress can be detrimental to both physical and mental health.

Microaggressions can erode psychological health over time. Here is one of the videos we use in our training to help us understand what a microaggression can sound like and highlight the eroding impact.

Watch a video on microaggressions

Ways to Combat Racism in the Workplace

Most people want a fair and equal society, one where racism and other oppressive systems do not exist.

However, it is important to acknowledge that engaging in conversations about racism can trigger a range of defensive actions, feelings, and behaviours such as anger, fear, and silence.

Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, discussing racism can feel unfamiliar and stressful, leading to denial or defensiveness. Consequently, individuals of colour may find it challenging to discuss white privilege and superiority with white people. The issue, often referred to as ‘white fragility’ is that it can lead to continued avoidance of the subject.

This can have the effect of perpetuating ignorance and inequality.

Making a start or continuing on a journey you have already begun is critical – with the understanding that it has to be about taking real action to make real change. If it is performative it will not work.

What we can do as individuals is:

  • refer to the MHFA guide on supporting black colleagues
  • learn how to create and hold safe spaces
  • make room for the conversation
  • explore the issue by using available tools in libraries, online and in your organisation
  • ask us for EDP’s resource document full of videos, articles, films, books and brilliant podcasts

Honouring Windrush

Dealing with racial – and indeed any form of discrimination is about first engaging with the issue and learning about it with an open mind.

As we contemplate the lives and legacy of the people of the Windrush Generation, it can be a helpful time to reflect on where you are as a person and where your organisation is as a whole.

After all, humans are made up of 99.9% of the same DNA – each of us with many similar and different features. Let’s hope we can all work to appreciate and celebrate these differences in each other as we are and build a better future.

By striving for this goal we can truly honour those who crossed the Atlantic to disembark from HMT Empire Windrush, and so many other ships, to build better futures for their own families and society as a whole.

Read more about the Windrush Generation

About Bianca Jones & EDP

“We try and make it as simple as possible”

EDP is a UK based organisation dedicated to helping organisations understand and address racism and the effect it has on mental health at work. This includes digital and classroom courses, such as Race Aware and Race Ahead, aimed at managers and senior leadership teams.

Race Ahead Foundation Course Introduction

This is the pre-learning we send to our anti-racism and allyship learners as homework for before then do our courses.

Image description: Rectangle shaped image with a purple block background title page with a ‘Race Ahead’ positioned in the middle top of the image. Text: Race Ahead Foundation Course Introduction.

Race Aware Digital Course Overview

We have created a digital version of our awareness course to anti-racism – Race Aware – here is an introductory overview of what it entails.

Image description: Rectangle shaped image with a purple/blue block background title page with a ‘Race Ahead’ positioned in the middle top of the image. Text: Race Aware Digital Course Overview.

What people say: Rio Whittaker, HR Bristol Zoo

“The most helpful part I found was the clear definitions, information about microaggressions and the video resources and activities which make you think more in-depth about your own bias and privilege. I feel more confident to challenge racist behaviours when confronted with them. Probably the best online training I’ve ever done.”