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Windrush Day: a public holiday to celebrate multicultural Britain

Britain can benefit from  celebrating the contribution of immigrants to society, says Patrick Vernon

To commemorate the success and achievements of the civil rights movement in America there was a major campaign that lasted for several years which eventually made the birthday of Dr Martin Luther King a public holiday on the third Monday in January from 1986.

This resulted from a number of Bills presented to Congress, but it was the petition of six million signatures, and the lobbying by celebrities such as Stevie Wonder, alongside the King Family and their Foundation, that made the day accepted as a public holiday and an opportunity to educate and inform future generations of Americans.

As we in the UK approach the Olympic Games in 2012, I believe that we need to have a similar public holiday to commemorate and celebrate the contributions to Britain over the last 60 years of Black, Asian and other minority communities.

It would also remind us all that Britain has been, and will always be, a nation of migration and cultural diversity and we should embrace this in a positive way.

The seeds of modern migration were sown in the former colonies of the British Empire with countries from Africa, Caribbean, Mediterranean, South East Asia, and Oceania with over 2.5 million service men and women volunteering during World War II to fight fascism.

Patrick Vernon

I suggest that we should choose the day when the Merchange Vessel Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury in 1948, 22 June, as the public holiday.

This is arguably the most powerful and iconic symbol of migration and the rise of modern day multicultural Britain to date.

The Windrush is not simply about the 492 Caribbean men and women that arrived in Britain on that ship but everyone from the Empire and the Commonwealth who were British subjects and saw Britain as their Mother Country.

It is important that this is recognised particularly because things changed with the Rivers of Blood speech made by Enoch Powell in 1968 and the 1971 Immigration and Nationality Act which defined Black and Asian people and their dependents as second class citizens.

The constant drip drip references to the failure of multiculturalism and the loss of ‘Britishness’ as an inclusive concept creates much uncertainty and lack of confidence for young people and the most recent migrants to Britain, apart from the super rich, who now feel under constant attack and scapegoating.

A Windrush Day is important if we want a tolerant, respectful society especially if want to tackle all forms of political extremism and terrorism.

Such a day would prevent political parties from using the race card and immigration card to appease certain white voters and now a growing established Black and Asian middle class. Windrush Day would be different from celebrating Commonwealth Day which we do not actually observe in a meaningful way in Britain.

Unfortunately there are still sceptics who believe that multicultural has failed and that we need to ethnically cleanse certain aspect of British society to redress the balance so Britain looks as it did circa 1950.

This adds to the importance of teaching about the Windrush as part of the national curriculum for a generation of young people who can learn the history, survival techniques and strategies which can help them to influence the world they live in today.

We are fortunate to celebrate events such as Black History Month, Notting Hill Carnival, Mela, Diwali and Eid which have now been embraced by central and local government, education with inclusion in the national curriculum, museums and the arts.

The Windrush Generation is now disappearing as many of these pioneers pass away; suffering from long term health conditions or languishes in residential or nursing homes, although some have immigrated back to their countries of birth.

Many of those born between 1910-1940 may not be around at the next Windrush celebrations in 2018.The question we need to ask ourselves is why wait 10 years to celebrate this achievement.

We will regret as a country if we fail to take individual and collective responsibility for systematically documenting their history and contribution to Britain and beyond, as a legacy for young people of all ethnicities and nationalities.

The government and the public should undertake the following activities in time for the 2012 Olympics which were won for London on the strength of our cultural diversity.

1. Promote the idea of a national public holiday based on the contribution of immigrants to Britain from the Windrush era onwards in the creation of multi cultural Britain.

2. Develop a national oral history programme to fund community organisations, schools, to record and document the Windrush Generation and their contributions to Britain.

3. Take immediate action to stop fascists and racists demonising and stereotyping the contribution that Black, Asian and minority ethnic people make to multicultural Britain.

Please sign the petition to show your support:

www.gopetition.com/petitions/charmed-life-campaign.html

Cllr Patrick Vernon is producer and co-director A Charmed Life film about the life of war veteran Eddie Noble and the legacy of the Windrush Generation. Further details http://charmedlifecampaign.wordpress.com/documentary/

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