Probably because I figured being British was better. I grew up in what felt like a very liberal family where racism was forbidden and tub-thumping patriotism was the subject of piss-taking. Nevertheless, I was taught that being white and British was the most fortuitous, and therefore aspirational, thing to be.
I am a believer in the beauty and power of true multiculturalism but have come to understand that it takes more effort on all sides to engage with the diverse life experiences that rub against each other in modern society. Empathy is essential for it to work.
I went to the Ritzy in Brixton to watch the brilliant new film Barrel Children, made by journalist Nadine White. ‘Barrel children’ was the name given to the kids who were left back home in the Caribbean when their parents departed for Britain as part of the Windrush generation.
Mums and dads often went to the UK alone before sending for their kids. These early Windrushers were promised better lives in return for rebuilding the postwar ‘motherland’. In White’s film, we discover the reality was quite different.
The Windrush generation often found themselves dumped into difficult living circumstances, with decent jobs hard to come by. Unable to afford to bring their children over as quickly as they might have hoped, they sent gifts and supplies to them once or twice a year in barrels.
Many kids were left as infants and grew up without much memory of their parents. If and when they did manage to join them, they felt estranged and alienated not just from society but from their families too.
What this reveals is a mass state of trauma among early immigrants from the Caribbean – lured away by what turned out to be the false promise of comfort and compassion. What they found was hostility and struggle.
This is what generational trauma looks like. It’s impossible to really understand the different cultures we live among unless we understand their history. This history was not only unknown to white Britain, but also unspoken among many of the families who had lived through it. White’s film features barrel children speaking for the first time about their experiences.
Barrel Children is a real eye opener about how little all of us really know about each other. It’s important we make more of an effort, I think.
White cites the Marcus Garvey quote: “A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Watching Barrel Children is a good way for all of us to set some roots.
Barrel Children is showing at Picturehouse cinemas until 6 July
Read more from Sam Delaney here
Sort Your Head Out: Mental Health Without All the Bollocks by Sam Delaney is out now (Constable £18.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.
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