Answering Simon Webb’s Question about the Contribution of the Windrush Migrants

Yesterday, right-wing Torygraph reading internet historian Simon Webb over at the History Debunked channel responded to the Queen’s speech, in which Her Maj referred to the ‘profound contribution’ of the Windrush generation. Webb asked what that was. He’s put up another video today repeating the question, and commenting that nobody was able to give him an answer. A number of people told him he was racist for asking it. So he repeated it, giving as an example of a profound contribution made by an immigrant community the Gujarati shopkeepers who kept their shops open up to eight or nine in the evening rather than shutting at five O’clock. This is a benefit, because it’s led to a change in opening hours which means you can buy whatever you want at any time without having to worry about a rush when the shops open a nine.

I’ve left a reply there answering his question. Here it is:

Okay, Simon – it’s a fair question, so I’ll bite. After the War there was a labour shortage which the Black Caribbean immigrants helped to fill. They were particularly needed in nursing and the care sector. Not a spectacular contribution, but a contribution nonetheless. And here in Bristol the St. Paul’s Carnival is a major local event and very popular, despite that part of the city’s poverty and crime. There’s also a statue up in one of the more multicultural parts of Bristol to a Black writer, actor and playwright of that generation.

Okay, the actor and playwright is obscure – he was mentioned a few months ago when racists vandalised the bust to him, probably in reprisal to the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue. And the St. Paul’s carnival is local to Bristol. Nevertheless, it is spectacular and very popular, with White Bristolians coming into to see it and it is one of the major events in the city’s calendar. As for Black Caribbean workers helping to fill the labour shortage, that’s true whether they did so in response to national appeals for workers or if they were simply looking for better wages and opportunities. And I’d also say that Bristol was made morally better by the boycott of the local bus company because it wouldn’t employ Blacks. The bus boycott was given great support by the-then Bristol MP, Wedgie Benn.

I think Webb might be asking the wrong question, or expecting the wrong kind of answer. He clearly wants to hear about a distinctive contribution made by the Windrush generation. Something revolutionary. But even if the Windrush generation’s main contribution was as workers, the same as White Brits and the other New Commonwealth immigrants that arrived at the same time, that’s still an important contribution. And our hospitals and care homes did need their nurses and ancillary staff.

And just before the Windrush arrived, we were assisted during the War with workers and soldiers from the Caribbean. There’s a bit about them in an anthology of articles on Black and Asian British history, Under the Imperial Carpet. There was, I believe, even a Black RAF pilot, who I’m sure deserves to be better known. As for the post-War years, I’d say that the most profound contribution of the Afro-Caribbean community in Britain has been in the performing arts and particularly music. Apart from some great Black musicians, they also introduced into Britain new musical genres like Ska and Reggae, which were also taken up by White performers. Oh yes, and they introduced the steel band to Britain. One of the school’s in Bristol’s St. George’s ward had one.

I’m very much aware that the Black British community has its problems – higher rates of unemployment, low academic achievement, drugs and crime. But nevertheless they’ve also brought benefits and made a genuine contribution to British society, and Her Maj was quite right to talk about it.

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8 Responses to “Answering Simon Webb’s Question about the Contribution of the Windrush Migrants”

  1. Mark Pattie Says:

    Good article. It’s pretty clear to me that our favourite right-wing ‘Tube historian seems to think highly of Gujaratis, but he also seems to see those of black Caribbean or, indeed, Pakistani descent as lazy and unwilling to integrate. Why do I feel as though History Debunked only thinks Marcus Rashford only got into the England team because he was too good for Team Jamaica? Or that Mo Farah should’ve been competing for Somalia rather than England?

  2. trev Says:

    The Caribbean immigrants also did the jobs that we didn’t want to do; everything from toilet cleaners to bus drivers, slaughter men, foundry workers, etc. Even today there’s a local Anodising plant near where I live who are constantly advertising for workers, it’s a lousy job, mucky, heavy lifting, 12 hour shifts, no one wants to work there, and to this day the workforce is predominantly Black. They also worked alongside Pakistani immigrants in the textile Mills, not usually in the Finishing dept. that was warm and clean and where people wore ties, but in the Scouring and Dyeing depts. noisy, hot, steamy, smelly horrible places like Dantes Inferno, where boiler suits and Wellington boots were necessary.

  3. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks, peeps. I’ve had a couple of replies to my comment there already, both of which denying my answer. Depending how many I get, I might do a piece commenting on them.

  4. Jim Round Says:

    Hmmm,
    Remember, in Webb’s own words he is not a historian, anyway, I digress…
    I have previously mentioned that he has seemingly deleted at least one comment (the Reddit one I mentioned in another blog post) that as far as I know, was not rude or insulting, just a well made point.
    I know I have mentioned it before, but his Twitter account is still active, though not updated, and I have my own thoughts as to why he no longer uses it.
    I personally think he knows what contributions Windrush immigrants have mad, unfortunately it seems that he likes to light the blue touch paper in the comments section.

  5. Que? Says:

    Simon Webb has gone way off the deep end. He knows he’s not a good and honest historian so now he’s just gone full obsessed over what black people do… All while trying to keep up the loose and near transparent veil of him not being a racist and making vids on the basis of dishonest bigotry.

    Unfortunately for him, nobody believes him (or/and many of his supporters) and he (or/and many of his subs and supporters) isn’t smart enough to hide it.

    • beastrabban Says:

      HI Que! I’d like to know his sources for some of the assertions he makes. For example, he claimed one of the magnificent mosques in Mali or one of the neighbouring African countries was rebuilt by the French c. 1811, before which it had been a ruin. I’d very much like to know where he got that. In some of his videos he will provide links and references to his sources, but not there. It might be true- apparently much of modern Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, was built by the Italians, but he doesn’t tell us where he got this fact, or assertion from, and so you can’t check it.

      And I would like to know where I could find a reliable history of Britain and immigration, which included some of the real facts about the arrival of the Windrush generation. He claims that the original immigrants on the Windrush weren’t invited, but simply took the opportunity present by the ship offering places to Britain cheap. He also put up a video yesterday rebutting the view that London Transport had appealed for Black workers to come here. He’s provided no references or sources for these assertions, although I have to say I didn’t see the latter video. I’m just assuming he hasn’t based on previous experience. It might be right, but commenters here remember that other local authorities did advertise for Black workers. The impression I had from reading Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was that he British government did advertise, but didn’t expect Blacks and Asians to come. They wanted and expected workers from the White colonies, like Australia. Alibhai-Brown has also said that five Labour party members voted against admitting Black workers, which she as an anti-racist obviously condemned. But that suggests that the government had advertised for Blacks to immigrate here.

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