Becoming In-visible

injustice inhabits history

and is signposted

backwards and forwards

in skewed time

emblazoned on your forehead and in your hand

yet

politics is not a luxury

that can be ignored

when it is a daily personal issue

of life and death

for

when hearts fray

and

the resilience of new bodies

is worn down

 

every day and every action is political

 

with each fresh sunrise

the blanched experience of life

plays out on both sides of the tracks

where wonderland and wasteland

meet and part

simultaneously

 

while some souls live with their heads in the clouds

their neighbours

claw and scratch through each minute with the desperation of a drowning child

 

when it is morning

in wonderland

you may easily wash away the unsettling bad dreams

with fresh milk and honey,

and glide through to sundown

when you soulfully breathe out the worries of your day on the cool porch

without

a passing thought

for the neighbour – the one who constantly falters

because halfway through breathing

their emotions ricochet

between the impossible choices of

either screaming with rage

or sobbing uncontrollably

 

for

each lurch into their new old days requires

fresh salve for seen and unseen

scars that are the patchwork history

of stumbled steps and missed heartbeats

that repeat

same same

same same pain

 

same same

 

wonder-full life flows smoothly

adjacent

yet oblivious and

ignorant

of the weight

lifted each day

a mere side-step away

 

the in-visibility of brave warriors

dressed in humanity

are whispers of mystery

to cloud-filled ears

 

yet

 

if mirrored secrets were known

you would all

entwine limbs like children

and hold each other with tender kindness

immediately forgetting that

you were ever fractured strangers

 

© Marjorie H Morgan 2018

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Is Your Hairstyle Killing You?

 

I now have very short natural hair. Before this current hair choice I had long dreadlocs for over two decades.

MHM I am not my hair 733815_10152704396910262_1109038281_n

It seems like a long time ago now, but I also recall having perms and enduring the long and painful process of having my hair straightened. When I was a child in the 1960s and 70s I remember my mother using the hot comb to straighten her own and my eldest sisters’ hair: it’s a smell you never forget, it’s a process that is as permanent in memory as the burn from the hot comb if anyone moved unexpectedly.

As a child of a migrant family from the Caribbean I was inadvertently taught that in the UK my family’s natural hair was synonymous with ‘bad hair’ and straightened hair was associated with ‘good hair’. This definition was linked to the pressure of time, the ease of maintenance, the access to hair care products, and the shame that was attached to natural African type hair (now categorised as type 4C).

It was through this familial introduction, and the few negative images available in books and posters of the time, that my initial ingrained concept of beauty was created. To me natural hair was associated with negative stereotypes of being unkempt, unprofessional and rough.

Black women in the UK have a complicated relationship with their hair. For decades weaves, wigs and hair extensions have been used for flexibility and ease of maintenance, while natural hair was seen and used as a political statement from the early 1960s: social assumptions were made from visual appearance.

Raphael Albert archive 1960 -1980

It was almost Hobson’s choice: conform or confront. Either way women have historically been confined with societal hair selections.

Is the desire to change the behaviour and appearance of our hair and skin based on internalised racism which has its roots locked in the nineteenth century?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated, “Relaxing your hair is like being in prison. You’re caged in. Your hair rules you. You didn’t go running with Curt today because you don’t want to sweat out this straightness. You’re always battling to make your hair do what it wasn’t meant to do.” 

Relaxed and processed hair has become an integral part of Black British society, so this may seem like a frivolous question, but it is a serious enquiry: is your hairstyle killing you? 

Black women have historically had a long association with Black hair care and community, many people will remember sitting at their mother’s feet while getting their hair plaited or styled for school. As community extended the hairdressing salons became sacred Black female spaces, in the same way as barber shops act for the male sections of society. There is both community and big business in hair care.

The first Black millionaire in the US was Madam C J Walker (aka Sarah Breedlove) who amassed her wealth through the creation of hair care products, including the first hair straightening formula, in 1905. Black hair care has remained a multi-million pound section of industry for over a century. It is reported that Black women make up to 80% of the total hair product sales in the UK, and Black women spend six times more on cosmetics than their white counterparts. In 2014 Black women in the UK spent £5.25 billion on hair care products, and crème relaxers accounted for 21% of that figure.

In the US, records show that Black consumers spend nine times more on hair and beauty products than their white contemporaries. The 2018 Nielsen report shows that nearly 86% of hair and beauty products sold in the USA were purchased by minority ethnic groups.

A recent study, relating to the effects on general health of the chemicals in hair care products was published online on 25 April 2018 in the Environmental Research Journal by Dr Jessica Helm et al. This study concludes that “Hair products used by Black women and children contained multiple chemicals associated with endocrine disruption and asthma.” Fragrances, phthalates and parabens are some of the products prevalent in Black hair care and beauty products; parabens have been proven to be carcinogenic, and related to breast cancer and infertility. Previous research in the USA has shown that black women have higher urinary levels of phthalates and parabens than their white counterparts and conclude that the use of skin lighteners and hair relaxers may be contributing factors in the recorded health disparities between the two groups of women.

The full list of products tested in the Silent Spring Institute study can be found here. It was discovered that 80% of the tested products contain high levels of chemicals that ‘disrupt’ the endocrine system, which regulates reproduction, metabolism and affects almost every organ and cell in the body; 84% of the “detected chemicals were not listed on the product label” and the highest number of parabens were found in hair lotions. It must be noted that not all chemicals in hair products are dangerous or damaging to health, what is primarily important to understand is the way the products are used and the frequency of use; there are products available without any of the harmful chemicals highlighted in the Silent Springs study.

The Environmental Research Journal report recommended that personal care products should have improved labelling so that women can make better personal health and beauty choices.

The information in this report suggests that the use of chemicals in Black hair care is dangerously impacting women’s health as the parabens-rich products interfere with natural hormone production. Tola Okagwu, a hair coach, discussed the Silent Springs study with Dr Jessica Helm in an interview by BBC World News. Tola Okagwu has almost a decade of history assisting others to improve the health of their hair, she is also an author of books on the subject. Dr. Jessica Helm concluded that her opinion, after examining the study findings, was that it is best to use caution and reduce exposure to products that cause harm to health. The endocrine disrupting chemicals identified in Dr Helm’s report, have been shown to be associated with increased occurrences of uterine fibroids, infertility, early puberty, and cancer in Black females.

What is the future of the African hair industry if the majority of chemical products are abandoned? #TeamNatural #NaturalHair are two contemporary social media hasttags that are aligned with the growth of natural hair product companies such as Modie Hair Care and Afro Deity. Natural hair care is not unusual, and if the demand for the associated products increases the market will respond. As noted earlier over £5 billion pounds a year is already expended in the Black hair care industry, much of this could be redirected to healthier hair care options for natural hair.

MHM Afro Feb 2005 4853_190170345261_7386360_n

After due consideration of the results of this most recent study I find myself again asking if it is time for more Black British women to consider ditching the use of unregulated and dangerous chemicals on their hair and embrace their natural locs and other hairstyles?

It seems like the healthy option, the real Hobson’s choice.

‘Casual’ racism is not entertainment

 

 

20180510_232656 Casual Racism.jpg‘Casual’ racism is not entertainment

After a long day I decided to relax in the late evening with film, something light and entertaining, maybe even a comedy or a drama. So I flicked through the menu of films on offer and read the accompanying descriptions of new films from my streaming provider. My attention was arrested when I saw one film described thus: a young boy “gets lessons in the American way … However, with a disapproving father and casual racism, it’s tough to make it in the Land of the Free.” Hold up. There’s so much wrong with this description but I’ll start here: “Casual racism”?

When is racism ever casual?

Isn’t racism just racism? Like the behaviour of the KKK and white supremacists? Overt, obvious, plain for all to see.

Apparently, it has become trendy to refer to racist microaggressions as casual racism or everyday racism. They are used as humorous interactions and in familiar settings. However, I repeat, there is nothing casual about racism.

Here’s a handy guide to microaggressions that are accepted in some places as ‘just a joke’ or normal behaviour:

You didn’t sound Black / you speak so well / you have great diction.

No matter how you form this, it is not a compliment.

Where do you really come from?

Translation: you’re not white so you don’t belong here. Another option would be to ask the question you really want to know: “What is your cultural heritage or background?”.

Oh, you have a chip on your shoulder.

Because you express your dissatisfaction at racism and unfair treatment you may be pathologised as ‘the angry Black person’.

But, I don’t see colour, I see … you.

Theoretically wanting to see only the humanity in a person is wonderful, but not realistic or practical. Not seeing colour is only possible if you are colour blind.

It’s a joke! Don’t get offended.

I can’t say your name, it’s too … difficult.

You mean like Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, Rachmanioff, Puccini, Mendelssohn, Salieri, and Bach?

I have Black, Asian friends, I’m not racist.

I’m not racist but … (then the racist statement)

People like you

What? What aspect of my personality are you referring to?

I’d rather not live / sit / travel near a Muslim / Hindu / Rastafarian

You’re really pretty … for a Black / Chinese (insert colour or nationality here) person

You’re so … exotic!

I’ve had ex-partners refer to me as exotic. As yet all my research skills have failed to find anything exotic about life in the county of Wiltshire. Maybe it was just their white privilege showing …

That’s reverse racism!

This statement is often used by people who are reluctant to acknowledge racism to minority groups, yet as soon as policies are introduced to reduce the inequality in society this trump card is pulled out as white people (generally) get affronted and defensive.

This type of discrimination aka ‘casual racism’ normalises racial stereotypes and emboldens bullies by offering them everyday validation of their views, this in turn perpetuates societal discrimination. Presenting people of colour as different (code word for inferior in this context) entrenches the problem – even amongst people who consider themselves enlightened and liberal.

Language is filled with antiquated references to ethnicities and race: e.g. the phrase “Indian giver” that is used to denote a person who gives and then takes back a gift, whilst in fact the saying arose because gift giving between Native Americans and European colonisers of the Americas was based on cultural misunderstandings. It is time to question the use of these phrases and to refuse to use them or accept them in conversations.

‘But I don’t mean any harm’ and ‘I haven’t got a racist bone in my body’ are regular responses that I have heard when I question people on their phraseology. The comeback is usually ‘I didn’t intend to offend’ – but you did. What you said and did was offensive. What are you going to do about it now?

Not many people react well to being called a racist, because a racist is someone who belongs to a far right group like the KKK, Britain First, or the National Front, aren’t they? Someone being overtly violent and discriminatory, surely? They’re not a regular person having a laugh and joke with words and common phrases, are they?

How did those phrases become common? They are part of the systemic and often institutional forms of oppression that are the backbone of many societies. They need to be questioned. For example, the ONS census data categories for ethnic group and nationality still does not have a category for Black English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish, whereas you can be white and English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, Irish, Gypsy, Irish Traveller, any other white background.

I’ve always wondered if ‘Black’ is also a nationality as well as a political term.

It is systems like this that portray white as right, as standard, that are the root of the problem. ‘White is right’ is the concept that white English / European / American culture is always right, pre-eminent, ‘normal’ and the standard by which the ‘other’ is judged: this is an Eurocentric world view. This is where racist terminology has its roots.

Just a final note to the unwitting performer of ‘casual’ racism – racism is never casual to the person you are discriminating against. Never. The racist words and behaviour has a direct impact on people’s lives every day. Racism is not a joke.

Neither is sexism, or homophobia.

Mostly people do not like to be identified a racist. The usually react with either guilt or anger. Professor Robin DiAngelo said, “If you call me a murderer, I’ll just laugh, because I’m not a murderer. But if you call me a racist, I’ll lose my s***. … ‘It’s like the N-word for white people.” Really? Why is it so hard for white people to talk about racism? A case of white fragility or white privilege? It appears that most conversations about racism are started by POC. This needs to change.

Here is a Harvard test to check implicit bias. Just in case you’re not sure where you stand. We need to call out ‘casual racism’.

All I wanted to do was watch a film.

© Marjorie H Morgan 2018

Black Men Walking – Unity Theatre, Liverpool

Black Men Walking, Unity Theatre, Hope Place, Liverpool 26th April 2018

Written by Testament, directed by Dawn Walton.

Black Men Walking-Royal Exchange Manchester-883 copyThomas, Matthew, and Richard walk. They are three Black men who walk, talk and narrate their existence in the present, the past, and the future. As they travel into the safe spaces of the countryside they question where they are from, and where they belong.

This gripping piece takes the audience on a journey that is as unpredictable as the surface of the Yorkshire moors. The audience clamber awkwardly into sections of the personal lives of the three men as seen through their own conversations and everyday experiences of relationships, politics and families. Each compelling step they take is a mark of their physicality and being, being alive and being part of the country whose backbone they trek across.

When they encounter a lone young woman (Ayeesha) in the dense hill-top fog they are also forced to confront their own aged masculine prejudices, but they still join forces with her to descend the hill together. As an enlarged group they surprise themselves with continued personal revelations whilst celebrating their own blackness and sense of belonging in the landscape. All the walkers are enveloped in an actual and metaphorical foggy existence where, as noted by W.E.B. Du Bois, they experience a ‘double consciousness’ of identity as being both British and black.

Identity and belonging are the central themes of this piece; the black men (and woman) walking the moors deliver emotionally charged performances generously peppered with humour while challenging perspectives of reality about what parts of themselves they have to leave behind in order to be accepted in British society. The actors leave the audience with plenty of food for thought as they discourse on matters from John Blanke, 16th century trumpeter in the courts of Henry VII and VIII, to the chicken shop encounter of the contemporary hijab-wearing, metal-worker rapper Ayeesha: all are black, and all belong in England – their home for centuries.

The sense of moving across vast areas is beautifully portrayed on the stage by the four actors’ use of mime and music. This is paralleled with the immense historical span that is covered in the conversations. The actors’ –  Thomas (Tyrone Higgins), Matthew (Trevor Laird), Richard (Tonderai Munyev), and Dorcas Sebuyange (Ayeesha) – performances elicited a well deserved double standing ovation.

The booklet accompanying the play notes that it is dedicated to the Black Men’s Walking Group, the dedication can justly be extended to include all the Black people in the UK: we walk, we walk, we walk!

The hype about this play is justified.

© Marjorie H Morgan 2018

The Commonwealth, Colonialism and the Legacy of Homophobia

How are these three disparate entities connected? The answer is – very closely.

When is an appropriate time to review this subject? Any time is, but especially now as the UK hosts the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) between 16 – 20 April 2018 in London and surrounding locations.

 

2.35490582 anti lgbti laws

The Commonwealth consists of 53 member states  and 80 organisations that exist in locations around the globe and work together to promote democracy and peace. Over 40% of the world’s young people (640 million out of 1.8 billion) are members of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth countries include 19 in the African continent, 7 in Asia, 3 in Europe, and 11 in the Pacific: these are all locations where the footprint of colonialism has been stamped, and where the legacy of the imperialist laws relating to same-sex relations, are still being experienced. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in conversation with Reni Eddo-Lodge, comments that colonialism is not historical, it is contemporary: the effects are present everyday. 

Of the 72 countries in the world where same-sex intimacy is categorised as a criminal offence, 36 of them are member states of the Commonwealth, and 9 of these have life imprisonment as a penalty, whilst in two there is risk of execution. The colonial legal legacy from the British Empire in 1860 criminalised ‘unnatural carnal desires’ under section 377 of many country’s penal systems. This conservative Victorian edict has remained entrenched in the legal structures of 36 Commonwealth member states.

In March 2018 there were 37 member states against equality for same-sex Commonwealth citizens. However, a recent challenge to these homophobic colonial laws, which deny a legal right to privacy, was made in 2017 in the High Courts of Trinidad and Tobago by the UK based LGBT activist Jason Jones. The pronouncement, on 12 April 2018, has become a landmark ruling as homosexuality has been decriminalised in Trinidad and Tobago. Justice Devindra Rampersad, delivering his ruling from the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago agreed that Section 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act, which criminalise anal sex, were unconstitutional and violate Jones’ right to privacy, liberty and freedom of expression – the colonial sodomy laws are an inbuilt Imperial homophobic threat carved into the common law of many countries.

The colonial ‘saving clause’ dictated that laws could not be changed after independence, yet the Government of Trinidad and Tobago have twice amended the Sexual Offences Act since the country’s independence from Britain in 1962: in 1986 the Trinidad and Tobago parliament increased the maximum sentence for sodomy to 10 years imprisonment, and in 2000 the penalty for ‘the offence of buggery’ was again increased to 25 years. The government changes to the law enabled Jason Jones to bring his case to the courts as the Government’s 1986 and 2000 Sexual Offences Act changes nullified the ‘saving clause’.

Following the April 2018 ruling, the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago, Faris al-Rawi, said “Our society has changed significantly in its view on tolerating homosexuality, and radically so within the last generation,” yet Stuart Young from the Ministry of the Attorney General, confirmed that the State will appeal Justice Rampersad’s decision.

The week of the CHOGM has seen protests outside of Commonwealth House in London, where activist groups such as African Equality Foundation, and the Peter Tatchell Foundation, along with members of the public have been lobbying the Commonwealth Heads of Government to discuss LGBT issues at the meeting. This proposal has not been accepted in over 6 decades of meetings, with any discussions on LGBT matters being sidelined to NGOs.

There are some Commonwealth leaders who are supporters of equality, however these people, for example Desmond Tutu, Christopher Senyonjo, Festus Mogae, and Joaquin Chissano have historically not been given a voice in the global Commonwealth forum. A petition, by Edwin Sesange, of the African Equality Foundation, calling for an end to LGBT+ persecution in the Commonwealth, was delivered to the Commonwealth headquarters  with over 104,000 signatures the week before the summit began.  This petition appealed for all Commonwealth countries to:

  • Decriminalise same-sex relations
  • Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation & gender identity
  • Enforce laws against & violence, to protect LGBTI people from hate crime
  • Consult and dialogue with LGBTI organisation

At the start of the CHOGM Peter Tatchell, who has been campaigning against anti-gay laws for over 30 years, wrote a letter to Theresa May, as the British Head of State hosting the Commonwealth summit, asking her to apologise for imposing anti-gay laws – the full apology did not happen, although in a NGO Commonwealth Forum, that ran concurrently with the Heads of States meetings, the UK Prime Minister did express ‘deep regrets’ for Britain’s historical legacy of homophobic laws across the Commonwealth.

The criminalisation of LGBT+ people is a clear breach of the human rights of the Commonwealth citizens and goes against the Section II on Human Rights as written in the Commonwealth Charter that starts with the words:

“We the people of the Commonwealth …”

We are committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments. We are committed to equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds as the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies. We note that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and cannot be implemented selectively. We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds. (Section II on Human Rights)

The last sentence of this Human Rights section confirms that the member states of the Commonwealth are opposed “to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.” Unfortunately, by their continual refusal to openly discuss the matter of colonialism and the legacy of homophobia on the formal agenda, the Commonwealth Heads of Government are denying their commitment to equality and protection of civil, social, social and economic rights of the citizens of their individual nations.

The CHOGM sessions have concluded without LGBT+ rights being included on the agenda.

However, following the victory in the Trinidad and Tobago courts on 12 April 2018, Jason Jones said, “This victory is much more than just the legal challenge and constitutional reforms. It is a rallying cry for the LGBT community and our allies to stand up and be counted! This represents the first moment in the history of the English speaking Caribbean that we have become truly visible and in a populist and meaningful manner. Yes, there was pushback but we are pushing forward in ways never seen before. This is the Rosa Parks moment for LGBT people of the Caribbean and we shall NEVER sit in the back of the bus again.”

In Britain, UK Black Pride – led by Phyll Opoku-Gyimah – and the African Equality Foundation, continue to work alongside other LGBTI activists to campaign for full equality for all within the UK and the Commonwealth.

Opoku-Gyimah was widely reported for turning down a MBE in 2016, some of her reasons were relating to the toxic legacy of colonialism on LGBT+ people, she stated: “I don’t believe in, and actively resist, colonialism and its toxic and enduring legacy in the Commonwealth, where – among many other injustices – LGBTQI [lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) people are still being persecuted, tortured and even killed because of sodomy laws, including in Ghana, where I am from, that were put in place by British imperialists.

As the CHOGM 2018 closed in London on the 20 April 2018, the resistance that Opoku-Gyimah expressed in 2016 must be continued by all equality activists until there are full human rights for all Commonwealth citizens regardless of nationality or sexuality.

Marjorie H Morgan © 2018

While the Commonwealth Heads of Government meet in London, former Commonwealth citizens are still being mistreated in the UK: Urgent Questions are asked in the House

As the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) starts in the UK today (16 April 2018) it is an ideal time to ask what will happen to the children of the Commonwealth who came here as British citizens over 70 years ago?

The infomercial promoting the CHOGM states “This is our Commonwealth” and “What’s agreed on this week matters to us all,” so it seems ironic that for weeks the British Government has refused to discuss a situation that affects such a large number of former Commonwealth citizens within its own borders. Amelia Gentleman, from the Guardian, tweeted that she contacted Downing Street on Friday (13 Apr 2018) about these cases that she has been reporting, yet the Prime Minister’s office have said that Theresa May “had only become aware of the request on Monday morning and confirmed that she would be holding a meeting ‘at the earliest possible opportunity’ with Caribbean leaders.”

At around 13:00 today, the Prime Minister, Theresa May tweeted, “The Commonwealth has never just been about heads of state and government. It has always been an organisation in which people and businesses from around the world can come together and work together to improve all our lives,” yet she initially refused to discuss the case of the ‘Windrush Generation’ at the CHOGM.

When asked last week to discuss what appears to be a travesty of justice, the Prime Minister rejected the formal diplomatic request leaving the Caribbean heads of government to conclude that the British government was not taking this matter seriously. 

Theresa May has also stated that the CHOGM is the “largest summit our country has ever hosted.” Apparently in the Commonwealth every country has a voice, yet the Caribbean people who migrated to Britain over half a century ago have so far remained voiceless and unrepresented by the British Government.

Following the publication of a letter signed by over 140 MPs from across the political parties, Theresa May has now agreed to meet with representatives from 12 Caribbean countries who are at the CHOGM in the UK. The immigration minister Caroline Noakes has also admitted that some Caribbean British citizens have been deported in error, although she would not qualify the amount of people that have been affected by the “terrible mistakes” in this way.

The Commonwealth had 2.4 billion citizens across 53 countries – many of them have requesteda discussion on this matter, yet the Tory led British Government will not agree to open the discussion on this abominable situation that is clearly a breach of the Commonwealth Charter.

Charter_of_the_Commonwealth_8548868771_l

The current Commonwealth Charter was signed by HM Queen Elizabeth II on Commonwealth Day 2013. Its firsts words are “We the people of the Commonwealth …” Section II on Human Rights is shown here in full:

We are committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments. We are committed to equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds as the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies. We note that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and cannot be implemented selectively. We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.

The last sentence of this Human Rights section confirms that the member states of the Commonwealth are opposed “to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.” Alas, by their continual refusal to discuss this matter openly, the British Government is following several other Commonwealth nations who disregard the commitment to equality and protection of civil, social, social and economic rights of the citizens of their individual nations.

Labour MP, David Lammy has secured an Urgent Question in the House of Commons at 15:30 on the immigration status of the Windrush Generation. This is following a letter signed by 140 cross party MPs urging Theresa May to take action, and correct this “historic wrong”. Lammy stated that having to raise this question in the house was indicative of a “national day of shame”.

In response to Lammy’s question the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd MP, read from a prepared statement. Her opening remarks asserted that, “there is absolutely no question about their right to remain,” and she confirmed that she will establish a new team of 20 people who will help these residents evidence their right to be in the UK, and to access the necessary services.

The Home Secretary suggested that with this dedicated team cases will take a maximum of two weeks to resolve, and she also assured members of the House that they would be no charges levied on applicants, as “no one should be left out of pocket”.

David Lammy noted that the relationship between the UK and the Caribbean is inextricable since the arrival of the first British ships in the area in 1623. Lammy reminded the house that the Nationality Act of 1948 ensured that Caribbean people migrating to the UK did so as British citizens. He continued that it is “inhumane and cruel for so many of that Windrush Generation to have suffered so long in this condition, and for the Secretary of State only to have made a statement today.”


Lammy also enquired if the Home Secretary could “tell the House how many have been detained as prisoners in their own country … how many have been denied help under the National Health Service, how many have been denied pensions and how many have lost their jobs?”

These questions were not directly answered.

With obvious emotional Lammy stated that having to raise this question in the house was indicative of a “national day of shame”  that “has come about because of a hostile environment policy that was begun under her prime minister.”

The only concession from Rudd was her concern that the Home Office “has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes lose sight of the individual.” Rudd asserted that she has acted now because she has seen the individual stories now and, “some of them have been terrible.” Following this statement she reasserted her commitment to ensuring that cross-departmental information is shared to verify the identity of these individuals and to protect the ‘Windrush cohorts’. Rudd repeated that she was not aware of any specific cases or deportation in these circumstance of lack of up-to-date documentation.

I believe this ‘Windrush Generation’ crisis is deliberate. It’s not an anomaly – it’s structural discrimination. The lives of these Caribbean British elders and their families was deemed collateral damage when the latest immigration laws were enacted. This is the result of systemic and discriminatory government behaviour.

Cross party members of the house raised several questions about individual cases of their own constituents as well as general queries relating to the status of Commonwealth citizens from countries such as India, Uganda, and Poland. The Home Secretary used her stock phrase to respond to these queries – she suggested that the Members contact the Home Office with details of each case so that they could look at them individually, because she repeatedly declared that the “Home Office will be more focused on individuals rather than policy.”

There were several questions from members across the floor including Simon Hoare, MP for North Devon, who asked if there would be a refund of the fees that Caribbean elders had already expense.

Anna Soubry, MP for Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire, was interested to know if this statement from the Home Secretary meant that the default Home Office response of saying, ‘No’ would now alter.

Mark Harper, MP for Forest of Dean, asked what proactive steps the Government would be making to communicate information to those British residents that might be affected by this institutional discrimination. While Joanne Cherry, SNP MP for Edinburgh South West, observed that this the Home Secretary was wrong that this issue “is not just about individuals it’s about a systemic policy put out by her (Home Secretary) department and it’s symptomatic of the politically driven hostile environment policy, and it’s a sign that it has to stop,” because according to the Migration Observatory at Oxford, there are up to 50,000 Commonwealth born people in this situation.

To many of these questions the Home Secretary responded that she would seek advice or data and get back to the individual Member because the ‘Windrush Generation’ “are here legally and we will help them.”

Diane Abbot, MP for Hackney, asked why in 2014 the Government, under the direction of the then Home Secretary Theresa May removed the protection for Commonwealth citizens without parliamentary debate or scrutiny. Much like Theresa May choosing to engage in air strike in Syria without parliamentary debate or scrutiny this week.

Abbott also requested a cessation on deportations of this groups of people aligned with an apology, and possible compensation, to those wrongfully deported in this immigration policy scandal.

Amber Rudd tried to reassure members of the House with her concluding remarks that indicated that the Government is regarding this situation seriously when she announced that the Prime Minister would be meeting with the Heads of Government on Tuesday 17 April 2018 while she, as Home Secretary, would be meeting with High Commissioners this week to discuss this issue “as a matter of urgency.”

The Home Secretary’s final words to the House were “what I am interested in is effective, sympathetic outcomes.”

Most people simply want justice for Caribbean British elders.

Well, we will have to wait and see what we get from this Home Secretary Amber Rudd and her dedicated team of 20.

A Home Office official stated that legislation “is complex and, when revising it, it is the normal process to simplify it where possible and remove duplications.” Laws are complicated, and anomalies occur, yet all available evidence seems to indicate that the Caribbean British elders were deliberately targeted by the removal of their protection in 2014.

The outcomes of the meetings arranged this week with the CHOGM and the Caribbean High Commissioners is eagerly awaited.

 

© Marjorie H Morgan 2018

Cruelty by design towards British Caribbean elders

windrush flags 70 years

 

Information about the cases of the Caribbean British elders being systematically targeted and often deported from their British homes has been widely circulated in the past few weeks. Many members of British society, included the affected British elders, were unaware that they were a part of a group of people who were not officially categorised as British until they tried to access health care or were required to provide additional documentation for their employers in line with the online Employers’ Checking Service for Biometric Residence Permits (BRP) that began in June 2012.

This anomaly has arisen because the Government system has failed to correctly file papers relating to the adults and children of Windrush generation – the British subjects who migrated to the UK from the Caribbean and other parts of the Commonwealth in the late 1940s and 1950s to help to rebuild the Mother Country.

As the shock of this situation reached across the British nation public figures such as David Lammy MP, and celebrities, including David Harewood, and Sir Lenny Henry – who is himself descended from Caribbean British parents – have called for the public to sign a petition created by Patrick Vernon OBE, requesting an amnesty for anyone who was a minor that arrived in Britain between 1948 and 1971.

To be considered for a debate in parliament, petitions have to obtain at least 100,000 signatures, this petition, created on the 6 October 2018, has already exceeded this amount of signatories. The Government is also required to respond to all petitions once they obtain more than 10,000 signatures. As a response to this public outcry, the Government has finally, on 13 April 2018, published some guidance around this matter. This appears to be the first Government response to repeated requests for guidance and information around the process that has targeted this group of British citizens.

The information on the Government website has been produced by the UK Visas and Immigration department that is part of the Home Office. The Government provides information for this group of Caribbean British elders that they are now referring to as ‘Undocumented Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK.’ The page is careful to note that the information therein is not a substitute for immigration advice, although it does note that if “you entered the UK before 1 Jan 1973 then the chances are you are entitled to live here permanently. Your status is only broken following a long period outside of the UK (2 years).

There are a number of steps that these Caribbean British elders will now have to undertake in order to verify their status as British citizens and prove they have right of abode in the UK. The first step is to apply for a “no-time limit” biometric resident permit (BRP), followed by applying for British Citizenship if they are successful with the initial step.

The “no-time limit” biometric permit application is for someone who already has indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK. There is a standard associated cost of £229 per person, and applications can also be made at Premium Service Centres for same day consideration of the application – at the premium cost of £610 per person. A mobile super premium service is also available at the cost of £10,500 per visit – this final service tier means that you will usually get your decision with 24 hours, as you can decided the location and time of the visit (between midday and 3pm, Monday to Friday) when the premium service staff will visit you to get your biometric information (fingerprint and photo), and your signature. This last service option may have to be used in a desperate final effort to stop impending deportation because the process of challenging the Home Office decisions increases in complexity and cost when a person has been forcibly removed from their British homes and relocated to a different country.

BRPs were introduced in the UK in 2008 and have automatically been distributed to members of the British public when they have replaced old documents; these cards are used to confirm identity, the right to work and study in the UK, and the entitlement to access any public services or benefits. The BRP is a card issued by the Home Office that contains evidence of immigration permissions (also known as leave to enter or remain), and includes a microchip with two of the resident’s fingerprints and a digital photograph. The BRP is required documentation if the resident does not have indefinite leave to remain (ILR) endorsed in a current passport.

The current procedure for obtaining permanent British residency dictates that once a resident gets ILR they cannot apply for British Citizenship for at least 12 months and have to have been in the UK for five years preceding application for citizenship. Therefore when these Caribbean British elders, who have been living and working in the UK for their entire lives, do obtain their official ILR they will still be faced with another delayed wait for a year before their British Citizenship is confirmed. British Citizenship is now dependent on where you were born (in the UK or a qualifying British overseas territory), when you were born (before or after 1 January 1983) and your parents’ circumstances at the time of your birth.

The Government website states that, “All citizens of Commonwealth countries were British subjects until January 1983,” therefore this should be a straightforward matter for those Caribbean British elders who have been subjected to extensive questioning regarding their status. Yet, a raft of recent cases have proved that this has not been the situation that many, like Elwaldo Romeo, Sarah O’Connor, and Albert Thompson have found themselves in.

The Home Office have also published a blog to say that Government policy around the rights of Commonwealth citizens has not changed, however because of the introduction of the hostile environment towards migrants in the UK who wish to work, live and use public services, there have been new laws implemented to ensure that these migrants have the correct documents to demonstrate their right to be in the UK and entitlement to use public services.

On the same fact sheet page the Home Office claims that there are existing solutions available to obtain the correct documentation for settled status, and that they “have no intention of making people leave who have the right to remain here.” These solutions all involve hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of pounds in application fees, forms and tests for people who have been British citizens for their entire adult lives.

The facts of the cases already listed above and in previous posts seem to contradict the statement that the Government made saying it has no intention of making people leave because many Caribbean British elders have already been detained, deported or refused entry back into the country after a lifetime’s work here.

The Home Office also states that the government makes “no apologies for our commitment to build an immigration system which works in the best interest of the country and prevents vulnerable people from finding themselves at risk of exploitation.”

These newly implemented laws have highlighted an error in the Government system relating to the right of abode for long-term British residents from the Commonwealth. These people, have somehow mysteriously remained undocumented and ignored in central government systems – despite paying taxes, having National Insurance numbers, and decades of employment records – and they are now being unfairly treated and labeled as people with ‘no status’ and therefore categorised as not being the British Citizens the 1983 law identifies them as.

As Gary Younge, from the Guardian newspaper, succinctly states, this is cruelty by design as people like Michael Braithwaite have violated no law; it’s the law that is violating themTherefore  all financial charges relating to proving British citizenship should be waived for Caribbean British elders who have been long term residents in the UK – that’s justice. They should not have to pay for an error that has been created by the Government systems that are supposed to be in place to protect them.