What To Do When ‘The Mother Country’ Wants To Send You Back On The Windrush: Navigating The Hostile Environment of Brexit Britain

ART

‘In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” ― Enoch Powell, River’s of Blood’ Speech, Birmingham 1968

I don’t normally like explaining my art process, as it can differ according to my mood and the topic of my work. I prefer to leave it open to interpretation but I’ll attempt to just this once. I was asked by Nottingham based magazine Leftlion to create a front cover and middle page poster for their June 2018 Issue. For a while I was wondering what imagery should I create for this cover? I needed to embark on a journey in search of fresh inspiration.

Leftlion Editor, Bridie Squires, sent over a list of some of the featured articles, notably black British poetry legend and activist Benjamin Zephaniah, an article on Female Genital Mutilation featuring Valentine Nkoyo, a feature on artist Jasmin Issaka, Human Rights Lawyer Usha Sood, activist and Jamaican WW2 veteran Oswald George Powe and a play by a local Nottingham playwright Mufaro Makubika called ‘Shebeen‘ about the 1958 race-riots in Nottingham. All of which made for a very culturally important edition of Leftlion. Now, I see myself as being relatively deep, I knew that I wanted to say something colossal and powerful with my art… but what?

Then the news of the Windrush Scandal hit, basically the UK government have been steadily kicking out Caribbean’s who immigrated to the UK in 1948-1971 (of whom were deemed them British Citizens according to the Nationality act of 1948). For more info on the Windrush see link What is the Windrush scandal? How the Windrush generation got their name and why many fear deportation by Ann Stenhouse

My blood boiled after seeing Prime Minister Theresa May and Former MP Amber Rudd’s faces in Parliament drowning over facts, figures, tepid apologies, and pathetic last minute attempts to save political careers. David Lammy MP delivered a brilliantly emotive, soulful, parliament shaking speech and after hearing a tsunami of stories of deportation being reported in the national press and not only in black newspapers such as The Voice, Gleaner or as merely word of mouth amongst PoC communities. I decided that I was going to channel the nauseous concoction of pride and disgust I was feeling into creating a collection of pieces of illustration inspired by the Windrush Scandal.

 

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The Windrush Generation, Navigating Britain, How to Convey Them Visually

Excited fearfulness, queasy vulnerability, disappointedly chilly, a seasick loneliness, a war torn run down realisation, relieved to be safely on dry land, eyes searching for familiar faces. I have gathered info from the Windrush generation, those that I know personally and have researched in interviews. Above are a few of the emotions that would have been running through the youthful minds of people first stepping foot off the ship Empire Windrush in England, ‘fresh off the boat’.

I decided to base my illustration on a freeze frame taken from footage shot by the BBC of the literal moment that a young black Jamaican man had first laid eyes on England (see slideshow above). He’s a young dark skinned black man, smartly dressed in a trilby, pinstripe suit and bowtie. Though in slight wonderment you can see that he is hopeful.

My parents are a part of the Windrush generation, they came from middle class backgrounds in Jamaica, my dad arrived in 1958, as a detective in Jamaica he was only able to be a Traffic Warden and Bus Driver in the uk. Likewise my mother arrived in 1962 as a teacher and had to start off working in a factory, but why?

Which brings me to what has to be one of the single most cruel plot twists for Caribbean British citizen’s in post WW2 British legislation. My parents had always drilled into me that ‘Education is key’ and that I have to work at least twice as hard as my white counterparts. I later learned why they were so adamant. The British government ran Jamaica’s education system but even so; Britain disallowed by law all the qualifications of Caribbean British citizens (down to age 11). The effect was that it acted to ghettoize; you cannot have access to higher paid jobs, which would afford you better places to live. Even though on average middle-class and many working class Caribbean’s knew a lot more about stuff like… ‘the Queen, Buckingham palace, William the Conqueror, Shakespeare, Sheffield Steel, Clive of India, The Brontës, David Livingstone and how he ‘civilised the savage’ in Africa, industrial revolution’ etc more than your average white working class Brit. To convey this element in my art, I created conflict within each image in terms of their mood. The imagery I created is deliberately jam-packed with contradictory information that my parents and other Caribbean’s had to navigate and survive under.

 

“White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.” 
― Reni Eddo-LodgeWhy I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

 

Channelling The Caribbean Perception of Post War Working Class White Britain & My Feelings on The Windrush Scandal

 

‘We were taught that the streets were paved with gold and that most white people were rich ’. Caribbean’s were generally taught whitewashed version of history, religion and a blind allegiance to British nationalism. All of this was a effective tool to insure that many Caribbean’s would

  • well behaved
  • subscribe to conservatism, meritocracy, respectability politics
  • aspire to be like white people

Be non-critical thinking servants at Britain’s beck and call, that would be compelled to come running just like the ‘good old days of Empire and slavery’. Then could be disposed off as the Britain Government and white ruling class saw fit. Though many did not adhere to all of the above and fought against the indoctrination by re-educating, decolonising and rebelling in a myriad of ways. I conveyed the clashing views of the Black British Caribbean self under the narcissistic paternal rule of Britain by using dissonant imagery, such as religious iconography, 19th century etchings of the torture of slaves calling for abolition, photography of Caribbean’s toiling in plantations, Caribbean war veterans both men and women, BlackLivesMatter protests of Nottingham, Nottingham Riots of 1958, interracial couples, the permanent influence of Jamaican culture on popular British culture and the English language, Caribbean nurses, Brexit scaremongering and racist signs.
 

I incorporated the beauty of paradise, sunsets, palm trees, houses with red tin roofs into my art. I wanted it to represent rose tinted memories of belonging, innocence, the memory of being a part of an ethnic majority and the confidence in ones stride that brings. A saturated use of colour was used to convey paradise and to appear diametrically opposite to the overcast aesthetics of Britain. I tried to convey that Caribbean people comment that they were shocked to find that in reality they found Britain to be smoky grey, old, dirty, dank, shoddy, ignorant, unhygienic, depressing and hostile.
Caribbean’s and notably Jamaicans were instantly deemed as troublemakers, criminal, smelly, ugly, noisy and inferior in every way. ‘No, Blacks’ was a regular sign that would be seen in most accommodation available for rent and in places of employment. Most white churches would ask Caribbean’s not to return in a most polite and very British fashion. Many Caribbean people would have to defend themselves from attackers, which helped fuel riots and protests for basic human rights in Britain. I chose to represent these elements by incorporating real newspaper headlines and riot photography slashed into the imagery.

 

Black British Caribbean women have arguably been the anchor of the Black British families and community, a much needed ‘big up’, acknowledgement and appreciation of the beauty and strength of those women. Hence my depiction of the black caribbean woman as queen, plus I wanted to convey the 2 figures as ‘the Adam & Eve’ of the biggest influx of Black people in Britain since its creation.

 

Scandal is the word for this malicious act of the British government effectively wanting to get rid of the Windrush Generation now they 50+ and their children and in some cases grandchildren, after all of our great sacrifice, great contributions to Britain I wanted this art to be a visual smack in the face, machete chops and cuss words in visual patois, a beautiful explosion of consciousness.

‘If you are the a big tree, we are the small axe, sharpened to cut you down, ready to cut you down’ – Bob Marley & The Wailers

 

As big black women of Jamaican descent taking up room in the uk in any sense can be treacherous, often greeted with backlash; be it via my art on the cover of a magazine, singing self penned songs, navigating unemployment, voicing my opinion or merely walking down the street. I have personally have never felt a part of Britain and the recent scandal comes as no surprise to me, is it any wonder why? Most black Caribbean’s seldom talk about the moment they encountered England for the first time. I hope my art can act as a mouthpiece for their feelings, mine and for those no longer with us

The beautiful struggle continues…

If you are interested in buying any of my work please click on this link https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/THEHONEYEFFECT . Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think and thank you for reading my blog.

Windrush Poster (LEFTLION) FINAL (540mm x 370mm)

Middle page poster of the June 2018 Issue of Leftlion Magazine

Windrush god save the queen Poster (LEFTLION) FINAL (540mm x 370mm)

Middle page poster of the June 2018 Issue of Leftlion Magazine

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Front cover of the June 2018 Issue of Leftlion Magazine

 

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What No one Tells You About The WOW Festival & The Legendary Activist Angela Davis

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Illustration by @thehoneyeffect

So the Women of The World Festival 2017 was fast approaching, I had previously led a heady, informative, rather risqué discussion there a couple years ago on the topic of ‘Who Owns Your Body’ I digress… and felt that the time was right to go back. I had all but given up on finding a ticket to see the Legendary Activist Angela Davis speak at the WoW Festival 2017 as the tickets sold out faster than a Sprinter of Jamaican descent… late for work.

I tried to hunt a ticket down before I got my day pass for WOW but no luck. I decided to try one last time and put an open call out on Facebook for any spare tickets and luckily an random Facebook friend Chelsea Black came to my rescue and sold me a front row ticket no less! yaassss!

So I went down to London Saturday, 11 March 2017 on a Sn-ap coach (if you have to do last minute discounted public transport I highly recommend them Notingham to London 6 pounds! bargain). Along the way down to Southbank Centre, in Covent Garden I spotted some beautifully floral collaged protest art by an artist called Sophia Tassew called ‘Mandem Need Feminism’…. how apt.

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‘Mandem’ by Sophia Tassew

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, Hannah Pool in Conversation with Reni Eddo-Lodge

Then I arrived at the heaving box office at Southbank Centre, filled with lots of beautiful women from all over the world of which I should’ve taken a photo of… I guess I was worried about my tickets. Then I went to my first conversation/ discussion of the day, which was titled ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge #titleoftheday who was promoting her book of the same title of which started out as a blog. She spoke about the frustrations, discomfort and social implications of talking about race. She raised topics such as whites fragility, Male fragility, intersectionality and white feminism.

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

Where as I thought this talk was interesting and Journalist/ Writer Hannah Pool asked cool questions, though I could hear metaphorical eggshells being crushed in the room. I think that this particular was designed for white people (of which probably reflects the point of the book). I say this in part because a small part of the conversation was spent reassuring a white woman who said she was a diversity leader that does everything she can to help PoC’s.

who while asking a question, proceeded to burst into tears whilst devolving into a puddle of the finest white guilt… centering herself of which felt like a misogynoiristic attack. Hannah Pool reassured the white woman and said that we appreciate your vulnerability, I disagreed under my breath…. I’ve witnessed so much fragility in life that I could drown in white tears #crymeariver #Imonfire.

Reni told the woman in a very tactful considered manner that her tears were misplaced and it would be better if she transformed her white guilt into action and helped towards dismantling white privilege and redistributing power (I’m paraphrasing but you get it).
Its super hard to have conversations about race in a room full of middle class white women in the uk and not upset one of them so much that you can almost see your career smashing to smithereens on the ground. It was positive that it happened and I cant wait to read the book.

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

Crown of Confidence by Rachael Young

Rachael Young performance artist extraordinaire led the next workshop, it was a fun, a much needed rest bite from serious discourse about white feminism, Black feminism and white supremacist patriarchy. Crown of Confidence is a DIY Hair Salon, an intimate social space for practically re-imagining yourself through the art of hairstyling. We spoke of our childhood, heros, gender norms and I sprayed my hair blue and others sprayed their hair pink and exchanged social media with a couple people too! funtimes

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

Open Toolkit For How Magic and Messed Up Life Can Be Lauren Laverne in Conversation with Gemma Cairney

TV and radio personality, journalist and teen ambassador Gemma Cairney talked about her new book, OPEN: A Toolkit for How Magic and Messed Up Life Can Be, exploring everything from mental health and families, to first love and technology with broadcaster Lauren Laverne. I found this surprisingly inspiring, I found Gemma’s young, quirky style, fun use of language and summery approach to DIY teen girl empowerment to be unique.

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

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@tammyscribbler @kikibaby79 @thehoneyeffect [Photo Credit: Tamara Gausi]

Then…

Jude Kelly In Conversation with the legendary… Angela Davis

Legendary African-American activist Angela Davis talks to Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director Jude Kelly CBE about women, race and class in the post-Trump era. This was phenomenal, the grandiosity of the hall was packed with feminists and headwrapped and natural haired womanists of every shade of brown as far as the eye could see. I was talking to countless beautiful black women of all ages some had come down from as far away as Birmingham, Leeds and even North London despite a train delay a woman confessed lol. We talked about the day thus far and the conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to be held after Angela Davis. We talked about how the tickets for this sold out Conversation with Davis were like gold dust and about other activists we’d like to see and would like to have seen such as bell hooks, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston. The atmosphere was set to ignite, anticipation was killing us all softly, you had to be there.

Queenly figure of Angela Davis crowned with golden afro curls arrived on stage to a much deserved rapturous standing ovation. After a couple minutes she gestured the crowd to be seated as if to playfully say stop being silly and the conversation commenced.
Davis dropped gem after gem and spoke of  Womanism, Islamophobia, the abolition of gender policing, White fragility, Audre Lorde,’Evolution Feminism’, ‘Never mind the glass ceiling that white feminism is trying to break through, what about the floor that keeps falling from beneath women of colour?’
‘I’m not a feminist I’m a Black woman’
Intersectionality and much more.
She asked men to stand up and clap for all the women in the crowd, my phone was on 1% and I decided to bask in the moment and let the applause wash over me (Reminded me of that classic hip hop tune by ‘Black Girl’ by Talib Kweli).
The talk had been insightful and powerful but it felt like the the air was pregnant with something as if something explosive was going to happen…

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

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and then it happened…
She asked if anyone had any questions and I was about to raise my hand but noticed a black woman a seat away desperate to be heard almost standing, raising her hand as high as it would reach… I thought to myself I happened to be sitting a seat away from a Black British Activist Marcia Rigg, Marcia is the sister of Sean Rigg who died in Brixton police station in 2008. Marcia is a mental health activist and runs the Sean Rigg Justice And Change Campaign. Marcia gushed an outpouring of love and respect for Davis by referring to Davis as being her hero and asked a poignant and highly emotional question about black people secretly dying in police custody in the UK and mentioned her loss and activism, plus asked how to cope as a black woman activist. Davis gave her a heartfelt thanks for her question and answered it with grace and tact. Then soon after Marcia Riggs leapt up on stage and gave Angela a big hug! the crowd gave them both a standing ovation, needless to say the whole room got in their feels, not a dry eye in the room.
Needless to say Im thankful I got my last min ticket!
What an exquisitely inspiring day!

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