Social Anthropologist - Scherin Barlow Massay

Social Anthropologist – Scherin Barlow Massay

When the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury in 1948, its passengers were mainly men. Later, when people were recruited from the Caribbean to work in the National Health Service, those professionals (usually women), had jobs in which single lodgings were provided.

But Caribbean migrants were not the only ones competing for homes and jobs during the 1960s. Beginning in 1951, over 500,000 people left rural Ireland in search of economic stability in England. Many found lodgings in the poorer areas of London, which were also the areas that Caribbean migrants found housing.

Before women joined their men folk (the men had paid their fares), they envisioned economic stability. Many were also convinced that they would leave behind the characteristic male and female relationship patterns that governed most Caribbean societies.

Instead, significant numbers found that their husbands and fiancés were now cohabiting with Irish or English women or having relationships with women from other Caribbean islands. Furthermore, some of these men now had new families.

Separated from their extended families, and with no economic freedom, some women had no choice but to stay in relationships that were often emotionally and physically abusive. Although betrayed, many stayed with these men because the children they had together were to join them in the near future. Yet, another factor for staying was the stigma attached to returning home under those circumstances.

Early white landlord. Photo courtesy

Early white landlord. Photo courtesy

Another problem was one of housing; people often had to live in old dilapidated housing stock. Dwellings were often overcrowded with tenants who had their own national identities and national pride. Some nationalities thought that they were superior to others and this became a source of friction and division among tenants from other countries.

Children also came with their own expectations and when they joined their parents, those were some of the undercurrents and challenges they faced. They also struggled with the realities of being shut up in cramped one roomed living conditions; in dwellings that had only one toilet (sometimes outside) and cooking facilities shared between ten or more people.

Some, having come from bigger and better homes and from cultures where most social activities were conducted outdoors, must have experienced feelings of sadness, disorientation, anger and hopelessness, in other words, culture shock.

Already feeling culturally and socially isolated in their new environments, those feelings became more acute when placed in the school system. They became aware of the negativity associated with difference. It was brought home in the playground and also in the classroom. In the play ground, it took the form of exclusions, name calling, spreading rumours and sometimes physical fights.

In the classroom, they were scrutinized, labeled and often institutionalized; placed in ‘special schools’.  In reality, special schools were used to contain children who were deemed troublesome or of low IQs. Thus, Caribbean children became victims to the imbalance of power. As education was a valued commodity in the Caribbean and because children came with the hopes and the well wishes of the community, letting down the kinship (through no fault of their own) became another form of internalized suffering.