Arts & Culture
Over A Barrel: Windrush Children, Tragedy and Triumph
- 6:00 pm
10 September 2023
Black Cultural Archives | £5
No.1 Windrush Square, Brixton, London SW2 1EF
While Windrush is often associated with adults seeking new opportunities and a ‘better life’, the stories of Windrush generation children are often overlooked. In the Caribbean diaspora, children were often taught to be seen and not heard, perpetuating a prevalent rhetoric. Our exhibition gives voice to both Barrel Children (a term coined by Dr. Claudette Crawford-Brown), who had minimal contact with their parents through remittances, often in the form of barrels of goods from England like letters, parcels, fabric, soap from abroad, and children born in Britain to Windrush parents.
These children have faced historical and ongoing challenges, especially within Britain’s education system, as well as enduring the injustices of the Windrush Scandal in adulthood. Our exhibition aims to amplify their voices, shed light on their experiences, and ensure recognition of their ongoing struggles for dignity and civil rights while celebrating their remarkable achievements and contributions to British society.
Through a broad chronological narrative of migration and community-building, the exhibition highlights the development of grassroots actions against racism in education, such as the Black Parents Movement and the African and Caribbean Education Resource project (ACER). These and other grassroots actions strived to improve outcomes for Black children in state education and build alternatives to state education.
Multi award-winning journalist Nadine White, in collaboration with Black Cultural Archives, has captured the memories of children left behind and sometimes reunited through photographs, film, ephemera, and personal recollections. The term “barrel children” was coined by Jamaican academic Dr Claudette Crawford-Brown, to describe children whose only connection with their parents was through remittances from abroad. The barrel had powerful resonance in many Caribbean homes, as its presence in the corner symbolised transatlantic connections. An empty barrel often indicated the intention to migrate at some point, whilst a barrel filled with goods became synonymous with life in the UK.
Some children, who remained in the Caribbean, were loved and well cared for by grandparents but others faced neglect and trauma. The goods sent in the barrel were seen as material resources for the left-behind children in lieu of direct care and contributions towards the upkeep of their guardians and wider family members. The Barrel Children constantly had to endure the emotional and physical disconnection from their parents and siblings who lived in the UK.
Children of the Windrush faced triple oppression while living in England. Whether they were born or migrated here, they constantly struggled to adjust and find their place in a hostile and unfamiliar society that was shaped by structures stacked against Black people. Nevertheless, these families demonstrate the triumph of resilience in the face of adversity. Our exhibition explores the racism and inequalities that Windrush children encountered in all aspects of society, including the socio-political sphere and the education system. The audience will have the opportunity to view Windrush through a different lens, which will leave them pondering how this multitude of experiences has contributed to the current contemporary issues at hand.
Today, the Windrush Children are elders within Black Communities in England, intimately familiar with the struggles they have endured. Many who were affected by the education system and the hostile environment as children are now adults facing disenfranchisement and abuse through the ongoing Windrush scandal. First surfacing in 2018, this scandal involved wrongful detention, denial of legal rights, and deportation of Black individuals by the UK government. Numerous Windrush children were labelled as educationally subnormal during their school years and are now seeking compensation for their mistreatment in Britain’s education system during the 1960s and 1970s. By delving into these scandals and shedding light on the current racism faced by Black children in education, our exhibition emphasises how they have acted as catalysts for significant educational initiatives that have supported Black children in the past and continue to do so.
Ultimately, Over A Barrel: Windrush Children, Tragedy and Triumph delves into the tales of the children of Windrush, stories deeply intertwined with both tragedy and triumph.
This exhibition is co-curated by Nadine White and Black Cultural Archives.
Header Image: A child drinks milk as he waits to leave the UK in 1961 and return to the West Indies (Getty)