By Pen Mendonca
Graphic by www.penmendonca.com @MendoncaPen
When the Windrush Crisis was exposed last year, my father, a British citizen who migrated from Karachi to London in 1957, had this to say about appalling treatment of the Windrush generation and their families: “The British don’t understand their own history.” Education shapes our understanding and/or misunderstanding of British and world histories, the Runnymede Trust is one of many who has done work on this. But of course formal education is not the only way we learn about which people, and what stories, are remembered and valued in society. The media and the arts, our national symbols, who we spend time with, what we research, watch, listen to and read all have an impact. This year, in a study funded by Arts Council England, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) found that only 1% of the nine thousand children’s books published in the UK in 2017 included a Black and minority ethnic character. Despite significant barriers, there are a wealth of books, websites, performances and films that reflect our multiculturalism, and bring life to our diverse histories. In the past year we have had Andrea Levy’s The Long Song on BBC One, Dr. Shirley J. Thompson’s Psalm to Windrush: for the Brave and Ingenious (performed on Windrush Day at Westminster Abbey), and Testament’s extraordinary Black Men Walking (Directed by Dawn Walton) which reminded us that Black people have lived in this country for at least two millennia, long before slavery. While the arts bring us so many opportunities to re-engage with marginalised stories from this incredible country’s past, those of us with an interest in social care also have a role to play. My highlights of 2018 include recording the innovative work of the mental health partnership Black Thrive, along with a local celebration of the Windrush generation in Brixton organised by Lambeth Age Concern. The Windrush Crisis is not only about race and migration, it is also about health, housing and employment, and it raises serious questions about how we treat all of our older citizens. As the Chair of Think Local Act Personal Clenton Farquharsen MBE explains: ‘Who are we talking about when we talk about inclusion? If we are to inspire the next generation, then we need to acknowledge our diverse history, and that includes celebrating Black and minority ethnic contribution and leadership.’
The renewed interest in how we construct and represent histories, and its impact on the communities we serve, is why national symbols including banknotes are so important. Many leaders within social care, including Javid Khan CEO of Barnardo’s, have been quick to support Patrick Vernon OBE and Zehra Zaidi’s campaign to have the first ethnic minority on a British banknote. In an interview on Sky News the Chief Executive of Turning Point, Baron Victor Adebowale CBE described the situation as shocking: “400 years of the Bank of England and not one Black face on any currency, in a multicultural, global country like Great Britain?’ Last year thousands signed petitions for a new figure on the £50 note, including 130,000 people wanting the Jamaican Crimean War Nurse Mary Seacole. Over 200 people, including artists, public/voluntary sector leaders and politicians from across political parties, signed a letter to the Bank of England, and this month more than 100 MPs are backing the campaign. For Peter Hay CBE, Trustee of SCIE, signing up to the campaign was obvious: ‘The global definition of social work challenges us to ‘promote social change’ based on the principles of social justice and respect for individuals,’ he explains, ‘for me the Banknote campaign is about seeing and celebrating the diverse country that we are.’
Recently one of my colleagues suggested that there are far more important things for us to be doing than supporting a campaign about who gets to be on a banknote, he was White. But what matters to the communities we seek to serve? And why shouldn’t that matter to all of us? When listening to the innovative social care futures network I am often struck by the number of references made to cultural practices and conceptions of family within Black and minority ethnic communities. As a single mother regularly working unpredictable hours across the country, without local family support, it is a Ghanaian family who are most likely to step in with emergency childcare, and it is through Skype that I get the support I need from my family. As someone with White privilege, getting involved in campaigns like this are a form of education, they help me to better understand the historical and current context I am working within, and make me more aware of the levels of discrimination (and abuse) being experienced by individuals and communities (including online). We need to stop talking about communities being ‘hard to engage’ and simply engage with them.
To support the campaign check out #BanknotesOfColour.
Dr. Pen Mendonça is a graphic facilitator and cartoonist with more than twenty years experience of working across the UK public, private and voluntary sectors. Her graphics are widely published and exhibited, and have been translated in to numerous languages. She has a background in social care and advocacy and developed the concept of ‘Values-Based Cartooning’ as a research method for those working on contemporary social issues. Pen is an associate lecturer at the London College of Communication and a visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art. Her academic work is published in Studies in Comics, Studies in the Maternal and by Demeter Press. Her book will be published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. For further information see: @MendoncaPen www.penmendonca.com.