Being British-Jamaican: Cultural Limbo
The current “Windrush scandal” has me returning to questions of my identity and the cultural limbo I am I constantly subject to. I am the granddaughter of Jamaican immigrants, but on paper I am British. Without being dramatic, it can often feel like I don’t truly belong to either country, whilst simultaneously being defined by both. Though born and raised in the UK, the social and political climate constantly reminds me that this country sees me as an “other.” However, despite never having set foot in my home country, I know that I would still be considered an outsider there, because I am essentially a foreigner there too.
My family have always instilled a sense of pride for my Jamaican heritage, and I always maintained that I was Jamaican before I was British. But this country does not truly accept us. Three generations deep into this country I am still asked where I’m really from, despite being fully integrated into British society. Therefore, in our household the only time we made reference to being British was when it came down to filling out forms.. Even then we tick the “Black British-Caribbean” box, so we never really identifying as British. It almost feels like being British was just a formality, and not an actual part of my identity. I never claim to be English. I just happened to be born here. There’s a saying that springs to mind “a cow born in a pig pen is still a cow.” It doesn’t matter where in the world I might have been born, my blood and heritage still make me Jamaican.
So, it was not until I studied modules on identity and post-colonial theories at university that I began to truly understand the complexities of my identity. Before then it was just something that I never questioned. With time, I have come to understand that to call myself just Jamaican is not enough. Yes, it is a huge part of my cultural makeup, but I have also been heavily influenced by my British upbringing. There are privileges and differences in my upbringing that detach me from Jamaica in a lot of ways. I have to acknowledge that in some respects I am undeniably British too, and just to make it confusing, I recognise that I can never fully identify with either country. I am specifically British-Jamaican; my identity lays somewhere between the two.
Being British-Jamaican is understanding that my people have consistently contributed to this country’s greatness, whilst still being marginalised and discriminated against. It is to understand that I am expected to be grateful for the things that I have worked 10x as hard for, because the white saviour/ colonial delusions of grandeur of this country, insinuate that I am freeloading no matter how hard I work. Jamaican slaves were forced to bear the brunt of building this country’s industry without reaping the benefits, and then in latter years the Windrush generation were coerced by the British into rebuilding it, whilst still not being accepted. Being British-Jamaican is experiencing the frustration of only knowing a country, which constantly tells me that I am inadequate and other, and knowing that I would only face the same identity problems back home. It is also knowing that Jamaica will never truly be “home” because my family and friends are here, and I did not grow there. So, even when I recognise the flaws of this country it’s not as simple as going “back to my country.”
This whole Windrush scandal has reminded me of this identity conundrum once again. I have been thinking a lot about the culture shock of it all on an intersectional level. A lot of Windrush families moved to Britain in hopes of a better quality of life, meaning they came from poorer working class backgrounds. What does that mean for middle class British-Jamaicans like me? A lot of us have simplistic romanticised visions of back home. The West’s bastardisation of our country paints the picture of a classless paradise where everyone’s a rum drinking, weed smoking Rasta, but that’s not the case. Jamaican society, like the English is divided by class, which proves a problem for those of us whose Jamaican references are working class, despite our British experience being middle class. If I were to emigrate back home, my education and unfortunately the fact that I am British would give me class privilege and ironically further detach me from my Jamaican identity. I would then face the question of how to properly integrate. Would I forgo my personal working class Jamaican roots to assimilate into the middle class? Would I ever be able to acclimatise to a working class lifestyle? As much as we joke about happily going back home, visiting for the summer holidays is not the same as living there. It seems that I’d no sooner fit into either society.
Even though the Home Secretary has been sacked and deportations revoked, I’m still angry. I am tired of British-Jamaicans having to prove their right to be treated as the British citizens they are. I am also tired of my people being penalised for situations that the British created. I find these current events to be a reminder of the many ways in which racial tensions for black Brits have not changed since the British first colonised our homelands. I think that we put a lot of emphasis on cultural purity and this is what gives us identity complexes. Britain’s constant dismissal of my British identity does not shake my understanding of who I am because I already know the score.
When my grandparents came to this country they endured discrimination so that wouldn’t have to. Working jobs that other brits considered beneath to support their families, that I might have a stab at an education which would afford me choices they didn’t have. They kept going despite the racial slurs and social divides, in the hope that my being born here would shield me for the same tensions. Unfortunately, with Brexit around the corner I find Britain’s colonial ideals creeping to the forefront of what it means to be “British” again. We have been sold the illusion of integration without the actualisation of such, and these current social tensions let us know that. I can’t say that I will ever be proud of being British in the same way that I am proud of being Jamaican, but regardless of what other Brits think I am British, and I have every right to be here. As much as I criticise this country, I cannot deny that I am fortunate to have been born and raised here. I don’t want to go anywhere, and I don’t think anybody who was born or raised here should be forced to.
Written by Amara Lawrence