Windrush Pioneer: Patrick Vernon Interviews Dame Jocelyn Barrow OBE

Dame Jocelyn Barrow has had a long distinguished career covering 59 years in Britain with her tremendous achievements and her long term commitment and passion for race and gender equality, education and promoting the heritage of the Caribbean community.

She was born in Trinidad on the 15th of April in 1929 of mixed race heritage her father was from Barbados (grandparents were Scottish and French). Dame Jocelyn was the eldest out of fourteen siblings with only six still live. As the matriarch along with her education and training this has shaped her to be feisty, maverick and astute which eventually held in good stead as a lifelong campaigner for race equality and social injustice. Dame Jocelyn went to St Joseph Covenant School and at the age of sixteen became one of the early members of the People National Movement working with the late Dr Eric William who became the first Prime Minster of Trinidad. She completed her training as a teacher but was still involved in politics and supporting the development of the West Indian Federation and her political party.


Windrush Generation

After working for several years she decided to move to Britain to complete her postgraduate teaching qualification at the Institute of Education. On the 1st of September 1959 she moved to London and thus became part of the Windrush Generation migration to Britain.

When the West Indies Federation was dissolved in 1962 she was disappointed in a similar way to her current feelings about Brexit that nations were not working together for the common good. One of her mantra… ‘You can achieve more if we work collectively’. This is what Dame Jocelyn believed that Britain did with its Empire through colonisation using all the talent and resources of its former colonies for the good of Britain. Thus she found it disappointing that people are not aware of this history and thus failed to understand why the Windrush Generation were here along with other parts of the Commonwealth. She talked in great detailed about the level of racism that she and others experienced in the 1950/60s in terms of jobs, housing and then the emotional and physical abuse. Although a lot of Caribbean people were educated and skilled they were treated at the bottom of the pile.

Whilst she was studying for her postgraduate qualification in teaching she got involved in a project called ‘Each One Teach One’ in helping children of Caribbean heritage to do their homework and to provide advice to parents on the education system. She said white teachers did not know how to support the learning of the pupils and that parents were ignorant of the education system as they assumed the teachers had the best interest at heart like teachers in the Caribbean. However, instead the children were being left behind and also classed as educationally subnormal. A few years later Jocelyn was involved in another initiative called the ‘Caribbean Communication Project’ which was aimed at improving literacy for Caribbean adults based on the national literacy programme called ‘On The Move’.

Fighting for Race Equality and Against the Colour Bar

Dame Jocelyn life changed when she and a number of activists arrange a roundtable meeting with Martin Luther King in December 1964. He did a stop over to London as he was going to Norway to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize.

King shared his strategies and tactics around non violence and holding the government to account around on race discrimination under Jim Crow in America. This meeting inspired Jocelyn and other activists to establish in 1965 Campaign against Racial Discrimination (CARD) with the main focus to establish race relations legislation against the colour bar and racism against African, Caribbean and Asian people in Britain. Dame Jocelyn became a founding member and General Secretary and later Vice Chair of the organisation. She was involved right up to 1970. CARD had a national committee with Anthony Lester, David Pitt, C. L. R. James, Dipak Nandy and Hamza Alavi. The organisation also had local branches around the country. Dame Jocelyn reflects on the hard work and campaigning particularly around the period between1965 and 1970 in lobbying for the two Race Relation Acts with additional work of helping individuals to exercise their rights for racism discrimination claims.

The 1965 Act had no real power as it did not look at employment or housing which was the biggest areas of discrimination. Thus the organisation working in partnership with The Observer newspaper undertook an employment survey one to capture the level of discrimination. A follow up survey was done for London Transport which provided further evidence of systematic racism in the labour market. The lobbying and evidence was critical to influence MPs that the 1968 Act should be more robust.

Despite her activism she was still working full time in teaching at a senior level and also as a teacher trainer in various roles at Furzedown College and at the Institute of Education London University in the ’60s, she pioneered the introduction of multi-cultural education, stressing the needs of the various ethnic groups in the UK.

In her interview she talked about managing open and covert racism and the strategy of self-care which people had to adopt for their mental wellbeing. This often meant at times not going key promotions or roles in public life as you got exposed with hate mail, verbal abuse, rejection and lack of respect. The glass ceiling was always present to you as black person she recounts. Other black women had similar experiences such as Beryl Gilroy who became one of the first Head Teachers in UK. Dame Jocelyn said: ‘maintaining my private life was critical to my self-care. However the more discrimination I faced the more determined and feisty I became’.

Rivers of Blood

Dame Jocelyn was strongly against Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968 which she believes gave the permission to far right organisations like National Front and Combat 18 to continued its campaign hate crime and violence against Black and Asian people In Britain. She also believes that Powell was a racist but he did this in sophisticated way.

Dame Jocelyn states: ‘He did not mine us coming to Britain but only do to low skill jobs only as he did not want to us to be in positions of authority.’

The expression in his speech the “The Blackman having the upper hand of over the white man” reflected his attitude towards Black people and the use of immigrations control’.

Dame Jocelyn recounts an experience with Powell which confirmed his racism and arrogance. She states:

I was invited by the late Sir Robin Day the broadcaster for a television magazine TV programme after the main news in Birmingham to talk about the 1968 Race Relations Bill going through Parliament along with an Asian Psychiatrist and Enoch Powell MP. We found out that Powell refused to be in the same studio as us and the BBC arrange for him to be a neighbouring studio in the same building so we would not be allowed have a direct conversation with even though he could hear our responses through the radio mics. This clearly showed him a racist, coward and he knew that he lose any arguments on why he was wrong regarding the Bill and his speech’.

When Dame Jocelyn became Governor at the BBC she made sure that the BBC journalism policy and practice would not allow for future racial segregation in television interviews in the future. Also she played a role ensure more Black talent had roles as news reporters, presenters and more opportunities in light entertainment and drama.

A Career in Public Life

Despite all the above challenges she was successful in developing a career in public life with a number of appointments made by Conservative and Labour governments between 1965 to the 1990s.She was the first black woman Governor of the BBC and Founder and Deputy Chair of the Broadcasting Standards Council. Her equal opportunities and educational expertise is reflected in her many Government appointments to a variety of organisations and statutory bodies. Governor of the Commonwealth Institute for eight years, Camden Communing Housing, Council Member of Goldsmith’s College, University of London, Vice-president of the United Nations Association in the UK and Northern Ireland and Trustee to the Irene Taylor Trust providing Music in Prisons. She is National Vice-President of the Townswomen’s Guild and was instrumental in the establishment of the North Atlantic Slavery Gallery and the Maritime Museum in Liverpool. She was a Trustee of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside and a Governor of the British Film Institute. In 1972 she was awarded the OBE for work in the field of education and community relations. In 1992 she received the DBE for her work in broadcasting and her contribution to the work of the European Union as the UK Member of the Social Economic Committee.

Windrush Scandal

With regards to the Windrush Scandal she feels very angry how the government has treated people of Caribbean heritage and sees this as another example of racism based on her 59 years of activism in Britain. However, she also feels that as a community we should have done more around leadership and mobilisation. She was aware back in 2014 when the Immigration Act was passed that this could be an issue in the future. She asked a number of key people that they needed to help the community to sort out their paper work and educate the community based on her experience of CARD. She was concerned that organisations that supported or represented the Caribbean community including the High Commissioners should have done more around lobbying and campaigning prior to the scandal compared to fallout now that we are dealing with like deportations and no financial support to the victims.

Dame Jocelyn stated ‘if I was still active I will be putting pressure on the government to speed up the compensation payments and get people to do a sit in various governments departments and offices demanding where is our cheque?’

She believes that Theresa May was ill advised but her officials and political advisers were keen to develop and implement the hostile immigration environment which she probably now regrets. Sajid Javid is probably doing a better job as Home Secretary but he has no interest in support and protecting the Black community especially with the compensation scheme and not giving citizenship to the Windrush Generation who have a criminal record or ‘poor character’.

Top Tips for Leadership and Activism

Dame Jocelyn believes the Windrush Generation could have done more especially around economic and business development as a legacy compared to their peers from other parts of the Commonwealth who probably have more respect from the government because of wealth and economic influence. However she is very optimistic of third and fourth generation of young people of African and Caribbean heritage in Britain who are now learning some of the lessons of the Windrush Generation to become more business focus and self reliant. Her instincts as a teacher and educator are still present and strong and in our interview as she shared the following tips around activism and leadership for young people:

• Stick to your brief and agenda on area of expertise Write this down so you reflect this on a regular basis
• Learn from your mistakes and others as this will empower you
• Have a conviction and strong belief in whatever you do as there will be times you need to stand alone
• Be wary of gifts and or opportunities you are given as make you obligated or comprise your agenda
• Find a couple of people that you can trust who can give your advice and help you out when required.

Although Dame Jocelyn Barrow has mobility problems her mind is still active and she will be celebrating her 90th birthday on the 15th of April in 2019. She is still happy to share her experience and wealth of knowledge to the next generation of activist and leaders. I am looking forward to reading her memoirs as a champion of the Windrush Generation and to support engage more with young people.