A letter from… Jamaica and the Cayman Islands
A complaint from the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands
In 1969, the Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff released the song ‘Many Rivers to Cross’. Sung in a plaintive voice, the song explores loss and being lost on a journey which includes sighting the white cliffs of Dover, England. The song speaks of rejection by a woman without explanation, and is desperate at points (the singer contemplates doing some ‘bad’ things on this journey across many rivers.)
Seventy years since that journey which some call the beginning of Caribbean mass migration, for many of us, the Windrush experience consists of an unending journey across rivers. Windrush, for Caribbean people of African descent, is preceded in historical terms by another journey, one under the whip of European slavery.
From a variety of parts of Africa, against their will, people set out to undergo the perilous middle passage over the Atlantic. Those who survived the crossing arrived to a life of trauma and brutality. Yet they survived. Indeed, they were resilient and continued to journey toward freedom and the establishment of families and subsequently new nations. These Caribbean people were able to navigate the hostile environment of ‘many rivers to cross’, then and now.
For generations, the British state and some of its citizens have demonstrated antipathy, racism and ignorance toward the former colonials who peopled the empire. When people from British colonies fought wars and subsequently helped rebuild Britain, they encountered visible and invisible signs of hostility in their search for lodging and belonging. Potential rental spaces had signs saying: ‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.’ Caribbean Christians still have memories of suffering the indignity of white fellow Christians changing their seats to avoid sitting next to them when they sought spiritual solace in London’s churches in the 1960s. Since then, visible signs have been replaced but underlying ones remain…
This is an extract from an article was jointly written by the Revd Norbert Stephens, General Secretary of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI); Ms Lesley Hare, Communications Officer for the UCJCI; and Dr Hilary Robertson-Hickling, a member of St Andrew’s Scots Kirk United Church in Kingston, Jamaica, and Senior Lecturer at the Mona School of Business and Management, University of the West Indies
This extracts is from an article that was published in the October 2018 edition of Reform