1
Untitled (cold research sketch), digital collage [possible poem], 2020, Camara Taylor. Source Image: 'Going to Britain?', BBC Caribbean Service © BBC, held by the British Library

*

How do you write a shiver? Or the chattering of teeth that becomes an anxious grind?

brrrrrrrr?

On the 18th June 1948, in a memorandum titled ‘On the Arrival in the United Kingdom of Jamaican Unemployed’, the Labour Government’s Colonial Secretary Arthur Creech Jones responded to the interest shown by ‘Parliament and the press in the matter of the Jamaicans who are due to arrive at Tilbury on 21st June’.[1] Creech Jones was at pains to show that the Colonial Office had taken ‘great steps’—short of the introduction of legal powers—to ‘discourage these influxes’. Having provided the context for his failure to do so, the memo goes on to explain the planned measures to deal with the incoming arrivals. These ranged from proposed sites for temporary housing in London, to the possibilities of employment and settlement of these people in other colonies.[2]

Aboard the SS Empire Windrush, passenger Sam King sat with two other Ex-RAF servicemen playing dominoes and eavesdropping outside the ship’s radio office. Speaking on the BBC, Arthur Creech Jones could be heard pointing out that ‘these people have British passports and must be allowed to land’. The men heard him assure listeners that there was nothing to worry about, for these new arrivals ‘would not last one winter in England anyway’.[3]

brrrrrrrr

In other reports his reassurance was recorded as:

‘Do not worry. These people are just adventurers. They will not last longer than one British winter.’ [4]

Regardless, the sentiment endures. Nadine El-Enany, citing Ikuko Asaka, demonstrates how Creech Jones’ comments must be situated within a long history of climatic racial mapping.

‘The assumption that people travelling to Britain from the colonies and Commonwealth were unsuited to a colder climate, or ”race-based environmental essentialism”, was, as Ikuko Asaka has shown, at the hearts of attempts across the British Empire to curtail the movement of people.’[5]

In her work Tropical Freedom, Asaka writes of how the construction of an essentialist relationship between ‘the black body’ and ‘the tropics’ allowed imperial powers to demarcate ‘zones of white freedom’, excluding enslaved and free black people from geographies constructed as ‘temperate’, whilst naturalising their relation to ‘tropical’ climates. The prevailing argument being that ‘people of African descent were more productive workers in the tropics’: white and european were ascribed to ‘temperate’ and black, blackness or the racialised other to the ‘tropical’. ‘Tropicality’ was therefore a concept that served as a tool of empire; a key part of the process of geographic domination that is—as Asaka argues—critical to how British and US Empires attempted to organise labour and continue plantation economies and plantocratic logics, preceding and in the wake of emancipation(s).[6]

This history of global imaginings of ‘temperate’ and ‘tropical’ zones was born in the context of Transatlantic chattel slavery, persists into the present, and is the thinking that undergirds Creech Jones’ statement.[7] His exploration of alternate sites of settlement for the Caribbean passengers aboard the Windrush further makes this point plain. Echoing similar projects of previous centuries (such as in British North America and Sierra Leone), Creech Jones hoped that the ‘situation’ could be relieved by securing employment and settlement for the men both in Guyana, then ‘British Guiana’ and Belize, then ‘British Honduras’. He also mentions the possibility of sending the men to Africa for employment, though this prospect produced ‘psychological difficulties’[8] for the Colonial Office.

The SS Empire Windrush anchored at Tilbury Docks on 21st June 1948. The following day, the arrivals—not the first nor the last—disembarked.[9]

Contrary to popular narratives, there was no warm welcome.[10]

ch-ch-chk-c-c-c-c-c

*

2
'Going to Britain?', Pamphlet, c.1959, BBC Caribbean Service.

‘Apart from close friends - they always assume that because you are black, you are temporary’

—Anonymous Afro-Scot respondent, 1995.[11]

In 1995, June Evans submitted a PhD thesis to the University of Edinburgh titled: African/Caribbeans in Scotland: A Socio-geographical Study. Evans had two objectives: to counter the invisibility of African/Caribbeans in Scotland by accounting for our historical and contemporary presence and socio-cultural geography; and to speak back to dominant claims that racism didn’t/doesn’t exist in Scotland. Evans’ archival research and literature reviews reveal a long history of black presence in Scotland. This precedes Evans’ in-depth account of the development of anti-black racism in Scotland, that includes—but is not limited to—Scots involvement slavery and the slave trade, paying much attention to the role of Scottish enlightenment thinkers in cultivating and propagating white supremacist ideologies at home and abroad. Connecting the historical to the contemporary, Evans circulated questionnaires to an intergenerational group of Black people living in Scotland, primarily in the central belt, both those born here and who had migrated. Responses contributed to the recording and understanding of anti-Black racism: from verbal and physical abuse to employment and housing discrimination, alongside what are now most commonly referred to as ‘micro-aggressions’.

‘Strangers ask how I cope with the cold and want to know when will I go home’

—Anonymous Afro-Scot respondent, 1995.[12]

There are nine mentions of ‘the cold’ in June Evans’ PhD thesis: some, as above, betray white Scottish assumptions about Black peoples suitability for the cold, always inflected with

why are you here?

which can then be understood as

when will you go?

*

3
Untitled (cold research sketch), digital collage, 2020, Camara Taylor. Source Image: Lumbermen of the British Honduras Forestry Unit In the United Kingdom, c. 1941, Imperial War Museum Collection, © IWM K 935

There is also reference to the experiences of British Honduran Forestry Unit (BHFU) workers in Scotland from 1941-44 [13]—civilian forestry workers from British Honduras who were brought to Scotland during World War II to support the war effort, filling labour shortages and meeting the high demand for timber.As unit member Amos A. Ford explains in his 1985 book on the BHFU, Telling the Truth, the men faced racial discrimination and neglect, with much ‘indifference shown to their sufferings in the cold’.[14]

Approximately 900 workers came to Scotland and were stationed at BHFU camps in Golspie, Kinlochwe, Achnashellach, Traprain Law, Duns & Kirkpatrick. Their presence was a source of discomfort to some, particularly in relation to their ‘fraternisation’ with white Scottish women in local villages. The Duke of Buccleuch voiced his concerns publicly and wrote to Harold Macmillan of his dislike of this ‘mixture of colour’ and continued racist tropes in his description of the men as ‘lazy’.[15] Macmillan had visited the camps of the Forestry Unit and responded to the Duke, noting that the men were ‘not lazy, but intolerably cold’. The emphasis was put on the contrast between the climate in Scotland and Belize (then British Honduras):

‘[…] never less warm than the most highly heated hot-house in our old-fashioned garden.

They therefore shivered and huddled themselves together and really did not begin to thaw out until spring.’[16]

Macmillan seemingly did not point to the fact that the men did not receive the additional clothing they had been promised on arrival in Scotland, nor that their boarding conditions were markedly different from their white counterparts in the camps.

*

7 front cover Telling The Truth Amos A Ford
Scans from, 'Telling The Truth', Amos A Ford, 1985, published by Karia Press.

Scotland is so c-c-c-cold.

the totality of our environment [17]

Cold is an adjective ascribed to white neighbours, co-workers and passersby; most other mentions refer to the cold glances, stares and reception contemporary Afro-Scots experience in daily life.

<<It’s a shame about the Weather>>

<< you get used to it though>>

<<do you?>>

How do you write a shiver? Or the chattering of teeth that becomes an anxious grind?

When you clench your teeth that’s 300 pounds of force on the tooth.

I read something that asked if the noise of grinding teeth could be the sound of determination. I was left to work out that highly determined means stressed, anxious and overworked.

What are the conditions that make a hostile climate?

And so then, how do you cope?

uh-uh-ih-ih-uhhh

***

[1] Memorandum by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, ‘Arrival in the United Kingdom of Jamaican Unemployed’, C.P. (48) 154 18 June 1948. http://filestore.nationalarchi… Contrary to Creech Jones’ referral to ‘417 Jamaicans’, the Windrush also carried more than this, including men, women and children from Bermuda and Trinidad, and Polish refugees.

[2] Ibid

[3] Richard Cavendish, ‘Arrival of the SS Windrush Empire Windrush’, History Today Vol 48 (6), 1998, https://www.historytoday.com/a…

[4] Colin Grant, ‘The Story of Windrush’, English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.o…

[5] Nadine El-Enany, ‘(B)ordering Britain’, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020, 82

[6] Ikuko Asaka, ‘Tropical Freedom: Climate, Settler Colonialism, and Black Exclusion in the Age of Emancipation’, Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2017, 3 -6, 11, 15-16. (See Krista A. Thompon, ‘An Eye for the Tropics’, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016 for more on the constructions of tropicality in the Caribbean and in particular the 19th century tourism industry and the emergence of tropical zones as ‘paradise’.)

[7] Ibid. 7

[8] Memorandum by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, ‘Arrival in the United Kingdom of Jamaican Unemployed’, C.P. (48) 154 18 June 1948. http://filestore.nationalarchi… El-Enany (2020, 83) presumes that this is a clumsy reference to the slave trade and the origins of the black people travelling from the Caribbean to work in England.

[9] El-Enany (2020) argues that the increase in migration of people across the British Empire, from racialised colonies to its heart -’the mother country’- was an unintended consequence of the 1948 British Nationality Act. She describes the intended function of the 1948 British Nationality Act as: to shore up the colonial project and propagate a declining Empire by constructing a shared British subjecthood across the colonies. In his memo Creech Jones, argues that ‘an influx’ like the arrival of the Windrush would not happen again, though conceded that, ‘we shall be faced with a steady trickle, which, however, can be dealt with without undue difficulty’. ‘Dealing with’ took the shape of the Commonwealth Immigration Acts of 1962 and 1968, and then the legislation of ‘Britishness as whiteness’ with the 1981 British Nationality Act and the Acts and policies that have come in its wake. See also Randall Hansen, ‘Citizenship and Immigration in Postwar Britain’, 2000.

[10] My grandparents’ audible scoffs directed at the screen and proceeding monologues during the news reporting of the Windrush Scandal and claims by MPs and reporters that the betrayal lay in the fact the Windrush generation were ‘British’, ‘welcome’ and ‘invited’. But see Nadine El-Elnany for scholarly evidence.

[11] June Evans, ‘African/Caribbeans in Scotland: A Socio-geographical Study’, PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh, 121 https://era.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/7187

[12] Ibid 121

[13] Amos A. Ford, ‘Telling the Truth: The Life and Times of the British Honduran Forestry Unit in Scotland (1941-44)’, London: Karia Press, 1985. See also Sana Bigrami’s 2004 Documentary film on the men, ‘The Treefellers’.

[14] Evans, 1995, 7

[15] Ford, 1985, 84

[16] Ibid, 85

[17] Christina Sharpe, ‘In the Wake: On Being and Blackness’, Durham: Duke University Press, 2016

***

Camara Taylor an artist, writer and researcher. Their current projects focus on the excesses of dominant discourse, and lower frequencies of objection in the context of Black lives. Camara lives and works in Glasgow. camarataylor.com

Camara would like to thank all those cited, and Emilia Beatriz, who offered crucial feedback and insights on the first iteration of this piece.

This writing introduces a series of articles curated by Camara Taylor, looking at ‘the cold’ in its various registers and realities.

This commission has developed as a collaboration between the Scottish BAME Writers Network (SBWN) and MAP resident Reviews and Projects Co-editors Alison and Rosie. Special thanks to Jeda Pearl of SBWN.