This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 26 November 2016.
BLACK NURSES: THE WOMEN WHO SAVED THE NHS
Thursday, BBC Four
LIFE AND DEATH THE PENTECOSTAL WAY
Sunday, BBC Two
When the great Aneurin Bevan created the NHS in 1948, it soon became apparent that his heroic endeavour required urgent assistance from beyond these shores.
There simply weren’t enough doctors, nurses and midwifes in Britain to support it, so thousands of Caribbean women were shipped over to assist the “Mother Country”.
Their story was told in BLACK NURSES: THE WOMEN WHO SAVED THE NHS, another revealing entry in the BBC’s excellent Black and British season.
This primarily mournful documentary illustrated how, despite playing a vital role in creating and sustaining the NHS for 70 years, they’ve rarely received the respect they deserve.
It starred a group of eloquent older ladies sharing vivid memories of their nursing careers, many of them tainted by anger and sadness. While they remain understandably proud of their achievements, the racism they experienced painted a dispiriting portrait of Britain then and now.
They recounted tales of white patients who refused to be treated by black nurses. One woman recalled being attacked in the street by a group of men. This was the thanks they received for serving our great nation?
The prejudice was horrendous. Angering archive footage revealed white ‘50s Britons decrying black immigrants as dirty, whereas in reality these young women were scrupulously hygienic. Indeed, they were shocked by the grubby state of Britain when they first arrived.
As far-right groups exploited rising tensions – images of ‘Keep Britain White’ graffiti mirrored recent reports from America of daubed hate speech in the wake of Trump’s triumph – most black women, regardless of ability, were unfairly funnelled into the junior nursing category. Their chances of promotion were almost non-existent.
To this day, black people represent only a tiny percentage of NHS senior management position. Several nurses spoke of becoming demotivated after being repeatedly passed over when applying for promotion.
Only in the field of midwifery did they gradually flourish, as midwives tend to be regarded as more important than nurses. Not true, of course, but that’s the prevailing view.
The programme was bookended by the observation that the midwife who helped to deliver ‘Prince’ George and ‘Princess’ Charlotte is black. That’s an achievement of sorts, I suppose, although I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps it wasn’t the best way of illustrating a semi-optimistic kernel of progress.
The Black and British season continued with the observational documentary, LIFE AND DEATH THE PENTECOSTAL WAY.
Pentecostalism is the fastest-growing Christian faith in Britain, with Black Majority Pentecostal churches proving particularly successful.
The programme spent time with the curators and parishioners of the Brixton New Testament Church of God, which was established by Windrush West Indians in the 1950s.
Religion gets short shrift in our increasingly secular society, often for good reason, but this was a convincingly positive portrayal of a church that embodies truly altruistic Christian values.
It plays a vital role in a community troubled by poverty, crime and police harassment. If Jesus Himself ran a charitable inner-city drop-in centre for vulnerable people, it would probably look something like this.
Even the way the church is funded, by locals donating however much they want, seemed sound.
Regardless of your beliefs, there’s no denying the admirable endeavours of these genuinely kind, tolerant children of God. I was particularly impressed by a rousing sermon from the charismatic Bishop Brown, as he urged his flock to treat all people equally.
It was a reminder that you’ve got to have faith, at least in human nature.