Bernard Coard on Prejudice Toward and Patronisation of the West Indian Child in British Schools

“Prejudice and Patronisation: There are three main ways in which a teacher can seriously affect the performance of a Black child: by being openly prejudiced; by being patronizing; and by having low expectations of the child’s abilities. All three attitudes can be found among teachers in this country. Indeed, these attitudes are widespread. Their effect on the Black child is enormous and devastating.

That there are many openly prejudiced teachers in Britain is not in doubt in my mind. I have experienced them personally. I have also consulted many black teachers whose experience with some white teachers are horrifying. Two West Indian teachers in South London have reported to me cases of white teachers who sit smoking in the staff-room, and refuse to teach a class of nearly-all-Black children, When on occasion they state to their refusal to teach ‘those [plural form of the n-word]’. These incidents were reported to the head teachers of the schools, who took no action against the teachers concerned. In fact, the heads of these schools had been trying to persuade the children to leave the school when they reached school-leaving age, even though their parents wished them to continue in their education, in some cases in order to obtain CSEs and ‘O’ Levels, and in other cases because they thought the children could benefit from another year’s general education. Therefore, the teachers in this case conspired to prevent these Black children from furthering their education by simply refusing to teach them.

There are many more teachers who are patronising or condescending towards Black children. These are the sort who treat a Black child as a favourite pet animal. I have often overheard teachers saying: ‘I really like that coloured child. He is quite bright for a coloured child.’ One teacher actually said to me one day, in a sincere and well-meaning type of voice: ‘Gary is really quite a nice boy considering he is Black’. There are other teachers who will not press the Black too hard academically, as ‘he isn’t really up to it, poor chap’. Children can see through these hypocritical and degrading statements and attitudes more often than adults realise, and they feel deeply aggrieved when anyone treats them as being inferior, which is what patronisation is all about. They build up resentment, and develop emotional blocks to learning.”

Excerpted from: Coard, Bernard. How the West Indian Child Is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System: 50th Anniversary Expanded Fifth Edition. Kingston, Jamaica: McDermott Publishing, 2021.

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