Bernard Coard on How the System Works

How the System Works: The Black child’s true identity is denied daily in the classroom. In so far as he is given an identity, it is a false one. He is made to feel inferior in every way. In addition to being told he is dirty and ugly and ‘sexually unreliable’, he is told by a variety of means that he is intellectually inferior. When he prepares to leave school, and even before, he is made to realise that he and ‘his kind’ are only fit for manual, menial jobs.

The West Indian child is told on first entering the school that his language is second rate, to say the least. Namely, the only way he knows how to speak, the way he has always communicated with his parents and family and friends; the language in which he has expressed all his emotions, from joy to sorrow; the language of his innermost thoughts and ideas, is ‘the wrong way to speak’.

A man’s language is part of him. It is his only vehicle for expressing his thoughts and feelings. To say that his language and that of his entire family and culture is second rate, is to accuse him of being second rate. But this is what the West Indian child is told in one manner or another on his first day in an English school.

As the weeks and months progress, the Black child discovers that all the great men of history were white—at least, those are the only ones he has been told about. His reading books show him white children and white adults exclusively. He discovers that white horses, white rocks and white unicorns are beautiful and good; but the word ‘Black’ is reserved for describing the pirates, the thieves, the ugly, the witches, etcetera. This is the conditioning effect of what psychologists call word association on people’s minds. If every reference on TV, radio, newspapers, reading books and story books in school shows ‘Black’ as being horrible and ugly, and everything ‘white’ as being pure, clean and beautiful, then people begin to think this way on racial matters.”

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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