Monday, January 23, 2012

A Black man in Britain

From the chapter where the author - a well-educated, well-dressed, well-spoken Black man - has been openly turned down for work a number of times because of the colour of his skin in the Britain of the 50s.

"I had now been jobless for nearly 18 months. Disillusionment had given place to a deepening, poisoning hatred; slowly but surely I was hating these people who could so casually, so unfeelingly deny me the right to earn a living. I was considered too well educated, too good for the lowly jobs, and too black for anything better. Now, it seemed, they even resented the fact that I looked tidy.

When my demobilisation became imminent I had written to my uncle about the problem of clothes rationing, and, over a period of months, he had sent me a supply of underwear, shirts, socks, ties and four nice looking suits which fitted me tolerably well; the clothing coupons I had received at the demob center were used in purchasing a few pairs of very serviceable shoes.

Caught like an insect in the tweezer grip of prejudice, I felt myself striking out in unreasoning retaliation. I became distrustful of every glance or gesture, seeking to probe behind them to expose the antipathy and intolerance which, I felt sure, was there. I was no longer disposed to extend to English women or elderly people on buses and trains those essential courtesies which, from childhood, I had accorded them as a rightful tribute, and even found myself glaring in undisguised hostility at small children whose innocently enquiring eyes were attracted by my unfamiliar complexion.

Fortunately for me, this cancerous condition was not allowed to establish itself firmly. Every now and then, and in spite of myself, some person or persons would say or do something so utterly unselfish and friendly that I would temporarily forget my difficulties and hurts. It was from such an unexpected quarter that I received the helpful advice which changed the whole course of my life."

- ER Braithwaite, "To Sir, With Love"

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