Racism, Skinheads, and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies in 1970s British Schools

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) recently reported that kids as young as ten in England have taken to whitening their faces in an attempt to fit in after repeatedly being the target of hate crimes and being told to “go back to your own country” in Brexit Britain. It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Multi-racial School Life in the second largest city in Britain — Birmingham.
Primary School Life in the second-largest city in Britain — Birmingham. Image source

At twelve, my best friend was a white boy named David, who lived across the road from us. David and I walked to school together, went berry picking with his dad in summer, slept in each other’s house or pitched a tent in the backyard just for fun in stormy weather.

One day, David became ‘an accidental Skinhead’ when the barber gave him a lopsided haircut. I didn’t laugh when his white mate, Steve, said he looked just like a plucked chicken. David went back the next day and had his head shaved. He never spoke to me again after Steve had his hair chopped off, too, although I lived on the same road in the same house and went to the same school for four more years. He developed Skinhead associations in steel-toed boots and drainpipe denim.

Schoolyard friendships, 1970s, London.

This instant separation was the ‘normal’ pattern of racial division in South London as we moved from the primary school innocence of multi-racial friendships into a comprehensive education system reflecting the myriad concerns of a racist adult world. Consequently, the black boys tended to band together, as did the white boys and the few Asians. There was safety in numbers, we felt.

Our particular group of boys liked the same music. We shared our teachers’ over-enthusiastic push for us to take up sports. We suffered their ‘limited expectations’ of our potential educational and vocational achievements. A point underlined by the over-representation of black students in the low-ability ‘C’ and ‘D’ band classes. Of the approximately…

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Often found in far-flung places reading Walter Mosley with a rucksack on his back.