First published in 1976, this memoir by one of Britain’s first black headteachers is a vital story of survival doused in fury, humour and love. This online talk by her daughter Darla Gilroy, will tell some untold stories behind the book and its creation.
Gilroy was born in Guyana in 1924, and arrived in England in 1952 as an experienced and highly qualified teacher. However, because of aggressive anti-Blackness she was unable to secure a post for many years. Gilroy’s first job in education was in a Catholic school, teaching a class of seven-year-olds who whimpered and hid under the table when she arrived. Most of the white pupils she taught throughout her career parroted remarks made by their bigoted parents. “Black people live in trees. Me dad saw them isself. He was in the war. Black people roast people and eat them,” one child says. But with strength, wit and incredibly imaginative teaching, Gilroy turned the most troublesome of classes into engaged learners.
By the 1960s, schools had grown more ethnically diverse, and Gilroy’s challenge was now to consider the different cultural expectations of teaching. Still, she was a sensitive and experimental educator who cared deeply for expanding young minds through child-centred learning. “The pace, the temperature and the pulse of the classroom had to suit each child,” she wrote. “I turned to art and drama to help them towards an awareness of alternatives and to set new boundaries of their thinking.”
In many ways, Black Teacher is a book about white women, whose every grotesque prejudice is included here. Gilroy writes with surgical precision of their obsession with, and phobia of, her body. When breastfeeding, her nipples become the talk of the clinic. “That blackness around ’er tits! D’you reckon that’s good for the baby?” On a school trip, Sister Consuelo screams “Don’t touch me!” when Gilroy attempts to fan a wasp away from her neck, making Gilroy hyper-aware of her own hands. “I was nervous about picking things up,” she writes. There aren’t many such moments when Gilroy reveals her wounds, but when she does, it interrupts your breathing.
Early criticism of Black Teacher questioned its relevance. One reviewer argued: “We hear plenty of Nig-Nog, Nig-Pig and Wog hurled in her direction… Nonetheless, is it worth yet another voicing? Can the publishers seriously ask that the book should be taken to heart by educationalists and parents?” Gilroy’s title sat on the fringes of works exploring the postwar Caribbean immigrant experience, and after retiring from teaching she became an ethno-psychotherapist and wrote several novels — two of which took 30 years to find a publisher.
Last year there were calls to retitle schools bearing slave owners’ names, sparking a petition to name Beckford primary school in West Hampstead, north London, after Gilroy, a former head there. She deserves a similar level of recognition for her contribution to literature. Like ER Braithwaite’s To Sir With Love and Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, Black Teacher is a rare document of Black British survival, doused in fury and humour and love.
Black Teacher by Beryl Gilroy is published by Faber (£12.99)Above text extracted from June 2021 review in the Guardian by Kadish Morris.
This event is organised by Black History Walks in conjunction with the Sarah Parker Remond Centre at U.C.L.
About the speaker: Darla Gilroy
Darla Gilroy is a British academic and former fashion designer.She was also one of the four “Blitz kids” featured in David Mallet’s music video for David Bowie’s 1980 number 1 hit Ashes to Ashes.
After graduating from Saint Martin’s School of Art, Gilroy set up her own design label, Darla Jane Gilroy, which had a shop on London’s King’s Road. Gilroy travelled extensively, manufacturing under license in Hong Kong and living in the Far East for four years. This work has been considered exemplary of what Black British designers brought to mainstream British fashion in the 80s and 90s,and consequently some of her work from this period has been featured in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
Her design work received considerable publicity when it was available, helping to define the glamorous, flamboyant style with which British fashion of the 80s and 90s is still associated.
Gilroy has had a long involvement with design education, both undergraduate and post graduate, as a visiting lecturer, external examiner and course advisor, teaching at Ravensbourne, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, the University of Westminster, Southampton University, University of East London, and most recently the University of the Arts.She is currently the Programme Director for the Design and Craft group of courses at London College of Fashion. She has taught postgraduate students at The Royal College of Art in the School of Fashion and Textiles and has her own practice as a consultant designer and trend predictor.
She is soon to be Associate Dean of Knowledge Exchange at Central Saint Martin’s, UAL the world renowned Art & Design University leading creative practice . She is the daughter of Beryl Gilroy.
This is an online event the link will be sent to the email you register with please check your JUNK mail when you register and on the day.
Look out for our new book ‘Black History Walks in London Volume 1’. This is part of Jacaranda Books revolutionary Twenty in 2020 initiative to publish 20 books by 20 Black British authors in 2020. An unprecedented feat. ‘Black History Walks in London Volume 1’ is the 20th of that series but was delayed to this year due to the Coronavirus
Other online events from www.blackhistorywalks.co.uk
- African Women Resistance Leaders: Political and Spiritual course Part 1
- 20 Banned Black films you need to see
- Black History Success Stories in London
- African Graphic Novels; the rise of Black superheroes
- The economic impact of African hair, local and global
- 19th century superheroine Sarah Parker Remond
- 1958 Notting Hill remembering the ‘riots’ and black resistance
- Black history bus tour
- Black history river cruise
- Earl Cameron season at BFI Southbank
- Black British Civil Rights and Darcus Howe day
- Secrets of Soho Black History Walk
- St Paul’s/Bank Black History Walk
About the Sarah Parker Remond Centre at UCL
The University College London Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the Study of Racism and Racialisation explores the impact of racism – scientific, metaphysical and cultural. Part of the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, they work closely with many partners on-site to provide a focal point for scholarship, teaching and public engagement activities that are addressed to various problems of racial inequality and hierarchy