Antonia Michel is a single parent living in Westminster, central London. She spoke to Socialist Worker about the pressures facing black boys at school and college – and how racism in the education system and job market impacts on their lives.
“I’ve got five boys of my own and I’ve seen how they’ve been failed by the system,” she said.
“Black boys aren’t given adequate help in primary school, and once they reach secondary school they get excluded if there’s any kind of problem.”
Schools use exclusion as a “first port of call” against black boys, says Antonia, rather than working to resolve problems at an early stage.
“And once a child has been branded a ‘bad lot’, it becomes very difficult to find another school to take them.
“In my experience, there’s very little contact with the school. They let things build up, and then call you in and throw everything at you.
“You sit there as a parent feeling like you’re being picked on – they make you feel like it’s all your fault.”
Once children are excluded, the problems mount up – especially for single parents, who often have to leave work to look after children during the day.
“It’s no wonder parents’ hair is turning grey, that they’re stressed out or on anti-depressants.”
School exclusions directly lead to the “gang culture” that the government rails against.
“Children are kicked out of school and end up wandering the streets, getting involved in crime and god knows what else.”
While she has some sympathy with the notion that one problem is a lack of respect among children for teachers, she has no faith in the government’s ability to remedy this situation.
“Tony Blair’s just going over the top with this thing. He needs to stay out of our problems. It’s not going to help. The best thing the government can do is go back and undo what they’ve already done.”
Underlying all this is racism, which Antonia says is “very high”. “Young black boys are seen as troublemakers – they aren’t given a chance at school or in the workplace.”
She describes how one of her sons, aged 18, spent days trying to get a part time job.
“He was so stressed out, passing CVs round morning to evening, but no one gave him a chance.
“Then he found out that a young white friend of his went to the same shop that he’d been told had no vacancies – and she had got a job. So yes, racism is out there.”
And this racism pervades the assumptions in the education system too. “I think there’s been a hidden agenda going on for some time.
“A percentage of black children don’t pass their exams, but the attitude is, ‘They’re black, it’s to be expected.’ But if it were another section of society, something would be done about it.
“They know it’s going on, and they know it’s out there. Some teachers are not keen on giving black children the help and the push they need.
“It’s a real shame in this day and age. Our children are like everyone else’s children.
“Half of them are born and raised here – so why are black children still on the bottom of the ladder?”
A new edition of the book Tell It Like It Is – How Our Schools Fail Black Children is out in June. Contact Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop, for details. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to www.bookmarks.uk.com