To Sir, With Love
“Belief in an ideal dies hard. I had believed in an ideal, for all the twenty-eight years of my life – the ideal of the British way of life.” – E. R. Braithwaite
Born on June 27th, 1920, a Guyanese novelist, engineer, writer, teacher and diplomat; author of the 1959 autobiographical novel and blockbuster movie To Sir, With Love, starring Sydney Poitier, is Edward Ricardo Braithwaite. He migrated and attended City College of New York and thereafter University of Cambridge in London. During World War ll he joined the Royal Air Force as a Pilot.
After the war, Braithwaite could not find a job. Eventually, he took up a job as a teacher at a predominantly white school in the East End of London. The book To Sir, With Love, is truly an inspiring novel about a teacher’s trial and tribulations. Braithwaite writes about his own experiences with a senior class and the prejudice that comes with his job. It is an incredible read. Maybe we can all relate to this story and which we have overcome and that is exactly what E. R. Braithwaite did; he overcame the prejudice that face him in every turn.
At some points in the novel Braithwaite is publicly humiliated. On the bus an Englishwoman refuses to sit next to him.He guesses that she is secretly enjoying herself: “What a smooth, elegant, superior bitch!” He thinks to himself, but he says nothing. On the tube taking his pupils to the museum, two elderly well-dressed woman start ‘muttering about “shameless young girls and these black men” until one of the pupils, Pamela, shouts at them: “He is our teacher, do you mind?” Again, he is silent and so maintains his dignity.
In one of the scene the mother of one of the girls in the class comes in to complain about her daughter’s bad behaviour. The girl Pamela, confides in her teacher: she is upset about the men who call her widowed mother and in particular about something that happened that she cannot bring herself to mentioned. Again the narrator warns against rebellion and insist that Pamela should be an obedient and courteous daughter. Apparently, his message seems to be: the world will do its job; it is useless to fight against it; try to maintain your dignity; that is the best you can hope for.
In the novel Ricky (short for Ricardo) and Gillian strikes up a friendship in the staffroom which gradually develops into a romance. The main hurdle seems to be his worry about the effects of a racists society on her: ‘How long would our happy association survive the malignity of stares which were deliberately intended to make the woman feel uncomfortable, as if she has abjectly degraded not merely herself but all womanhood.’ In the mean time, she wants him to stand up against racism everywhere. Once they decide to marry they have to overcome her father’s unwillingness to grant consent.
When the time came for him to leave
“Because of in spite of myself, I felt a closeness to them, and as the time of my departure drew near, I found that the things I disliked about them most were not so offensive after all. I saw myself in them. I saw some aspects of their behavior as reflecting things that I thought and done.” His students gave him a farewell present. It was a package, marked, “TO Sir, With Love”. The package contain cigarettes, all bearing his initials. I discovered later that they had visited WD&HO Wills and ordered the cigarettes each initial “E.R.B.”