Bright Black Pupil Branded a ‘Slave’ Victim of Double Standards by School
By Deborah Gabriel (August 17, 2007)
When I got home I showed my mum – my school blazer had been ripped. Because we are Ghanaian, I know that a lot of slavery took place in West African countries. I felt that this boy was personally attacking my heritage – saying that all I am is a slave - that we [blacks] are not on the same level as them. -- Bernard Koomson, called a slave by a white student
A bright black pupil who wants to be a social anthropologist who was racially assaulted and had the word ‘slave04’ written on his back, has found himself being charged with ABH after hitting back in a separate incident where a ball was thrown at him.
Forty-three year old Joanna Koomson from Purfleet in Essex told Black Britain that her 17-year old son Bernard’s problems began when one day in November 2005, he returned home from his school, St. Edward Comprehensive Church of England School in Romford, Essex with the word ‘SLAVE04’ written on his back. Bernard was racially assaulted on the school bus on the journey home.
Joanna said that Bernard’s aggressor, a 17 year old white youth first hurled racial abuse at Bernard, calling him a ‘Nigger,’ before pinning him down and scrawling the offensive word on his back. Outraged, Joanna called the school and received assurances that the matter would be appropriately dealt with. But the following day when she spoke to the teacher dealing with the incident, it became apparent that the school was trying to justify the racial assault by saying that Bernard had taunted the white boy by making a remark about the film ‘Lord of the Rings.’ What enraged Joanna most was the teacher’s comment that ‘Bernard can be very silly sometimes.’
Joanna, who was born in Ghana where slaves were transported by the British to the Caribbean, told the teacher ‘When I hear that word it upsets me,’ pointing out that the school’s handling of the incident was unacceptable. The school’s response was to elicit a letter of apology from the boy who racially abused Bernard and to suspend him from school. But he was not required to make an apology in person and the school failed to point out to the boy why it is unacceptable in the 21st century to call a person of African descent a slave.
When Black Britain spoke to Bernard about the incident he said: “When I got home I showed my mum – my school blazer had been ripped. Because we are Ghanaian, I know that a lot of slavery took place in West African countries. I felt that this boy was personally attacking my heritage – saying that all I am is a slave - that we [blacks] are not on the same level as them.”
According to Joanna, St Edward's behaved as if she had blown the issue out of proportion and Bernard was warned not to mention the incident at school, even though other black children had heard about the incident and were naturally upset about him being branded a 'slave.’ Joanna told Black Britain that after the incident at the school it seemed that Bernard was picked on by teachers. One teacher told her that he was “lazy” and would not do better than ‘D’s in his GCSE’s. In fact Bernard gained one ‘A’, 5 ‘B’s and four ‘C’s. He could have obtained higher grades but after the incident he was moved into a lower tier for one of his subjects where the highest grade he could obtain was a ‘C.’
Bernard moved up into the sixth form, where he is studying four ‘A’ levels in Chemistry, Physics, Ethics and Philosophy and English Literature. His ambition is to become a social anthropologist. He told Black Britain:
“I am interested in the social sciences and I think it would be a good way to develop my people skills. I have been emailing a few anthropologists to see if I can do work experience with them.”
But his future career is in jeopardy and he may end up with a criminal record after hitting back at a white pupil who threw a ball at him in the playground. Bernard has been on edge ever since the racial incident at the school and the negative reaction he has had from teachers since that time. The school never dealt with the incident appropriately, leaving Bernard feeling violated. Therefore, last month when a boy threw a ball at him in the playground, this time Bernard retaliated.
But the reaction of the school was markedly different to the way they handled his racial assault. According to Joanna, rather than deal with the matter within the school, they suggested to the parents that they report the incident to the police. Joanna told Black Britain that during a meeting with the school about the incident, the head teacher of Bernard’s year said: “Well the boy threw the ball at Bernard, but he over-reacted.”
When Bernard was brought to the police station his mother was not present and when the arresting officer told Bernard he could have a legal representative – he stated that Bernard would have to be locked in a police cell until one could be found. Terrified of being locked up, Bernard waived the right to legal counsel and the police charged him – as an adult with aggravated bodily harm. Black Britain confirmed with a WPC handling the incident at Romford Police Station that the case will be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service because the boy is alleged to have suffered a fractured nose – even though no medical evidence has yet been received.
Joanna told Black Britain that she felt the school harboured a “grudge” against Bernard after she complained about their handling of the 'slave' incident: “It seems like tit-for-tat,” she said. When Bernard was racially abused and assaulted, the school told him to keep quiet about the incident. However, the latest incident, where Bernard is being severely punished has been announced to the whole school, making it very public. The whole experience has been worrying for both of them: “Since the holidays we have not been able to take our minds of it,” Joanna said.
“Ever since this incident and the criminal record, I don’t think my life can amount to anything,” a dejected Bernard told Black Britain.
“I just feel that this is very unfair,” Joanna said.
Black Britain tried to contact St. Edward Comprehensive Church of England School in Romford but was told that both the head teacher and deputy head teacher are abroad and could not be reached.
Joanna feels that Bernard would benefit from a mentor to help him through this experience and to encourage his career aspirations. Anyone interested in supporting Bernard can email editor at colourfulnetwork.net and we will pass on your details.
Originally appeared in Black Britain.