Black achievement

Darcus Howe (19 June) wears his jester's hat to discuss how the black working class feels about itself and academic achievement. For he makes strange claims: he and C L R James are academic failures; the black working class is alienated from its children and the black middle class, and is not interested in academic achievement; racism is a product of black middle-class whingeing.

Jesting apart, both Howe and James would have been high achievers in any setting they chose. They were both scholarship winners to Queen's Royal College (QRC), one of the institutions set up in the empire to educate colonial elites, and QRC was, in its time, a leading Caribbean public school.

Much of the Caribbean community in Britain is a working class whose struggles for a proper education have produced children with qualifications, the black middle class. These two groups are family. There is no black bourgeoisie. The black middle class is deeply insecure because a racist society does not give it permanent status. Racism is not a product of their whingeing, but a constraint on their potential, which their working-class parents also experience.

Howe has made contributions to British society that were needed in our developing Caribbean. Maybe he should have paid more attention to his grandfather's advice on achievement. Whether he had become leader of the Anglican Church in the West Indies, or of a Caribbean-wide movement for social revolution, the contribution would have been priceless. He could have done more for Trinidad than Eric Williams, another scholarship boy to QRC.

"Zoot" Burton
St John's, Antigua, West Indies

This article first appeared in the 10 July 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Education, education, profit