To Sir, With Love, by E.R. Braithwaite is the classic I choose for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) author category for the 2021 Back to the Classics challenge.
First published in 1959, To Sir, With Love is the memoir about the author's experiences as a Black man teaching high school in London shortly after WWII. Braithwaite was born in the British colony, Guyana, and was Oxford-educated and served in the RAF as a pilot during the war. After the war, Braithwaite tried to find work in London as an engineer but no one would hire him once they met him and discovered he wasn't white.
He finally found a job as a teacher in an East End school that had a very liberal headmaster who was able to see past Braithwaite's skin color.
The memoir covers Braithwaite's struggles to find work, his early days as a teacher, learning by doing and treating the rowdy, rough children in his care with respect and challenging them to treat him with respect in return. It also covers his relationships with the other teachers as well as some of the parents of his students and his struggles to find housing and the discrimination he felt in almost every aspect of daily life.
I admired Braithwaite's persistence and faith in his own intelligence, code of conduct, and capacity to loved and be loved. I found his courting a fellow teacher who was white to be fascinating. As isolated as he was because of the color of his skin, he had the courage to fall in love with a woman who shared his interests despite the stigma and danger involved in mixed-race relationships.
I think my favorite scene is when Braithwaite takes his class to the Victoria and Albert museum. Not only was it interesting to see how the children responded to the field trip, given that none had every had an experience like that, but it also showed how poor children are discriminated against as well and people of color.
To Sir, With Love is a marvelous book, 5 stars on GoodReads, and clearly articulates the pain and frustration that is inevitable with systemic rascism. Even after Braithwaite became beloved by his students and accepted by his peers, the rascim and prejudice never went away.
Once again, the movie version starring Sidney Poitier is a classic in its own right, and one that I have yet to watch, though I have had the title song from the movie, sung by Lulu, running through my head pretty continuously since I started reading the book.