As a young man in the 1960s, I lived for a few years in Trinidad (UK children should be taught black history, says Oyelowo, 10 February), finding a country almost split in two on racial lines: the descendants of slaves the British had brought from Africa, and the indentured labourers we forcibly brought out of India after slavery was abolished. This first-hand experience of what we British had done told me more than I had ever learned in any history lessons. This has stayed with me ever since, and I recall coming back to the UK to Enoch Powell’s racist bilge, which made me hate him even more, especially after seeing full-page advertisements in local papers in Trinidad, placed by the NHS and recruiting staff while he was health minister.
I don’t know what kids have been taught in the decades since then, but ignorance of how most immigrants came to be here is rife, suggesting that the topic has barely been addressed by the educational establishment. Our children should be told that most of the “greatness” of Britain came by exploitation of other people, directly as in slavery, indirectly by indentured labour and, of course, through our strong colonial presence in much of the world from Africa to Burma and beyond. We should be teaching our children this, if only to stop the sub-racist bilge that passes for policy in many parts of the political world, and not just Ukip.
• I remember as an inspector sitting in a classroom in a comprehensive, when the history teacher introduced the GCSE syllabus to a class of 13-year-olds. He had thoughtfully given each pupil a copy of what to expect if they were to choose history as one of their subjects in year 10. A black girl got up and asked: “Will there be outs?” The teacher was momentarily puzzled. “You know, sir, will we be going out? You can’t do history unless we go out.” The teacher confirmed her point to which she said: “Then I will do history.”
Then he asked them to look at the list of optional topics and explained how they could choose one for their coursework. Again the black girl got up and said: “My ancestors were slaves. I want to do a study of slavery, but it is not on the list.” The history teacher had to admit that she could not introduce a topic of her own choice. “Then I won’t do history,” she said, and sat down allowing the piece of paper to flutter across the classroom. I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I reflected that if we could not accommodate an interested pupil’s request, at least as part of coursework, then there would not be much hope for achieving the commitment and integration of black communities; nor extending the teaching of black history.