E. R. Braithwaite Getting under your skin, a thorn in the flesh Preserving our literary heritage
–by Petamber Persaud
Guyana Chronicle
January 14, 2007

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E. R. Braithwaite

As it was in “To Sir With Love” (1959), so it was in “Paid Servant” (1962), “A Kind of Homecoming” (1962), “A Choice of Straws” (1965), “Reluctant Neighbours” (1972), and “Honorary White” (1975) – E. R. Braithwaite’s poignant exploration of all forms of discrimination especially social conditions of and racial discrimination against Black people.

Braithwaite’s frank and crisp use of language endeared the reader to the issues, catapulting many persons to action, improving their condition, righting wrongs.

Some responses to his writing were, however, distasteful especially the ban of his books in apartheid South Africa. Braithwaite was also able connected to the reader on another lever - his writing was a personal odyssey; a black man living in a white dominated world, not all of it bad as he declared while he was a pilot in the Royal Air Force for then the colour of his skin was not an issue.

“It had not mattered when I volunteered for aircrew service in 1940, …during flying training or when I received my wings…posted to a squadron…in hectic uncertainties of operational flying, of living and loving from day to day…”

By that same token he had a rude awaking to discrimination while job hunting after demobilisation from the Royal Air Force in 1945, a place where he spent six exciting years, “living proudly in my black skin, doing very satisfying things in it. This skin had always been good enough for me. Men had admired my prowess in it. Women of many colours had found it beautiful. Yet now my colour was far more important than anything I might be or do”

He took umbrage with this situation because he admitted that he ‘grown up British in every way. Myself, my parents and my parents’ parents, none of us knew or could know any other way of living, of thinking, of being; we knew no other cultural pattern…As a boy I was taught to appreciate English literature…it was natural for me to identify myself with British heroes…”

Unable to get a job to suit his training in science and engineering technology, he was forced into teaching at which he was a success. Those experiences Braithwaite recorded in the book, “To Sir With Love”, that was reissued more than forty times, translated into numerous other languages, studied in learning institutions world wide and made into an evergreen, ever-popular movie of the same name.

After some nine years teaching, he was seconded from the London County Council’s Department of Education to the Department of Child Welfare to help deal with post-war influx of immigrants. This resulted in the book, “Paid Servant.”

His next book, “A Choice of Straws”, a novel that tells the story of a young factory worker caught in the mess of racial prejudice and the resulting violence.

In “A Kind of Homecoming”, Braithwaite reported on his visit to parts of Africa, his ancestral home.

“Reluctant Neighbours” takes place on a train while the author was sitting next to a white public-relations executive who reluctantly takes the only seat left on the train.

“Honorary White: A Visit to South Africa” documents the relationships between blacks and whites under the apartheid system and the awakening of the blacks.

Writer, teacher and diplomat, Edward Ricardo Braithwaite was born in 1922 in New Amsterdam, Berbice, British Guiana.

New Amsterdam produced some exceptional writers including Edgar Mittleholzer and Wilson Harris.

His early education was at Queen’s College in “warm, sunny Georgetown” where he developed a ravenous hunger for learning and knowledge.

The conditions were conducive to learning “in a large rambling wooden schoolhouse, light and cool within, surrounded by wide, tree-shaded lawns on which I romped with my fellows in vigorous contentment, I spent rich, happy days, filled with the excitement of learning, each new little achievement a personal adventure and a source of satisfaction to my interested parents”.

SIDNEY Poitier stars in the adaptation of E.R Barithwaite's "To sir with love"

Braithwaite also attended City College, New York, Cambridge and London Universities. In America, he stoutly defended his British sensibilities.

After serving in the R. A. F., he turned to teaching and social work. He also worked as a Communication Engineer in Aruba for Standard Oil Company.

In 1960, he was appointed Human Rights Officer for World Veterans Federation at the Federation’s Headquarters in Paris. He held the posts of Lecturer and Education Officer with UNESCO in the early 1960s.

By mid-1960s, he was Guyana’s Ambassador to the UN and later elected President of UN Council for South West Africa.

He served as Guyana’s Ambassador to Venezuela from 1968 to 1969.

In 1966, Braithwaite was in Guyana for the first Caribbean Writers and Artists Conference along with Jan Carew, O. R. Dathorne, George Lamming and C. L. R. James and others.

Braithwaite is still busy writing, busy getting to the heart of the matter, busy getting under your skin.
Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email: oraltradition2002@yahoo.com

You can now get THE GUYANA ANNUAL at bookstores in Georgetown, at the National Art Gallery, Castellani House, from Guyenterprise Ltd., and from the editor.

THE GUYANA ANNUAL 2006-2007 is a literary and artistic tradition started in December 1915 courtesy of the then Chronicle newspaper. This issue continues the tradition of excellence in Guyanese literary and cultural heritage with the results of six competitions in poetry and fiction with special sections on literature written for children. This family-oriented general magazine offers scintillating recipes, Balgobin stories in the tradition of Guyanese folklore, Guyanese proverbs, articles on Guyanese cricket, festivals of Guyana, attitudes of young people in Guyana to HIV/AIDS, avant-garde art, Carifesta, and pen-portraits of Helen Taitt, Philip Moore and Paul O’Hara. It would also include a two-page listing of new Guyanese publications and much more.