LONDON, June 23 (Reuters) – The headmaster of Eton said he wants to apologise in person to Nigerian author Dillibe Onyeama, one of the first black students to complete his studies at Britain’s most elite school, for the racism he experienced there which he detailed in a book.
Eton’s current headmaster Simon Henderson said he was appalled by the racism Onyeama, who left in 1969, encountered at the school, which was founded in 1440 and has educated 20 British prime ministers, including Boris Johnson.
The school is the latest British institution to apologise for historical racism, after the death of George Floyd in the United States prompted protests worldwide and a sweeping global reassessment of racism.
Henderson said racism had no place in civilised society, then or now, adding that Eton, where fees are 42,000 pounds ($52,000) per year, had made strides since Onyeama attended but there was still further to go.
“We have to have the institutional and personal humility to acknowledge that we still have more to do,” he said in a statement sent to Reuters on Tuesday.
“I will be inviting Mr Onyeama to meet so as to apologise to him in person, on behalf of the school, and to make clear that he will always be welcome at Eton.”
Onyeama published “Nigger at Eton” in 1972.
The death of Floyd has prompted a number of British institutions to re-examine their pasts and issue apologies, mainly in connection with slavery. The Lloyd’s of London insurance market and the Bank of England have both apologised.
Onyeama told the BBC that Eton’s apology was not necessary. He was reported on the BBC website as saying that people at school asked him “how many maggots are there in your hair?” and when he passed his exams, said “how did you do it?”
Reuters could not immediately contact Onyeama for comment.
Henderson said the current moment of protests should be seized as “a catalyst for real and sustained change for the better”.