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Racist school song made my boy try to scrub himself white; Anguish of Elliott, nine, at assembly.

TORMENTED Elliott Stephens tried to scrub his black skin white after pupils sang a racist song at his school assembly.

The lyrics were originally written to highlight the evils of prejudice but playground bullies used the words to taunt the nine- year-old.

The chorus of the song, which was adopted by the National Front, includes the line: "If you're white, that's all right, if you're brown, stick around, but if you're black, oh brother get back, get back, get back."

Elliott, the only black pupil at Radcliffe Junior School, became suicidal, his mother Elaine Ramsey claimed yesterday.

Elaine, 33, said: "It's been a nightmare. He suddenly couldn't accept who he was. He doesn't like to be black and he doesn't want to be black.

"He got a knife and said he wanted to kill himself.

"I caught him scrubbing his skin saying he wanted to get the black off. He dreaded going to school and every night when I went to bed I worried I might wake up and find him dead." She has taken Elliott out of school and education officials have launched an inquiry.

She only learned what was troubling her son when a nephew was heard singing the song. Elliott then told her it was chanted by the whole school during some Friday assemblies.

Elaine said: "He said by the time everybody got to the last line all the children were looking at him. Gangs of boys were chasing him shouting the lines over and over."

Elaine, who organised a parents' petition forcing the song to be dropped, added: "It was written by a black man about racism but these children can't possibly understand what it means. They were just taught to sing it and then targeted my son with it."

George Purcell, headteacher of the school in Bury, Greater Manchester, said the song had been used for about four years and that Elaine had taken it "completely out of context".

He added: "My intention was the reverse of what I have been accused of. The chorus does look racist but if you look at all the verses you realise it is a black man talking about racism.

"Before I taught the song I always gave a 10-minute talk when I told the children it is one man's account of all the racism he encountered."

Black, Brown and White was composed in the USA during the depression of the 1930s.

It was a protest against black unemployment and racist Southern politician Jim Crow.

A spokesman for Bury Education Authority said: "We've been in touch with Elliott's mum and will be meeting her."

Other parents were also angry. Sharon Booth, 29, whose husband is Asian, said her daughter Sian, seven, came home from school crying and asking why her skin was brown.

"She's never questioned the colour of her father's skin or her own skin before. No matter how much this song is explained, all the kids remember is the chorus and it's cruel."

Dr Mark Christian, an expert in black history at Liverpool's Charles Wootton Centre for Further Education, said: "No doubt the headmaster was acting with the best interests but giving lessons about race and racism is highly sensitive. You are treading on glass.

"How many children aged nine are able to look deeply into the words of the song and understand their true meaning?"
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 22, 1999
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