A review of DILLIBE ONYEAMA’S NIGGER AT ETON by Ugochi Okoli

Dillibe Onyeama recounts his smooth transition from the Groove Park preparatory school in Sussex into Eton on the 19 th of January, 1965. The second black student in the school, his welcome by his housemates was short-lived as the colour of his skin brought him under attack from his first week at what is perhaps the world’s most prestigious boys’ boarding school.

In Dillibe’s second week, he began to participate in various school activities like the ‘colour test’ (memorizing the geography of Eton and the colours of the school’s caps), the fagging system (running errands for the members of the Library-seniors) etc. Being black in the midst of about 1,200 white students didn’t help his chances at being invisible and his fellow students would often attach stereotypes they have about black people to him, like the black man’s lack of education and immunity to pain.

Born in January 1951 to a prominent Nigerian Family, Dillibe describes his life in Nigeria and his move to England, the differences between his views of England prior to his schooling there and the reality. He also compares the behaviours of the average Englishman to that of the average Nigerian man, recounting the role of various people who had prepared him for life as an Etonian.

Dillibe Onyeama explains how his classmates and teachers related to him because of his skin colour; some of the masters turned a blind eye to the racial slurs being thrown at him, while some defended him by punishing students that called him racist names. And while most of the students found it amusing to comment on the fact that he was black, others were unbothered. But he noted that racism was not the only form of discrimination in the school as the students also discriminated among themselves based on how wealthy their parents were.

Ironically, he was closer to a white South African than his fellow Nigerian, Akintola, whose relationship with him seemed to have been influenced by the fact that they were from different ethnic groups.

Dillibe noted that he wasn’t always the victim as he had to defend himself against people that attacked him. In the long run he developed paranoia as a result of the racial discrimination.

However, things began to turn for the better after the school play, Antonio and Cleopatra, where he performed very well. He had a gift of hypnotism which was interpreted as ‘African occultism’.

His last week at Eton turned out to be fun and the author says he will always be proud of Eton, where he learnt a lot morally and academically and came to terms with the fact that he was black and it was a world where people like him had to suffer. He is hopeful that at some point, things will change.