St Matthew's wants to hear people's feelings around the Black Lives Matter movement. We are committed to using our platform to listen to all and especially those who have experienced prejudice and oppression. We don't want to be a voice for the voiceless. We want to listen to the voices of those who want to speak, to listen and to educate ourselves. If you have something you would like to contribute please contact us.
A conversation with two poets
I am grateful to Annie Whilby who writes and performs as Aflo the poet and to Priss Nash who is also a performance poet for having a Zoom conversation with me. In their poetry they have explored issues around racism and their experience. We talked about how tireing it can be to censure yourself continuelly in order to be paletable and not to simply be seen as angry black women. I had several questions, I wanted to know about the Black British experience, about how we can educate ourselves and what they wished white people knew.
Micro-aggressions. There are of course moments of outright and aggressive racism. These though are only part of the problem, there are also microaggressions, touching women's hair without asking permission, assumptions and projections from people who would be horrified if they were described as racist. Which brings us to the next big issue...
Calling out Racism. Our national leaders can use language like "pickininies with water melon smiles" without consequence, or send vans around areas with higher BAME populations with messages telling them to go home. When people are accused of racist behaviour or language the accusation is often seen as more offensive than what they are being accused of.
Something simmilar happens when we are asked to reapraise our history. I left school believing that Britain had every reason to be proud of our record on slavery having abolished it, yet didn't really know how much of our wealth came from it. I was proud that we had been a great colonial power without a real sense of the attrocities we had committed to uphold that empire. Educating myself means unlearning some of what I learnt at school and being willing to think what I think I know. That can make us nervous.
We talked about how White people are sometimes uncomfortable ackowledging their privilege, as if not having to struggle with the issues many black people have to contend with simply because they are black means that they have never had to struggle at all. The discomfort White people can sometimes feel when they start realising that they have privlidge is really well explored in a short skit by James Corden, link below.
It is exhausting for Annie and Priss (and I suspect many other Black people) to have to look after White people as we begin to make sense of their experience. It isn't their responsibility to educate white people about race. Racism in our country and many others is something that white people benefit from, and they have the responsibility to sort it out.
I got the sense from Priss and Annie that while it is good that white people are beginning to ask questions and get involved in tackling racism, they will need to see lasting commitment from those who are engaging with Black Lives Matter. Anti Racism, Annie told me is a journey not a destination. It involves our commitment to learn and to speak out about racism, when the Protests are over. To recognise the way we use language and stereotypes without thinking about them. Our refusal to be silent in the face of injustices like the Windrush scandel.
I asked Annie and Priss to talk with me having come across Annies poetry online and conclude with links to her poem "I can't breathe" and their collaboration "Wake up", both have some swearing but also references to discrimination and violence against Black people which some may find triggering.