white children

POEM:

This is a poem I wrote about things I, my white family, white friends and other white people have said around me and still constantly argue against.

I guess it is a plea for white people to stop answering conversations about racism with ‘surely not’ – as in, surely not here / surely not in the UK, surely not now, surely not in our school / village / town / neighbourhood. I hear this a lot.

My daughter’s school has no racism, I’ve been told. Surely that boy who got beaten up outside the village shop wasn’t beaten up because he was black? Surely the teacher didn’t actually separate the kids based on ‘white’ and ‘not white’ skin colour in nursery and then get them all to sing the song ‘some people are black, some people are white’ when they were only four years old? Surely the police didn’t handcuff him for no reason at all? Surely not here? Surely not now?

I wrote this poem last year after watching my kid opening birthday cards with only white children on the front of them and after having a ‘school run’ argument about the fact that there is apparently no difference any more for the childre’s experience of growing up based on their skin colour. Not here. Not in the UK. Not now. Not in this school.

I’m not saying that if your kid goes to a birthday party that you have to match the skin colour of any cartoon on the card you buy to that of the kid that receives it. I’m just saying little things add up. And big things happen. And I think we need to think about both a lot more.

The you in the poem is myself and other white people I know. I guess it is a poem from a white, middle class person, intended mainly for other white middle class people, especially those raising children. I know that this is a big part of who read my poetry online.

white children’s birthday cards have white children on them
black children’s birthday cards have white children on them

as a baby, you played babies in your colour
at the doctor’s, the toy box cradled mini-clones of you
your first birthday cards were covered with cartoons painted pink
under bedtime lamps, stories whispered beauty into mirrors;
fairytales questioned ‘who is the fairest of them all’
no-one in your family substitutes this phrase
her skin is white as snow / you giggle at the dwarves
the prince is pale and andsome
you did not spend hours searching for that nineteen-ninety-seven
version of cinderella where Brandy begs Whitney Houston
to get her to the ball just so your children grow up
believing they can ride in pumpkins too; believing they are beautiful
you did not cry over the princess and the frog
you did not cry in tescos over the new range of birthday cards with doc mcstuffin on
you do not question the colour scheme of pixies

ditto mermaids
ditto fairies
ditto heroes
ditto elves

you watch the Harry Potter series for the seventh time
do not wonder if all wizards are white – they are
when someone questions Hogwart’s inclusion policy
you point out that one Scottish girl
(you do not call her Scottish though)
and the black boy with no lines
you watch lord of the rings
notice the lack of female characters
nothing more than that

as you grow up you take ballet shoes for granted
slip custom pale pink slippers over custom pale pink feet
criss-cross ribbons around ankles;
open arms and legs in first position
you think Selena Robinson is making slightly too much fuss
painting over silk

as a teenager, you covered puberty’s frustrations
with skin coloured foundation
teachers much less likely to
underestimate your academic talents
overestimate your interest in sport and dance and song
you were never stopped and searched
on your way home from the youth club
you do not become too frightened to ask an officer for help
you do not watch your father mishandled every holiday
his sides tapped by uniforms begging him for badness
you have never been pulled over
asked to step out of your vehicle to check if it is yours
just because your car is nice
you are less likely to be sectioned for shouting in the street
if you suffer from ill mental health later on in life

if you stab another person with skin colour like yours
the crime will not be labelled white on white crime
if a person with skin colour like yours
stabs another person with skin colour like yours
you will not be asked to comment on white on white crime

when twenty young people with skin colour like yours
stand on stage behind their favourite rapper
the tv standards agency is not inundated with complaints

you do not prefix ‘white’ searching netflix everyday
just to see an actor who vaguely looks like you

you did not rush to watch black panther
there are lots of other sci fi films

on stage, you see your skin speak
in books, you see your skin speak
on the news, you see your skin speak
in ads, you see your skin speak
in films, you see your skin speak

you can claim not to see colour
because your colour is the norm

still, you worked hard for your place in life
you are not rich, you are not racist,
you did not take part in the slave trade
you are not one of the privileged
you have problems of your own

you open birthday cards again
white people sip prosecco
you laugh easy at the jokes

 

FULL BLOG POST:

I have seen a lot of posts this week, mainly from white people about being confused as to what to do / say right now about supporting the protests against murder and continued systemic racism.

I have heard a lot of white people saying how confusing certain messages are – mainly pointing the finger in this respect at black people – that some black people are saying that white folks should shut up and educate ourselves, that some are saying white folks should speak up because it is so tiring that black people are constantly asked to explain this shit to everyone else, that some people are saying that white people should not speak about matters they know fuck all about. The confusion around this seems slightly ridiculous. Of course black people are saying different things online about what should be done, because black people are not a homogenous being with one brain and opinion about anything, including how to fight injustice. Of course there are many, many different viewpoints.

So I have shut up, I will continue to educate myself and donate time and money I can to causes I think are relevant and important and now I’ll speak up from the limited viewpoint I have.

So I guess this is a post from a white, middle class person, intended mainly for other white middle class people, especially those raising children. I know that this is a large part of who read my poetry online.

Some recommendations first, then a poem, because poems are how I’ve always composed my thoughts.

First of all, these are some of the books I’ve read and would put into the ‘all parents need to read / audio-listen to this’ category. As parents and carers of young children, I really believe we worry far too much about the unimportant aspects of parenting – the clothes, the nursery wallpaper, the shit that your baby doesn’t give a toss about – and too little time focusing on the important things – the mother’s well-being, mental health, physical recovery, support, how to bring up our children not to be racist within a society which still very much is. I do not believe any white person who says there is no racism in their family / friendship circles / own opinions. Myself included.

The books first. They are all UK / Ireland and one European-based. I have no doubt there are many brilliant other books, but I think we have a tendency to say ‘that happens in the USA not here.’ So these are books by authors closer to my home.

Lemn Sissay: My Name is Why. I think this book is written absolutely incredibly – a mix of memoir and local council records to uncover the systemic class and racial bias of Lemn Sissay’s upbringing – and life in general.

Gael Faye: Small Country. This is a novel, translated from French. It is set between Burundi and France and relates a childhood experience of the social construction of race, forced migration and loss. It is also beautifully written and funny and terrible.There is a film of it out soon if you’re not a big reader.

Akala: Natives – Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire. An academic book, which needs to be on the school curriculum. Yes, it’s the same author as Akala the rapper

Reni Eddo-Lodge -Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. This is the book I hear most about. It’s easier to read than Akala’s book I’d say and just as important.

Emma Dabiri – Don’t Touch My Hair. I would call this an academic history / memoir about many things – from growing up young, Irish and black to the mathematics involved in hair braiding to the construction of female black identity. Again, there are a lot of videos of Emma speaking on news programmes online about this book if you google her and / or the book title, if reading books is a struggle.

Jackie Kay – The Red Dust Road. Jackie Kay is the current Makar – Scottish National Poet but I also love her novel – which is a memoir of being brought up as black child, adopted into a white family in the Scottish highlands – and the journey of her searching her blood parents. It is hilarious and challenging and truthful and Jackie is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life.

Last week I watched Hidden Figures with my daughter. I’d recommend that movie too.

So those are my current reads and one film.

Next, this is a poem I wrote about things I, my white family, white friends and other white people have said around me and still constantly argue against.

I guess it is a plea for white people to stop answering conversations about racism with ‘surely not’ – as in, surely not here / surely not in the UK, surely not now, surely not in our school / village / town / neighbourhood. I hear this a lot.

My daughter’s school has no racism, I’ve been told. Surely that boy who got beaten up outside the village shop wasn’t beaten up because he was black? Surely the teacher didn’t actually separate the kids based on ‘white’ and ‘not white’ skin colour in nursery and then get them all to sing the song ‘some people are black, some people are white’ when they were only four years old? Surely the police didn’t handcuff him for no reason at all? Surely not here? Surely not now?

I wrote this poem last year after watching my kid opening birthday cards with only white children on the front of them and after having a ‘school run’ argument about the fact that there is apparently no difference any more for the childre’s experience of growing up based on their skin colour. Not here. Not in the UK. Not now. Not in this school.

I’m not saying that if your kid goes to a birthday party that you have to match the skin colour of any cartoon on the card you buy to that of the kid that receives it. I’m just saying little things add up. And big things happen. And I think we need to think about both a lot more.

The you in the poem is myself and other white people I know

Poem:

white children’s birthday cards have white children on them
black children’s birthday cards have white children on them

as a baby, you played babies in your colour
at the doctor’s, the toy box cradled mini-clones of you
your first birthday cards were covered with cartoons painted pink
under bedtime lamps, stories whispered beauty into mirrors;
fairytales questioned ‘who is the fairest of them all’
no-one in your family substitutes this phrase
her skin is white as snow / you giggle at the dwarves
the prince is pale and andsome
you did not spend hours searching for that nineteen-ninety-seven
version of cinderella where Brandy begs Whitney Houston
to get her to the ball just so your children grow up
believing they can ride in pumpkins too; believing they are beautiful
you did not cry over the princess and the frog
you did not cry in tescos over the new range of birthday cards with doc mcstuffin on
you do not question the colour scheme of pixies

ditto mermaids
ditto fairies
ditto heroes
ditto elves

you watch the Harry Potter series for the seventh time
do not wonder if all wizards are white – they are
when someone questions Hogwart’s inclusion policy
you point out that one Scottish girl
(you do not call her Scottish though)
and the black boy with no lines
you watch lord of the rings
notice the lack of female characters
nothing more than that

as you grow up you take ballet shoes for granted
slip custom pale pink slippers over custom pale pink feet
criss-cross ribbons around ankles;
open arms and legs in first position
you think Selena Robinson is making slightly too much fuss
painting over silk

as a teenager, you covered puberty’s frustrations
with skin coloured foundation
teachers much less likely to
underestimate your academic talents
overestimate your interest in sport and dance and song
you were never stopped and searched
on your way home from the youth club
you do not become too frightened to ask an officer for help
you do not watch your father mishandled every holiday
his sides tapped by uniforms begging him for badness
you have never been pulled over
asked to step out of your vehicle to check if it is yours
just because your car is nice
you are less likely to be sectioned for shouting in the street
if you suffer from ill mental health later on in life

if you stab another person with skin colour like yours
the crime will not be labelled white on white crime
if they stab another person with skin colour like yours
you will not be asked to comment on white on white crime

when twenty young people with skin colour like yours
stand on stage behind their favourite rapper
the tv standards agency is not inundated with complaints

you do not prefix ‘white’ searching netflix everyday
just to see an actor who vaguely looks like you

you did not rush to watch black panther
there are lots of other sci fi films

on stage, you see your skin speak
in books, you see your skin speak
on the news, you see your skin speak
in ads, you see your skin speak
in films, you see your skin speak

you can claim not to see colour
because your colour is the norm

still, you worked hard for your place in life
you are not rich, you are not racist,
you did not take part in the slave trade
you are not one of the privileged
you have problems of your own

you open birthday cards again
white people sip prosecco
you laugh easy at the jokes

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s