Crippen has a wake-up call about racism

I’ve recently had a wake-up call from a couple of young black poets, whose work has slashed open the complacency screen that I’ve unwittingly stretched between myself and the increasing accounts of racism that are becoming an everyday occurrence in the UK.

I’m not racist, or so I tell myself. I like to believe that I treat all people the same, regardless of their ethnicity. These accounts of attacks against Black and people of colour are terrible, but I tell myself that there’s nothing I can do about it. As a white, middle class male any attempt that I do make in reaching out to people of different ethnicities would surely be seen as patronising and from a position of privilege.

One would have thought that as a disabled person I would be familiar with oppression in its many forms and that I would be seen as an ally in the fight for equality that Black and people of colour are waging. But the label that I carry of being part of the arrogant and condescending race that tore apart whole countries in the search for wealth and power still hangs around my neck. The resulting slave trade and exploitation of non-white labour both here and abroad only adds to this legacy.

But the poetry? You may have read the review in DAO recently about the anthology of poems Apricot Toast created by the Cross family and edited by disabled poet, writer and activist Merry Cross. Her twins Subira and Wandia focus much of their work on addressing the oppression and persecution that they experience as young Black people in a predominantly white society. And it’s this poetry that hit me between the eyes.

The twins talk about not having time for white ignorance. “The arrogance to overlook the structures built with the bodies of our ancestors for the benefit of their ancestors/ The structures that leave us little room to move, try to restrict us from breathing, flourishing, thriving …” and “You may want to adjust your behaviour, your colonial inheritance is showing/ You forget Your ancestors’ blood-stained hands still grip my ancestors’ kingdoms.”

They write about our racist childhood nursery rhymes and minstrel cartoons, violent assumptions, our stereotypes and ‘positive discrimination’, our distrust, our ignorance, and our hate. And as for England, the country where they were both born, they describe it as: “ … a country whose wealth was created by slaves. A country built on thousands of Black and Brown graves.”

Read their poetry. I can’t begin to adequately describe the feeling that goes into their work, but it certainly opened my eyes to the reality of racism in our society.

You can obtain a copy of the anthology of poetry from most major book-stores.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A white wheelchair user is using a paint brush to paint over white lettering on a black board. Alongside is another young disabled person holding a card that reads ‘addressing racism in disability arts’. On the floor besides a big tin of white paint is a list with several black related terms on it. The word black board has a line through it. The painter is saying: “That’s the black board nearly done – what’s next on the list?!” 

© 2021. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND

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