Along with the practicals, such as Sharpies, vinyl, a long-long table, a cup of peppermint tea and space in your head to think, an artist requires support and resources that understand where you are coming from, the cost of bravery, and why, in some way or another, you have to speak out against injustice – even when it is not happening to you specifically.
For this particular project my home grown resources are, like my ancestry, varied and sometimes contradictory. One poem that I have recently come across is John Agard’s Checking Out Me History.
What struck me at first was the way in which Agard pinpoints some of the ways that our education system is exclusive, subjective and retells history from the perspective of white, privileged male perspectives:
Dem tell me
Dem tell me
Wha dem want to tell me
Bandage up me eye with me own history
Blind me to me own identity
Dem tell me bout 1066 and all dat
dem tell me bout Dick Whittington and he cat
But Toussaint L’Ouverture
no dem never tell me bout dat
As a youth I was hauled by my arm to the front of a science class and paraded around the teacher’s desk as an example of human-monkey ancestry. I will never forget the bewilderment I felt as the teacher explained how black people were not quite human; nearer to the apes than to man (sic). I was sent back to my seat but, with every step I took, a great rage began to develop in my chest and it remains for this was not a one-off episode.
But let us think, what if the class was taught about Mary Seattle in Biology, Toussaint Louverture in history, and Paul Gilroy in sociology, Patience Agbabi and Linton Kwesi Johnson in English, I would have been provided with tools and a map to plot out my replies to bullies and racists attacks. As Agard says:
Toussaint a slave
battalion and first Black
Toussaint de thorn
to de French
Toussaint de beacon of de Haitian Revolution
Instead all I was equipped with was ‘turn the other check’ and an enthusastic class discussion about daffodils and clouds and some dreary waffle about a cursed albatross and of course some bloke called Stig who lived in a dump.
If you want to hear John Agard perform Checking Out Me History then click on the following link: https://www.bbc.com/bitesize/clips/z7fjmp3