The Evidence Room (For Nate The Lyricist)

I wrote this poem inspired by a post on Instagram by London-based poet,  rapper and, well, lyricist, Nate, about the British Museum.

Additionally, ‘The Evidence Room’ is inspired by ‘Custard and Curry’ by Canadian poet Robyn Sidhu.

London’s ‘The British Museum’ is the blackface of British History. Will Britain ever give these items back? Not a chance!

Though, I do recall reading an article saying they’d loan items back to Nigeria and Ethiopia; to this day Britain still acts like it’s 1834.

Our introduction to Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) in Marvel’s Black Panther just sums all these feelings up so well.

This video was filmed last night (September 26) at Studio 88 on Leicester Square by SFP videographer, Kevyn Ricard (big up yourself!)


One day in January,
I was caught in a conversation with a man
who thought imperialism was GREAT!
That the British Empire was awesome!
With the constant questions and statements,
it felt like a date so that’s what I’m going to call it.

And so I thought, should I really be here?
I was in fear of his mind, confined to nostalgia –
bits of bunting swaying in the breeze,
like nooses hanging from trees in a Jim Crow South.

I think of The British Museum… should I really be here?
I haven’t quite decided yet. Look, when
I see those artefacts I see quashed rebellions and resistance.
I see livelihoods as blood sports, so I begin to think
of The British Museum and the Victoria & Albert too…
When I tell my White friends this, they are confused.

I tell them “Yes I am British.”
Well, British-West Indian-West African
maybe a bit of Indian and Chinese
there as well I don’t actually know.
They are confused
since my passport says British Citizen,
that makes me British, right?
Or does it make me part-white?
Or was it just when
my grandparents and great-grandparents
sacrificed white beaches for Windrush anthems?

And a few centuries earlier,
my five, six and seven times grandparents
traded the Gold Coast for slavery;
that doesn’t mean I am any more or less British
than John, Jack or James because
I have the pigment of a cocoa bean.

On our date, I sip on my water.
He sips on his coffee, he talks about
how he prefers it without sugar.
I think Demerara.
Just the beans and water you know?
Sugarcane plants from bank to bank,
slaves outflanked by overseer ships.

Nationality in binary terms is messy
because it’s not binary.
He reveals a bacon sandwich
squirts ketchup onto it
and presses the bits of bread together.

Bits of red slipping sliding
oozing abusing the paper bag –
dripping down onto floor
as he lay his heritage before me –
a quarter this, a third that.

I concur that I share this fractured history.

If you dissect my body,
if you cut into my torso and limbs,
you will find rivers of European blood
that swims with the gene pool of colonisers.

I am the red wine gushing
from the wounds of little Ashanti boys.
I am the Caribs of Grenada
jumping to their deaths from Leapers’ Hill
to escape the French slave traders.

I am Jamaica and the Maroons.
Nanny, she was Ashanti you know.
Came over in chains
but she never forgot who she was
despite the British putting them
to work sugarcane fields,
beaten and raped to yield harvest.
The Maroons resisted, Nanny persisted.
Ran for the hills,
fighting off the British for eighty years.
Ran for the Blue Mountains,
put colonisers’ heads on spikes.

No White man was safe
from the Maroons in the moonlight.
Maroon masters of camouflage,
attired in leaves. Still as trees
before they struck in the dark.
The Brits had the tech
but the Maroons had
the will, determination, magic…
this is the birth of Jamaica… real independence.

I am watered down White man,
colonisers who forced their way
onto my family tree
entwined themselves with
each bit of branch, bark and leaf
became part of the canopy –
mixed, meshed and mingled with soil
hijacking stem cells, membranes and nucleus
claiming they created photosynthesis.

I guess the concept of privilege
can be traced to history.
His presence, his words, are warning me
he is here to pillage the uncivilised
to steal a bounty for his wife.

On our date,
I watch his hands grasp his coffee.
I try to imagine them touching me.
I am uncomfortable, unnerved,
he smells like Rwanda being burnt to ash.
The woman that waits on him helps give birth
to his malignant anti-migrant mentality.

I may be immigrant,
grandchild of colonialism,
birthed from chains,
child of slaves and servants,
who worked the fields,
as our last names were
gambled with the ocean.

Photographer: Tina Guina on Unsplash

I may father multiracial children
who will be forced into cold welcomes,
but you are what sullied my pigment,
forced my flesh from
Mother Africa to begin with,
like a C-section
for gold, minerals and artefacts –
from the Ashanti in Ghana
to the Edo People of Benin,
my ancestors that lost their souls
so you could talk about Great Britain.

On this date that’s not a date,
he tells me I look mixed-race.
What does that even mean?
I could be half-white.
Should I take that as a compliment?
Being part-slave part-coloniser,
as if colonised is the new black,
as if being the same colour as the people
who plundered and slaughtered
those they thought lacked civilisation is ideal.

On our date,
he expects me to educate him
on centuries worth of colonial history
after he was previously defending it.

Instead I say:

I am one of the many voices
of the African Diaspora.

Yes, I am European. Yes, I am British.
Yes I am Caribbean. Yes, I am African.

I hear rumours
of Indian and Chinese in my lineage as well.

This is why we shouldn’t talk
about nationality and ethnicity as binary terms.

I tell him I am not the final resting place for his White guilt.
I will not carry his pride and mind in brass pots
like the water my forbears used to carry on their heads.

Slaves chopped sugarcane on the banks of the Demerera River in the Georgian period

I am tired of talking to people like him
who seem to think I need validation
from someone who talks
like they grew up on a slave ship.

I can’t settle for this shit any longer,
that giving a big tip
to an Indian waiter isn’t
the first step towards repairing
centuries of racism and degradation.

He pauses, finishes his coffee.
Tries to keep face, tries
to recover his bravado and breathes…

“What did you say?”

Plastic Beach

I wrote ‘Plastic Beach’ inspired from my poem ‘Semiotics: Observation Exposed’ and it’s essentially a sister poem to it.

The title comes from one of my favourite bands of all time, the Gorillaz and their album Plastic Beach. It’s well worth listening to.

White Flag‘, ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ and ‘Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach‘ were gamechangers for me.

Their album Demon Days, with ‘Kids With Guns‘, ‘Dirty Harry‘, and ‘Feel Good Inc‘ is also fantastic, as is the iconic ‘Clint Eastwood’ on Gorillaz. 


plastic materials from soil to sand
clearly polluting our beaches and land
presidential delusions always constructed
coastal birds, fish and sea-life abducted
by litter trapped in glass sharp shores
public outcry from climate change to war

but we the public must focus
even when the world looks so hopeless
from beaches to politics
bottles breaking faces faking
cans crackling, leaders
packing wars like sardines
in third-world countries stacking refugees
increasing crises on our world’s seas

maybe it’s time for us to impeach
politicians and leaders that leech
throughout this global plastic beach
psychopaths fascinate me
killing plants and trees with legislation
making schools puppets of corporations

Photographer: John Cameron

propagating opinions as facts
but they’re just bloodsucking fat cats
when the blind lead the blind
it just leads to more plastic streets
as history is that same track on repeat
but trump won’t sign those parisian sheets

mrs may sanctions lawlessness and war
light breaches the red room image exposed
few can see through the emperors new clothes
when she allied with the DUP instead of Labour
she named and knighted racism her saviour
continued to treat Scotland like colonial neighbour
clinging to power to quench her woes
it’s the life her party chose  eyes wide shut
laughing and cackling like Jabba the Hut
as social comment is a film from edit to cut

system collapse and still won’t concede
we’re under the boots of the bourgeoisie
they’ll take refuge in God’s House like the old days
the cost to exist rises still, but now it’s easter sunday
leaders continue to spend thousands on an entrée
trump and theresa satirise the living wage and gunplay
don’t promise us rain if you can’t promise flowers
while Tory court jesters laugh in the shadow of  grenfell tower

Photographer: Sam Jotham Sutharson

politics and plastic beaches greed is the source
imperialistic agendas motives and thoughts
hearts of darkness polluting the natural world
like Hades plucking bodies for his underworld
class wars got street level folks misunderstood
while instagram culture levels childhoods

destroying the realness of our hearts
sectioning our emotions into pie-charts
sucking out our honesty so our eyes go red
killing us softly repeating the crimes of the dead


The plastic beach is just a metaphor. Yes, litter pollution in our natural world is rife but this poem is more about what else we pollute ourselves with.

What do our own plastic beaches look like? What do we litter our lives with, be it toxic relationships or substance abuse or anything else.

Semiotics: Observations Exposed

Semiotics is the study of signs and I wrote this poem inspired from ‘Motives and Thoughts’ by Lauryn Hill.

The severe lack grammar and punctuation is to show that thoughts and signs are not scripted. They just exist.

This is one continuous ramble with no structure. How we think is not always linear from point A to point B.


mumbling rappers confusion of sound
negative messages holding us down
time and capitalism socially constructed
human consciousness motives corrupted
impulsive reactions brexit and war
from slavery to windrush injustice galore

western media tools for
synthetic mythologies modern folklore
global newsreaders creating misdirection
claiming munitions are for our protection
wicked news anchors killing our brains
misleading us with newspeak again
war is economics designed for profit and gain

mr trump glows in the dark motives exposed
we can all see through his baggy clothes
this klansman confines kids to cages and woes
with human rights disposed written into code
Tory government party of jokers court jester logic
always answering questions with statements off topic

uncivilised people with colonialist knowledge
system decline and still wont concede
using religion as a saviour analysing behaviour
eton MPs kings and queens of corruption and greed
impulsive politicians on prescription meds
wishing brexit negotiations were all in their heads

ethical standards pride is the source
born with silver spoons on the back of a horse
imperial leaders led by whitewashed history
churchill and nelson racists it’s no mystery

Cackling Theresa May GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

global economy in for number one
banks hiring mercenaries and guns
war designed to kill fathers and sons
to the sound of cannons and drums
as number ten paints beautiful pictures
from myths into theology and scriptures

both west and east are after diamonds and pearls
as lies and deception take over the world
blind with hate deep in our hearts
neo-colonialism is a poison dart
deceive your neighbours so well get ahead
modern day deceit is what we’re being fed

Privilege

I wrote this poem inspired from my schooldays and my reflections on that now as an adult, and its related connotations.

Also, this poem talks about how discrimination can happen between privately-educated / state-educated people of the same ethnicity.

This poem was deeply-inspired by ‘Privilege’ by Lacey Roop. She’s a slam poet and author poetry collection And Then Came the Flood


At fourteen, I was educated with the children of the rich and entitled.

At lunch I sat with them – children who lived in big houses.

Honestly, I disliked most of them. I didn’t want to be one of them.

My mom was a teacher, my father worked in IT.

The parents of these children were lawyers and businesspeople.

In other words, they sold lies for a living; however, like my colleagues, I never knew the meaning of without or hungry.

Some of the friends I made at school were people who had never encountered people of colour before – other than those they saw on television.

I grew up around people who had names like Seonai and Winston and Darius and Precious and Paris and Isaiah.

And they grew up with people who had names like Mary-Kate, Anna-Grace, Elizabeth-Anne, Tom-Harry and John-Paul.

Photographer: Matt Lamers

By today’s standards, they’d be known as progressive white folks who had more money than they knew what to do with.

They were the offspring of people who felt uncomfortable around someone like me, a child – whose last name wasn’t Jones or Smith, whose skin tone was a shade too dark, too dug up earth for their white picket fence.

One time, I was invited to a party. Drugs and underage girls littered it like confetti. The houses of lawyers and CEOs and surgeons, people who had inherited everything they owned.

When other Black people here how I talk, they question who I am. They question my ethnicity and identity.

Just because when I spill the heart contents of my chest, they ask if I am really Black. Because I talk too well for this colour.

As if my blood is not infested with the same slave plantation mud as theirs. I do not hate my skin but I’m often ashamed of those who share the same melanin as me.

Judging me on my RP and how I was raised, not what I say or how I behave. I hear people say, “If you know better than do better.”

This is why I can’t gawk from the side lines when I see Black people putting each other down. When I see colourism dividing us by our different shades of brown.

Black Privilege is feeling the bitterness of other people who look like me. This private school childhood is being the token Black.

It’s knowing my mouth is more bulletproof than Charlottesville which is why I use this mouth loud, even in the face of that bitterness.

To keep certain ears attuned to “You know better so be better.” For my eyes to be whitewashed and imperialised. Black privilege is a fiction, a fantasy.

It’s the assumptions people make because they hear my softly-spoken syntax – this relaxed tone of voice. This privilege-sounding tongue-tied man subverting stereotypes.

It’s the judgements we take without thinking. I was stop and searched by police for simply blinking… wrong place wrong time.

Having privilege is never having to think or talk about it. I’m always thinking and talking about it.

And if we all have voices to use, why on Earth should we stay silent?

Genocide

So I wrote this poem in response to when I was scouting for venues for Soul Food Poetry Northampton; certain places got edgy when I explained that some of the acts that we get read poetry about things like current affairs, politics, war, mental health and so on.

You can’t censor poetry, I don’t think we should censor people’s topics to make it more comfortable. However, we do ask for acts to be creative in how they omit swear words (as there’s sometimes children in the audience).

Art comes in different forms: poetry, prose, theatre, film, photography etc. When an artist’s work isn’t designed to offend, to censor it because certain people disagree with it / feel uncomfortable with it is wrong (to me).

Me performing at Soul Food Poetry Amsterdam
Photographer: Jadzia Kurzak

Surely, if they can commemorate bloody, messy conflicts, poets can talk about politics, war, mental health and other such things in their performances?

These are the same places where come November 11, are decorated with bits of bunting donning the Union Jack flag celebrating the end of World War One, as well as remembering those who have died in other conflicts too (harsh topics indeed).

You can’t have different rules for different people. My poem ‘Genocide’ is inspired from ‘What’s Genocide?’ by Carlos Andrés Gómez.


The pub managers told me we couldn’t perform poetry with profanity,
they said poetry has to be nice, digestible and pleasant,
they said you can’t read poetry that dealt with difficult subjects.

So I ask them:

“Raise your hands if you have heard of The Armistice?”

In congruence, they raised their hands
like mustard gas climbing out of a trench,
like raised bayonets at the Somme or Passchendaele.

“Okay, hands down. Now raise your hand
if you have heard of the Armenian Genocide.”

Vacant expressions blended with a curious ignorance,
like the quivering quiet at Gallipoli,
like throats coloured rotten with gangrene,
voices halfway murmuring,
like lone soldiers whispering from behind barbed wire.
Took place between 1914 and 1917,
massacred at the hands of The Ottoman Empire.

So, what is genocide?

 

They wouldn’t let me perform again
if I read these pieces,
poems that tell stories
of The Other during the World Wars,
works that raise bayonet
against Churchill and Kitchener.
Pieces of a real world war,
not just Europe as I was taught
in the hollow corridors of my schooldays.

I can’t teach grown-ass people
in the audience that the history we know
is part of a wider story
and that it’s okay to admit
the history we learn as children
is very one-sided,
that the nostalgic pride for
Britain’s past is often misguided.

How many glorified films
have we had about Winston Churchill?
A lot, yet he was instrumental
with Dunkirk and the Battle for Britain,
as he stands in Trafalgar Square staring
from the £5-note; though he
advocated for chemical weapons on
Iraqi tribes and called Africans “savages,”
talking about black and brown people
in the language of eugenics and averages.

So, what is genocide?

 

Your statues talk about Nelson’s victories,
but don’t talk about his endorsement of slavery.

World History books omit Medgar Evers and Emmett Till.
They don’t even mention King Leopold and the Congo,
titling it “Politics in the 20th Century”
calling them immigrants-settlers,
rather than land-grabbers and colonisers.

Like Cecil Rhodes, those De Beers
blood diamond mines; imperialists
and their measuring tapes
stealing tribes’ ancestral lands
in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia
laying the foundations for Apartheid
in the southern nations of Africa.

You wonder why Black and Asian children want
to hide in lighter skin with blue and green contact lenses,
history books made them ashamed of their melanin,
forced to build walls, barriers and concrete defences.

So what is genocide?

 

Genocide is Morant Bay, Jamaica.
When the children of slaves
rose up in anger against the British…
A courthouse destroyed. Places were looted,
some were executed; it was a riot
in a place that no longer mattered
in the eyes of the empire.

But it’s what happened next:

the reason every Jamaican has heard of Morant Bay –
the reason why it makes the locals so vex,
the reason why that history is so fresh,
the militia swarmed in like wasps,
hundreds killed in this brutal act of vengeance.
A penance to show the Jamaicans who was boss.

Chantelle gave her daughter
skin-lightening cream
the day before she starts school.

She exists at the end of a gun,
at the end of neo-colonial rules,
European beauty standards raised at half mast

of a bayonet blade cutting fine lines
into her beautiful brown thighs,
killing the sanctity of childhood innocence…

being told “She’s pretty for a dark-skin girl”
in Africa, in America, in England
this place that place around the world.

So, what is genocide?

 

You really

want to

know what

genocide is?

This,

right here,

is genocide!