I wrote this narrative poem inspired from the film Moana (2016), in my opinion one of the best Disney animated films since Lion King(1994).
The first time I watch Moana, I am in awe. It’s a spectacle to see that Disney actually made a film about a princess who’s not subjected to the Male Gaze and she’s of colour!
Warrior, battle-born, adventurer, explorer with all the fight, like Lagertha and Merida, as I hear the palpitations in my chest.
I smirk when she explores the concept of origins through song and dance. ‘Where You Are’ through customs and cultures of Motunui,
I stay quiet when they talk about old traditions;
I stay quiet when they talk about village mentality;
I stay quiet when they talk about safety and seclusion;
I stay quiet when they talk about coconuts and trees;
those vexations, confusion, frustrations, illusions –
as if my own family didn’t have versions of these conversations before they left the sunlit Caribbean for England’s wind, rain and cold.
She dreams like I do, travelling far away as the ocean calls her name. The world is wide and exploration pulls young minds and souls.
I wince when something bad happens to her, dragging a brown body storming down Middle Passage – a rain dance gasping under swash.
At night, I catch her looking into the the sky – thinking, wandering… wondering what will happen if she fails to the sound of splish splosh.
But Maui promises that he is one of the good ones. In her dreams, she walks though her village promising to make the woods great again.
And if she fails, it’s byebye Motunui; it’s an X on Maui. The same X on her parents. She asks him to meet her halfway, to reach across oceans,
bending continents in half… from sheer determination, to not walk over future generations of dead Polynesian bodies in order to compromise.
You know at night, I remember the first time I watched that film – the song and dance thumb bites to the Male Gaze and patriarchy,
plus representation in front and behind the camera. It’s a safety net, that Moana is one of the good ones.
That she’s strong, that she will get back to the paradise she calls home having restored the Heart of Te Fiti,
I wrote this poem directly inspired from Kanye West. His comments say that he believes the Slave Trade was a choice (for the slaves).
My poem comes from engaging with the memes and threads on the matter, including the frenzy on Twitter and the Facebook comments section.
I did not believe what he said until I saw it myself!
Kanye West said:
“When you hear about slavery for 400 years … for 400 years? That sounds like a choice.”
No, Mr West, marrying into the Kardashian Family was a choice. Praising Donald Trump was a choice. Uttering provocative comments was a choice.
In 1619, the Dutch brought free blacks to America from Africa as slaves.
If slavery was a choice, master be like “I didn’t tell you to stop pickin’ that cotton, boy!”
And I’d be like “That’s my shift for today. I already signed out. This y’all problem now.”
Slavery was conscripted for the African, for those with black skin, button noses and knotted-hair; many thanks to covert and structural racism, what we now call White Privilege.
And then master starts tripping, belt buckle flipping, his feet doing that late-night tripping down to the slave shacks, like in the Rape Houses of Bunce Island (Sierra Leone), where he and our ancestors would be together.
Refuse, and he’d get angry, his temperament would change like the weather. And at the same time, the free Blacks of the Americas, like the Maroons, who fled slavery for forests, stuck it to the colonisers and their profits.
If slavery was a choice, all you’d have to do is text ABOLITION to 1863. Mr West, If you really think slavery was a choice, you’re going to love what happened next.
Just text JIM CROW to 1865. Just text SELMA to 1965. Just text MONTGOMERY to 1955. Just text Malcolm to 1965. Just text KING to 1968. And that was the fate of The Slave Trade’s offspring.
But according to you, slavery was a choice, published in the meandering mind of Supreme Overlord Kanye West. This is the same guy who had umpteen hits. Great tracks,
but then proceeded to call himself God and pledge himself to fat cats like Trump, superseding Samuel L. Jackson’s Uncle Tom-figure in Django Unchained. I concede, that you are worse because this is real life not a film, not a kid’s storybook written by children’s authors like Malorie Blackman and A. A. Milne.
You spout your shit on Twitter and TMZ to insight reaction, which is followed by media traction but this is the last straw. Slavery is history. It’s raw. See, that’s how you became you and I became me.
Black people don’t forget. We’re not mermaids just looking pretty. We’re the sirens in the stories of Odysseus and the Greeks. We’re on the rocks singing songs to drag the slavers down to the depths where they buried our ancestors.
Rip muscle from marrow with nine-tail whip. We are remnants of our grandparents’ grandparents. We derive from those who survived the Middle Passage trip. Not all were so fortunate.
“No master was ever allowed here to take a slave by force to be sold abroad because he deserted from his service, or for any other reason whatever.” – Lord Mansfield
We are the descendants slavers feared. We lived. The strands of family trees survived the mutinies – Morant Bay, the Southampton Insurrection, the Haitian Revolution, the unruly witch hunts in the American South and in England – in places like Manchester, London and Liverpool.
If slavery was a choice, explain to me why the Underground Railroad existed. Truly. That’s history, sue me. Try telling Harriet Tubman who fled her master’s wrath and then went back to help others in bondage. She freed hundreds despite having a bounty on her head!
Slavery is written into the dirt. It is written into places like Selma, Alabama. Edmund Pettus Bridge named for the grand dragon in the Klan.
White hoods and confederate flags – flame-bearing, torch-wielding, black-lynching, our bodies swaying in the breeze of Jim Crow and that bridge still stands to this day, still called Edmund Pettus Bridge.
If slavery was a choice, it would be Starbucks saying “you can work here, but twice as hard for not half as much as is the norm, but for no pay.
If slavery was a choice, it would be Applecare saying you can work for us in the United States and not pick cotton.
Actually, it’s Applecare Plus and you would need to opt in within 60 days of choosing to become a slave. Hand on the Bible and… woah!
Mr West, if you get hurt on the job, how much does the Workers’ Union pay you again? Pension, health insurance, equal rights? But you need to fill out a form on the employee Wi-Fi.
And when the overseer calls you nigger you need to call the white, HR official. You are then fired, because HR isn’t there to protect employees but to protect the institution, the company, the Klan.
If slavery was a choice, there would be a field cookout on Labour Day.
If slavery was a choice, I’d be raiding master’s fridge for the cookout.
If slavery was a choice, I’d be making super fly outfits out of master’s cotton.
If slavery was a choice, I’d be at Slave University looking like Prince walked onto the set of Coming to America.
If slavery was a choice, I’d be telling Master to pick his own motherflipping cotton!
“You can’t buy a slave, you’ve got to make a slave.” – Connelly, Roots (2016).
I wrote this poem as prequel-sequel to “Grandma’s House” and it’s very loosely based on “The Type” by poet Sarah Kay.
When you grow up in a West Indian household most things turn into a joke, eventually (whether you like it or not).
Growing up Black is me as a child opening the cabinet of glasses to be told no. They’re there for display like a museum exhibition.
It’s going to the cutlery draw to set the table for dinner and be told “not them ones.” They’re mash up. “Take these; them the good ones” – from a big container in the conservatory inside a box inside of another box behind something like it’s the fifth Indiana Jones film.
It’s Grandma telling me to hide when the Jehovah’s Witness come knocking at ridiculous times in the evening.
It’s answering the door to that one relative who turns up when the word on the grapevine is that Grandma’s been cooking – the fried chicken, the saltfish, the oxtail, the curry goat, the rice and peas, – the full shebang!
You had him at saltfish. He’s at the door within an hour. We call him The Tupperware King and he’s as persistent as an IOS update. Not even a lie!
listening to Grandma Cathy tell me about her mother is like hearing about Nanny de Maroon. Grandma Toile she was called –
she was no school. She was no speak English. She spoke French and double Dutch. She spoke a version of English that some understood but she was pure Patois, ready to survive with head, mouth and heart.
Growing up Black was going to watch my grandfather do gigs in his steelband. Tune after tune, whilst the band drink dodgy beers that look like they were made in a popup factory.
Growing up Black is cringing every time the English say Goat Curry. Growing up Black is learning about Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam before you reach your tenth birthday.
It’s being introduced to N.W.A and Public Enemy at thirteen. It’s being told about your lack of privilege by your mom, that you ain’t like your white friends; you have to work twice as hard for half as much.
It’s being followed around the supermarket by security seconds after walking in. It’s being at Grandma’s House and finding anything but butter or margarine in that container.
It’s having aunties and uncles and grandparents who buy everything big. And I don’t mean big, I mean flipping enormous! Two-kilogram bottles of ketchup. It’s being at weddings and funerals and there being the token Caribbean buffet. Sweet Christmas!
It’s being told that there’s no pepper in the saltfish fritters until it’s lodged in your throat. Grandma’s joke at everyone’s expense.
It’s walking into the living room met with mustard gas, and by that I mean fog that burns. Not hot sauce from Tesco, I’m talking sauce fresh from our homeland, the small islands – the Caribbean, the West Indies and the Dutch Antilles.
Yellow liquid gunge, filled with bits and pieces. Someone has home-grown the Grim Reaper and put him into a plastic water bottle, labelled Hot Sauce in black marker pen. It should be called Put This On Your Food If You Don’t Want To Live Sauce.
It’s watching my grandfather and his friends slap dominoes on the table. Bloodclart!! followed by laughs and gulps of Wray, Appleton and what I like to call Cerberus, named for that dog that guards the gates of the Underworld. One sip of Rivers Rum is enough to knock a person out for a fortnight.
Growing up Black is being told you’re a great cricketer. You’re like a Michael Holding or Clive Lloyd. And those pioneers became my idols – Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Colin Croft, Viv Richards, Gary Sobers. Top top players of the game at the highest level.
It’s testing what your white friends say to their parents to your parents. It’s safe to say I lived… just about.
Growing up Black is living on a fault line between identities, it’s telling your family about the first time you were called nigger whilst ticking British on the application form. They will understand.
It’s being looked at oddly when you show your passport at customs abroad. Where are you from? No, really, where are you from? Making you feel you like you don’t belong.
From Slavery to Windrush; from the Nationality Act to Brexit; from curry goat and rice in a butter container to a hostile immigration policy,
growing up Black is family and community. It’s dinner round the table. It’s history and politics and West Indian superstitions.
It’s kakaje, sleep dust. It’s a childhood and upbringing in Dutch pots and crisp n dry. It’s immigration in plastic. It’s a family that spans thousands of miles and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
“Windrush” is a poem inspired from David Lammy’s speech about members of the Windrush Generation being evicted from Britain.
The Windrush are the people who came from the Caribbean between 1948 and the early 1960s to help with Britain’s postwar labour shortages.
Thousands of UK families only exist today because of the Windrush coming here; many fell on hard times when they came in the 1940s and the 1960s.
People like my great-grandparents came in the second wave of immigrants in the early 1960s, my grandmother from Grenada was six years old at that time.
They came for a better life. England was a land that had this myth-status throughout the colonies. It was dubbed a nation that “was paved with gold.”
This poem is inspired by David Lammy’s inspirational speech but it’s also directly influenced by “Directives” by American poet Olivia Gatwood.
The first British ships arrived in the Caribbean in 1623, and despite slavery they came when the “Motherland” went to war against Germany. Twenty-five thousand West Indians fought in the world wars.
When my great-grandparents arrived in this country under the Nationality Act, they came as British citizens. I’ve heard there have already been deportations. My Grenadian grandmother came on her parents’ passports. She has been here since she was six.
Is Grandma at risk too?
If it happens to you and yours, predictably you will ask the question why? You thought this only happened to stowaways, to the people who are caught sneaking in, but not you – who came by invite.
Not you who have been denied your rights after fifty years and more. You’ve worked too hard to be booted through Britain’s backdoor – with your careers as nurses in the NHS, with your careers as mechanics in the car industry, with your careers in housing and social work and recruitment and the media and employment and sports.
Grandparents, it seems your best is no longer good enough. This is not a place to set up shop and you thought you played this game of chess right. Do not be fooled by checkmate. Do not think by “winning” the battle you have won the battle. These institutions love it when you win like this. When you are at their mercy like this. When your pawn is one square from the end of the board like this.
You were told about streets paved with gold. Our ancestors were transported, bought and sold at the market. And now, like slaves, their descendants will go to live in countries they barely know.
And you, your children, (like my parents) and by extension their grandchildren – like my brother and I, this country was built on the backs of our labour. If you have lived here since you were six years old, are you really an immigrant? Raised and moulded in the view of The Crown, you are not a slave… you are of this ground.
When you’re black and British, the struggle is constant – like living inside your own heartbeat. Ripping apart your veins and arteries, convincing yourself that the white man is more worthy of the transplant.
However, Windrush, you are the solution. You have more than paid your way and you’ve earned your place. You are the National Health Service; you are schoolteachers, and politicians and judges and so much more.
When the bulldog doesn’t know how to speak softly, remember he has been taught how to bark and ask questions afterwards. When he uses his body like a battering ram through a steel door, remember he’s been taught to plunder and devastate. When he doesn’t answer your call, how can you blame a rabid beast for its lack of table manners?
How many have been deported? The Home Office should know. How many have been treated like prisoners in their own land, banned from free movement… constantly watched by the white-collar overseer.
This is not a game of chess. Checkmate or stalemate, these are people’s lives – those who arrived after the war and into the 50s and 60s and made roots.
So, Home Secretary, this is where bad decisions are made.
Do not masquerade behind talk, giving it this.
You are not a victim. You are a liability. You politicians are magicians, into smoke when it gets too hard. You are loose boots and loot crates of money for wars, not for pensions. Your uniform has seen better days. Your rope is frayed.
Windrush is marching through France not knowing whether to kill the bulldog or the Nazi. Windrush is saving the NHS from ruin. Windrush is saving the coloniser and becoming the colonised. Windrush is centuries of hard labour.
Windrush is putting out the flames of a hostile environment policy. Windrush is saying no to Enoch Powell’s River of Blood speech. Windrush is leaving paradise for a dystopia in hopes of creating something better for your children.
Windrush is a song in a strange land.
If you lay down with dogs, you get fleas.
Windrush is willing to burn in the apartment so the fleas do not get in.
I wrote this poem inspired from seeing David Olusoga’s coverage of Sierra Leone’s Buncle Island in his book and documentary series Black and British: A Forgotten History. The video below will explain more.
The screams of Bunce Island
have finally found their form
and it’s barely a whisper –
a whimper on the forest floor –
they treat them like dogs.
Though they’re good enough
to rape. Cremating chastity
in the shack that sits over there.
It’s a game of cat and mouse –
the mansion men are howler monkeys,
The Rape House’s wooden walls
like a box to bury them in –
out in the yard the chains crawl,
jingling. Master’s mouth salivating,
ribs throbbing. It’s July, but they wouldn’t
know that based on the sky’s high fever –
parched animals looking like
master’s wrath, Britannia
flying flags like tablecloth in
the sight of the British imagination.
A slave was killed today. They didn’t
know her name. Her scream slowed
to a boil in the face of king and country,
skin flapping like the tail of a dinner jacket –
for a moment, they thought it might never
come to an end. But it does, in heavy hands
on the top of heavy heads and soon
she is half the woman she was.
What a horrid sight, her body
wrapped like a carcass ready
to be submerged – same as the
slaves that jumped from ships.
The rain falls from the sky
like dust on a shelf. And
they do, as many have,
catch droplets in their mouths
until their teeth,
tongues and throats