Dear White West Country People by Louisa Adjoa Parker

Dear White West Country People is a new poem by Louisa, part of the project Where are you really from? , which explores the stories of black and brown people living in rural Britain.

 

 

 

To the white south west boys with wet mouths full of slurs

White boys to whom I was barely a girl

To the white teacher who informed me I wasn’t too bright

To the white friends who liked me but weren’t bothered to fight

 

To the white kids who stuck dirty hands in my curls

To the white boys who insulted me but not the white girls

To the white boys who told me my legs were like trees

Whose words were cold rivers, whose words were cold seas

 

To the white friends who’d remark on my hair, weight, or skin

To the white friends who assumed black friends were my kin

To the white friend who told me I was fat at 9 stone

To the white men who left me to raise children alone

 

To the white strangers in pubs whose head-snapping got bolder

To the white friends who said I had a chip on my shoulder

To the white friends who silenced me, stitching my lips

To the white friends who didn’t stop all the poisonous drips

 

To the white friends who’d call me coloured or half-caste

To the white people in blackface, vile thing of the past

To the white friends I grew up with in this green and white space

Who never had to think about their colour or their race

 

To my white friends who listened, you know who you are.

Thank you for your allyship. This is only the start

To the white friends who told racist jokes in the pub

To the white men who found me unworthy of love

 

To my children’s white teachers who left slurs on the wall

There are too many to list, I can’t list you all …

 

…. I understand although you had choices, those choices were made

in a culture where racism never quite fades

I get it’s hard to walk in my shoes, you can’t wear my skin

I don’t blame you, I love you, I am you, you’re kin.

 

We’ve walked over the same patch of green velvet land

Walked along the same riverbanks, walked on the same sand

We’ve seen the same seasons changing, parched land give birth

We’ve seen snowdrops and bluebells pushing up through cold earth

 

We’ve watched the same cattle, heads bent to the grass

Stood by the same sea, that sheet of blue glass

But I walked in my shoes and you walked in yours,

Not stopping to think or to fight for the cause.

 

And now is the moment perfect for growth

To pull up the roots of the hate that was sown

It’s time to admit you’re no expert on race

But an expert on whiteness and keeping your place

 

In system that keeps whites right at the top

And us at the bottom, but that needs to stop

Not being a racist is no longer enough

It’s going to take work and it’s going to be tough

 

Examine your whiteness which some wear with pride

Has your skin colour caused you to fear for your life?

You’ll need to re-learn our history from 400 years

And it’s ugly, and dark, and you’ll have to face fears

 

It’s a movement of thousands and you can take part

But you need to feel this, feel it deep in your heart

You’re mourning George Floyd but what of the others?

Brand their names on your heart, our lost sisters and brothers

 

You might have just noticed it, we’ve lived it for years

It’s going to be uncomfortable, it’s going to take tears.

But we belong to these days and we belong to these hours

You can make new choices and you do have the power

 

To dismantle old structures, to tear them apart

Make way for the new, create space in your heart

The change that’s been coming is finally here

It should fill you with hope, not fill you with fear

 

Let us rise up like birds. Let us soar through the sky

Let us breathe. Let us live. Let us hold our heads high.

Let us walk proud and belong to this land

Walk with me, friends, allies, come, take my hand.

 

 

***

 

Louisa Adjoa Parker’s coastal memoir will be published by Little Toller in 2021. She is a writer and poet whose work  includes Salt Sweat and Tears and How to Wear a Skin. Louisa’s writing and research has appeared in many journals and anthologies. She is also the curator and editor of the Where are you really from? project – if you’d like to share your experience, please get in touch with her via her website. 

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