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.