I work four days a week as a poet in residence at an East London school. Most of the students are second generation African and Caribbean British. While reading 'Of Mice & Men' to a year 11 class, one student responded powerfully to the treatment of Crooks, (the novels only black character who is repeatedly referred to as a "nigger)", by throwing the book across the room and stamping on it. The following day we had an in class debate about the use of the word, to gauge how teachers (who are mostly white) can engage with their black students sensitively. This persona piece is inspired by the views expressed by the students.
The next question is what texts will replace Steinbeck and Harper Lee? How subversive will they be in their ethnic and gender representation? Dickens, Shakespeare, Shelly and Keats have numerous subversive representations of women in their work, other minority groups, not so much. Granted that Shakespeare's imagination was informed by his knowledge of Africa, ("she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear") and the Middle East ("I know a lady in Venice would've walked barefoot to Palestine for a touch of his nether lip").
Educating the mind is not colonising it.