Sunday 31 August 2014

Hard To Hate - The Israeli & The Palestinian

Had a very enjoyable day yesterday performing poems and workshops for children visiting the Queen Elizabeth Park for National ParaOlympic Day with Apples & Snakes.

My conversation of the day was with storyteller Sef Townsend who spoke of running storytelling workshops in Israel and Palestine, workshops that ended in each person in tears and hugs, "tell your story, share your humanity and you will be harder to hate."

Friday 29 August 2014

The Black Cultural Archives In Brixton #RayRecommends

Today I visited the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, a fascinating insight into some notable African and Caribbean descended men and women in Britain. 
Calling these people "survivors" is an understatement
After reading through the archives and browsing through books such as Staying Power (The History Of Black People in Britain) by Peter Fryer, Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams, Discourse on Colonialism by Aimé Césaire. Also, the testimonies about the experiences of slaves in Britain such as Mary Prince and Olaudah Equiano. It's hard not to feel how severe the injustice is, not just in this particular part of history, but in the re-telling or in this case, the convenient- under-telling of this colonial shame in History classrooms to this day. 
Eric Williams
There were many slavery abolitionists (white and black) who campaigned for hundreds of years and this shouldn't be overlooked, but anyone studying economics should be under no illusion that slavery was abolished not only because of slave rebellions and the slave-owners difficulty in sustaining their slaves with housing, food, clothing, education etc. Many of them were dying from disease and ill-treatment or rebelling and ending up whipped and shot to death. Capitalism needed to adapt new systems. 

The idea of building factories and cramming people in sweatshops is the re-modelling of what is still a despicable example of human exploitation, which we, in the west are still pedalling as a viable economic system. We still live in a society where money is valued higher than life. The most direct example of this is in the food industry,we're being poisoned (nutritionally and psychologically) by the corporates but that's another story, just follow "March Against Monsanto" on facebook.

Anyway, I digress, I firmly believe that teaching black history and colonialism is a minefield, particularly if you're Conservative (or as I call them, Preservatives). Look head on at this history with just an ounce of compassion and it's unjustifiable, the idea that "well that was the mentality of the times" doesn't cut it. (Read Chinua Achebe's essays in 'Education Of A British Protected Child' for an eloquent take on this)
I walked out of the Black Archives Museum today feeling let down by the education system in England. I remember my history teacher at my secondary school in Muswell Hill describing the English as having "the greatest history in the world", he barely skimmed over slavery with an insensitive naivety. He sat on the desk with a diagram of the insides of a trans-atlantic slaveship projected brightly behind him as he said, with his chin held too high, "slavery was bad but at least everyone is equal now".

That is the failure. If every young person in the country had access and meaningful engagement with history, which is accessible at the Black Archives Museum, I believe we would be working towards a cultural shift for better understanding of each other. I think there would be less undermining of each others pain, still raw beyond plantations, unlawful deaths in police custodies, random-stop and searches and the backward connotations of black skin and poverty.

After all, history offers perspectives.

Visit the Archives, the exhibition on black women in Britain feels too brief but there's still a wealth of information to take away and do your own reading on.
Mary Seacole
Here are more blogs and facebook pages I have found equally educational. 

People Of Colour In European Art -

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Before I Write, I Dance...

These are my pump up songs before I hit that desk. Love them.

Smile Jamaica

Gimme Likkle One Drop

When I Find That Girl

Stayceyann Chin... Hear her out...

Wednesday 13 August 2014

What We Learn & How We Learn

This past weekend I performed in front of two thousand people across three different stages at Wilderness Festival. One of my favourite support teachers from my school days was in the audience for the show I did with Tongue Fu. We hadn't seen each other for eleven years, she saw me through so much growing up. She is one of the main reasons I left school with at least one B. I thought about her throughout my first year teaching, telling myself that I want to give my students something equal to the power she gave me. Acknowledging the impact she had on my life as I came off stage (in front of one of the largest audiences I've had) was a privilege and testimony to the power of what we learn from speaking and listening to our best teachers.

Friday 8 August 2014

Black History Second

Sylvester Williams, a Trinidadian who became a qualified teacher at 17, studied and taught in New York before moving to Hackney, East London in 1879 at the age of 22. He was the first black person to speak in the House Of Commons and founded the African Association, here is an extract written by Sylvester about his aims of his group:

To encourage a feeling of unity to facilitate friendly intercourse among Africans in general; to promote and protect the interests in all subjects claiming African descent, wholly or in part, in British Colonies other places, especially in Africa by circulating accurate information on all subjects affecting their rights and privileges as subjects of the British Empire, by direct appeals to the imperial and Local Governments.

… and over a hundred years later Hollywood, America's greatest propaganda machine, gets away with making casting decisions like this in a film about an ancient African civilisation.

If you think that's cutting, wait until you see the cast for 2016's Gods Of Egypt staring Gerald Butler

One of the reasons I teach is because I believe in the power of modelling truth. Art is a good way to look at it. If you see European art from the 1500's and the appearance of non-white faces surprises us because we are so used to our own non-presence, what has been communicated through these selective historical narratives? Africans and other non-Europeans had a presence in Europe thousands of years before slavery. In England there is a burial site of African Roman soldiers believed to date as far back as 42AD. Because that surprises so many people, we ought to have appropriate telling of culture and history so we can truly learn from it.

Often, as a poet I ask myself, "what are we not listening to that we should be?" and I keep hearing myself say, "our stories".

Monday 4 August 2014

Chill Pill at Wilderness

come see us!
In other news, Camp Bestival with Chill Pill and Sabrina Mahfouz was mega fun... as you can see...

Chill Pill & Sabrina Mahfouz
this song is called "SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP US!"
Also, Glastonbury was pretty cool, even collaborated live on stage with Andy Craven Griffiths...

Although my festival highlight was Latitude… to see the last few minutes of my set see FB link below