By Jennifer Robinson
Foreword by the author, Jennifer: I was inspired to write this poem after looking at the photography of Khadija Saye. Her portraits of African hairstyles – Crowned, reminded me of a discussion I’d had some time previously with a few Ugandan colleagues about the time, effort and pain that goes into crafting the intricate but necessary hairstyles which keep African hair in check.
My children are mixed race, and it’s something which weighs on my mind because I recognise that for too many people, this is still a negative. I have no idea what it is to be black, or African. So raising in particular African children, and getting it right, is something which I worry about.
This came from an emotional reaction to Khadija Saye’s photographs, but ultimately because this young woman, who fought visible and invisible prejudice from all sides, died alone in a dark stairwell in Grenfell Tower, a harsh reminder that her community were still, in 2017, not important enough.
Won’t be tamed
Full lips melanin DNA
“What a beautiful colour she is” they say
Not too dark, not too light the meaning inferred
“Her hair is not like theirs”
Her hair is hers
She can choose how to wear it
“Her nose is like yours”
Like the comment you made, believe me I caught it
Because what you went for first was her nose and her hair
How lucky you are not seeing prejudice there
Where’s her dad from?
Must be hot and oppressed
“Africa right? South, East or West?”
And that’s not who I am
Who am I to tell her how her struggle began?
Disrespect automatic, but never for me
Will I know how to help her
Will I even see
When the world turns its back
Or asks more of her
Than I had to produce
When mediocre was enough to get through exams
Knowing she’ll fight harder than I ever can
Just to get less
To be less
In the eyes of some
My baby is beautiful inside and out
But the out is what matters,
To tabloids and fascists
And the poison that fills our day to day
Is enough to question how she’ll make her way
British but always “where’s she from, really?”
Half and half, half-caste, half white, half black,
Half empty, half full? Half each of two, making three
And to me she’s the world
But the world still disagrees
As a gratuity for featuring the work of Khadija Saye on this blog, Attacked Not Defeated has made a donation to the fund supporting survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire.