WORLD BOOK DAY!!!!!!! <3 <3 <3

Hello, and HAPPY WORLD BOOK DAY!!!! With my love- ever verging on compulsion- for books, it is only natural that I commemorate this glorious day! It is a universal truth that stories bring imagination, togetherness and meaning into our lives, which is why it is so heart-breaking to read about the bastard tory cuts to our country’s libraries, and what these closures mean for us all and our future.

Considering 1 in 8 disadvantaged children don’t even own one book, it is not only sad but a public disgrace that since 2010, 700 libraries have closed- there are people being deprived of an education and development of emotional depth that everyone deserves. It isn’t a mystery why books are under threat from this government of liars, bullies and thieves. Books are the ultimate power. I always remember what my mother told me as a child: your education is the most precious thing you can cultivate, because it is the one thing nobody else can take away from you. Once you have read a sentence that sticks, or a fragment of words arranged to reveal a hidden matrix of intricate feelings, that knowledge and drive for more cannot be tamed. God even made the universe with language: ‘In the beginning was the word…’ and guess what? Words belong to everyone.

Ignorance is a fertile breeding ground for confusion, which leads to anxiety, which leads to hatred; and hatred is a very easy thing to make money from. By keeping us distant from books, the powers that be are trying to stop us from accessing a great store of tools, both for society as a whole and for our own inner lives of dreaming. In a cultural and revolutionary sense, books can help us connect to one another: to exchange and merge ideas to create new movements for political change and art of beauty. Without the literatures of Sojourner Truth, W.E.B Du Bois and later of Maya Angelou and James Baldwin, how would the oppressed realities of black Americans ever have come to the public consciousness in a way that promoted empathy and freedom over fear and exploitation? Without the words of revolutionary poets writing in their jail cells, without the necessity for freedom inscribed forever in suffragette or war pacifist leaflets, how could we know what we need to do to help one another?

Without books we would all be dead.

But it’s not just language’s capacity for fostering communal spaces of shared ideas to fight injustice which ignites my soul (READING IS SEXY IF U DIDN’T KNOW) but also for what it can do just for yourself. A good book is medicine, magic and mentor all at once. A good book can come to define a period in your life, or help organize the way you perceive reality. Reading educates you in the sense of grammar and vocabulary, but also in emotional literacy. The sense that stories and their characters and messages hold a vital puzzle: the more we pick apart and analyse a story, the more we reveal about ourselves, our biases and penchants.

It is evident that reading is and always will be FUNDAMENTAL (for any Rupaul lovers out there, I hope you got that reference- if not, take yourself back to the library hoe). Which is why, simultaneously as my heart breaks over the state of our libraries, it also swells with hope: as libraries are declining, there has been an unprecedented rise in young people reading poetry.

Poetry is often considered the less reliable, messier relative of fiction. More free-wheeling in its use of language and organization of time and plot, poetry is a maverick. Created in the material world, yet not existing by the rules of that realm- poetry’s power lays in the fact that it reverberates a visceral truth which cannot be pinpointed to a spreadsheet or reported on the news. Yet the truth you feel is real alright, the shivers and goosebumps that manifest when you read lines which somehow reveal an intuition you had felt all along, but never had the foundations of language to communicate before. There is something elemental and universal in poetry’s emotional scope, which is why I think it is such a strong mode for activism in uniting people’s hearts and minds with those of strangers.

And so, we live in hope. The libraries and our access to books may be under threat from tory heartlessness (no shocker there), but the peoples’ love of poetry cannot be cut by any austerity. The more the government continues to fuck with us, the more need we will have to fight back: to uplift and learn from each other, to stop our hearts ossifying into machines of profit. If you know someone who hasn’t read for pleasure in a while, or is curious of learning but afraid of looking like a nerd- encourage them! Share books with your friends! Volunteer at your local library or donate to causes who are fighting for the dignity and importance of the arts! AND NEVER VOTE FOR THE TORYS.

I learnt today that many thousands of books are being left unopened, and many lessons aren’t being learned. And so, I leave you today with one simple message: don’t forget to read, it is more important than you think. One of my favourite authors is Virginia Woolf, and I will honour today with what she had to say about the importance of reading and learning:

“…Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind…”

The articles I refer to are:

On library closures: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/mar/07/world-book-day-2019-libraries-tom-watson

On the rise of poetry’s popularity: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/feb/16/rise-new-poets

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- New River Press Yearbook 2019!!!

Hello Everyone! Today’s post is a bit of a shameless self-promotion, but I am that bitch and so WHO CARES!?! I am going to talk a little about a poetry anthology I am very honoured and excited to be a part of, ‘WHEN THEY START TO LOVE YOU AS A MACHINE YOU SHOULD RUN’: The New River Press Yearbook of 2019. An anthology of poetry and poets, some well-known names, and people who have never been published before in their lives. Young and old, all genders, races and creeds, and most importantly- completely different perspectives and modes of seeing the world.

The New River Press is a small quirky publisher from London who already have made a bit of a name for themselves in supporting and publishing poets like Heathcote Williams (I have read his collection about Trump, ‘American Porn’ and it is a powerful read) and Greta Bellamacina, who has curated anthologies of love poetry and most recently ‘Smear’– an anthology of poetry for girls. The press strikes me as quite bohemian, trying to see with an untainted, innate eye the fragments of magic that break through the cracks of mundane routine. The range of topics they publish is vast, spanning from the metaphysical poetry of love, to other works being resolutely rooted in atoms and sound, tracing the reverberations of the city, its people and their ideas. I only heard of New River Press via learning about the poetry of Bellamacina, and decided to try enter their competition on a whim, a burst of hot air happiness in my head one moment scrolling through twitter. I didn’t actually think they would accept any of my poems, but I loved myself and so decided to choose hope over not trying at all AND IT WORKED!!!

I have grown into the habit of always trying to be modest and let other people decide whether things I do are ‘good’ or not, but on this occasion (and into the future, hopefully) I don’t give a fuck about being a fabulous brat and blowing my own trumpet because IT IS EXCITING TO WRITE AND PUBLISH AND READ POETRY!!!! I feel honoured for my work to be included in such a wide-ranging, yet tremendously sincere and creative book alongside other souls with a poetic mission. On the cover is a picture of the tender prophet Allen Ginsberg, and it does feel wonderful to be able to connect with so many ideas and people, in the past for inspiration and in the present for community to keep poetry flowing through all peoples liberating dreaming from its subjugation. There are 200 poets in the anthology, so I can’t possibly talk about them all with justice, but just to give you a taste of what this anthology covers…

There’s chaotic minglings of the material city and digital anxieties, spiralling moons into memes to discuss the isolation and confusion of modern living (Zia Ahmed). There’s hating Klimt and Tequila (Nika Kechaeva), and forgiving others for what they haven’t even done yet (Phoebe Bishop-Wright). Dead flowers help console the insurmountable and inexpressible reality of things (Lily Ashley), whilst buying gas station bouquets speak of how love always searches its muckiest pockets for change to give (Dean Brindley). I could go on and on, but to summarize: this anthology is vast in the visions it includes, the infinite potentials for new ways of seeing and being. As it says on the blurb, Andre Breton’s description of poetry encapsulates the mood and mantra of what the New River Press aims for: ‘DREAMING WITH YOUR EYES OPEN’.

If you are interested in getting a copy, have a look online (http://www.thenewriverpress.com/shopn) !!!! I was given a discount code when my work was accepted and am allowed to share it, so if you would like the code just message me and I can give it to you!!! J

The poem of mine included is ‘I AM A WORTHLESS BOAT’, a modern translation of Shakespeare’s 80th sonnet and part of one my final projects at undergraduate level which I am still working on. Worthless Boat is about knowing you aren’t necessarily the sharpest tool in the shed, but still trying to create a ramshackle magnificence of love with the grime and beauty that cannot be wiped clean- it is a poem for romantic underdogs.

If you want to read it, go get a copy or message me and I can send you the page!!!!! I do hope you will give the anthology and New River Press a try, to cleanse some of the muck of ‘reality’ away from your cosmic lens aha and release the poet within us all! LIBERATE YOUR MIND FROM THE SHAKLES OF DRUDGERY AND EXPAND YOUR COSMIC HORIZONS!!!!! Xoxoxxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!- ‘Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far’

Hello everyone! Today’s post is going to be talking about a book I got from Elvis for Christmas; I had wanted to read it for a while but felt unsure, so I am glad that he took the initiative! It is the first release under #Merky Books, ‘Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far’, about Stormzy’s journey and the work it took to cultivate raw talent into a global force for black excellence. We are all familiar with the music and the man (if you haven’t seen the Grenfell Brit performance, go on Youtube now and change your life), but the style in how the book is written by Jude Yawson, and the perspectives on fame, work and ambition are all welcomingly new.

What I really loved was that even though Rise Up is of course focused on Stormzy, it isn’t just his voice or perspective you hear. The book pulls apart the lie of celebrity, the myth that some exceptional individuals get luckier than the rest, elevated above anonymity into the bright glare of accolade and wealth. Instead, it shows a web of like-minded, hardworking people all motivated in their differing areas of expertise for one goal: Black Excellence. Stormzy doesn’t appear as a monolithic idol isolated from his origins or the hard graft, but as a gracious, humble man who is eager and passionate about what he believes is a duty in God to uplift others using your talents. The virtues of team work, patience and humility in tough grind are core foundations for success throughout. It is like a self-help book, but a lot more sincere. It doesn’t brag about money or parties or womanizing (Stormzy is actually very big on feminism, his mother raised him well), but talks about how to persist when the going seems tough, how to see the brighter side of the bigger picture when work seems futile.

I thought reading Rise Up might make me a bit of an intruder, if that makes sense? It’s funny, because I like Stormzy, the type of music and other artists in similar genres, and was so excited when he announced the #Merky Books- yet for some unclear reason I still felt like I shouldn’t read it. As if me reading the book was another example of white people trying to steal from and gentrify black culture without any understanding of or care for the people who produced it. In reluctance to try and reach out of my own life for fear of getting things wrong, I mistakenly felt the book was meant just for people like Stormzy; young black boys trying to make it in a hostile country, not white girls like me who’ve not been forced to think about, let alone reckon with half the difficulties and setbacks the black community have been forced to. Rise Up is obviously and rightly targeted at black youth, with its message deeply invested in bringing out the best of black British talent not just in music but all industries. My point is, that even though I believed this book wasn’t meant for me, I was wrong!!! You don’t have to be able to identify with all the same experiences as another person in order to be able to listen to what they have to say, apply it to your own life, and try and use the lesson for forces of good. You don’t have to centre yourself and your own understanding of things in order to learn from what another person has to say.

That is the beautiful thing; I truly believe that even if you don’t like Grime music particularly, even if you have never learnt about, or cared enough to notice and listen to the lived experience of black youth in Britain today (if you have previously been apathetic, please start caring and try to do something), this book is universal in its ambition to empower and inspire.

That’s the whole point of Rise Up really, to prove that you should never pigeonhole people in what they should do and be able to say. Stormzy is a MC from the ends who knows how to put on a show, but he is also just as philosophical as any university scholar, as musically talented as the big producers- his capacity isn’t limited to grime or underground scenes, he uses his blackness as a bridge to reach bigger heights. To show that black boys can be successful in business and management as well as music or sport, that he isn’t only an entertainer but an educator.

Art and Music are ways of expressing emotion, ideas and debate as modes of activism, but Stormzy doesn’t take pride in pretending to have all the answers. Stormzy firmly positions himself amongst and connected to people as a web of strength through which we must all listen and help one another. Rise Up is a rallying cry for all of us to be accountable, to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be, to achieve our own excellence and share that strength with others.

My only very minor criticism would be that, because the narrative intermingles so many voices to build a timeline- like a radio chat transcribed- it could sometimes be difficult at the beginning to keep track of who everyone was without constantly flipping to the list of contributors. However, like I say this is only minor as I do believe having the various voices makes for a much more compelling and meaningful read than had it just been Stromzy alone trying to big himself up. Jude Yawson, who collected the separate stories, has done a really good job on holding onto the integrity and personality of the original conversations, all whilst making it gel into a cohesive narrative.

Overall, I would recommend Rise Up to everyone whether you like Stormzy and his music or not!!! It is a beautiful book which celebrates the fulfilment of working hard for what you love and the possibilities created by surrounding yourself with people who strive for similar goals and values. Rise Up is keen on championing and inspiring the next generation of black kings and queens to rise up (as the title says so), and is wholeheartedly invested in self-belief as the key to all success and happiness. If you are looking for a book to empower and uplift, Rise Up is perfect!!!!!! I hope you will give Stormzy a try and assist the journey of black excellence by downloading his music, reading this book and making action informed by listening to others on how to invest in and build better lives for everybody!!!!

“… I’m not trying to be that corny don. I’m not on some presidential shit. I just know that no one is going to help my little brother. You can talk about things, but you have to take action. Man can go on stage and spray a two-bar about the prime minister and get a reaction. But there’s a lot more I can do. It’s a duty…”

VALENTINES DAY- Where is the Love?

Hello everyone!!!!!

Today’s post isn’t in honour of a particular book or poem, but a feeling, an emotion we all (like to think we) know … L-O-V-E!!!! Valentines Day is upon us and that means, according to popular imagination, that you will either be up the Eiffel Tower with a bouquet of roses serenaded by a violinist on one knee, OR a sobbing mess sequestered beneath layers of duvet, shovelling ice cream and discounted chocolates down your gob. One of the main reasons I began writing, and specifically poetry, was to try and find the truth of love. It sounds horrendously cheesy like a fucking Richard Curtis rom-com, but it is a fact. I have always been beguiled as to what this emotion that everybody needs and wants, but can never define or explain really is.

And although Valentines Day is meant to be a celebration of that divine mystery, I think just as with most other sincere emotions/traditions, capitalist patriarchy has sucked out the life blood and made of love a travesty. For starters, Valentines never originated as an innocuous trading of fluffy pink things and shitty lingerie. IT STARTED AS A REBELLION MOTHER FUCKERSS!!!!! Yes, St Valentine got his head chopped off by the bastards in charge for the audacity of believing that people should have a right to dedicate themselves to one another if they were thus inclined. I’m not about to start halooing and yaying for the indoctrination of heterosexual Christian monogamy (ew.) into us all, but it is still important. Valentine’s Day did not start as a chance to brag about how rich and beloved and pretty you are. It started as a statement of intent: I can love without permission.

But today en masse it feels like this burning desire has been replaced with obligation and FOMO. Real love is powerful, and The Man doesn’t want us to believe it. LGBTQ+ people are being called sinful and aberrant for their love, whilst pornography constantly fetishizes their desires into a mockery for the mainstream. People are clinging to stay in or start toxic relationships just so that they can say they have a bae, pretending that forcing someone else to (pretend to) love them is a gratifying substitute for the real thing. Black girls are feeling like they don’t measure up to billboards of whiteness selling us pants and weekend breaks, force-feeding us the Imperial lie that only pale skin is worthy of attention and ‘protection’. Boys are made to feel like they can’t ask for love at all, locked up in macho cages. And little girls are made to feel like failures because they didn’t get the most cards in their class, being taught by stick insect Disney princesses or Love Island drones that the most defining sign of success for a woman is ‘love’.

To be loved, for beauty and selflessness. But the patriarchy has weaponized love, and it no longer actually means what it says on the tin. To be loved = men want to fuck you and for you to be grateful for everything they steal and exploit for themselves. And of course, womynx (womyxn= term including cis women, Trans women, queer people, feminine people, non-binary people e.t.c) are taught to give love like a handout, an infinite resource of patience and tenderness arising from no effort whatsoever. Love is infinite, but it does not come without effort. The emotional labour of which is, SHOCK HORROR, pushed on womyxn. To love= give all you have whilst simultaneously being a placid doormat, one of the bros.

I used to think ‘love’ was the only thing that I ever wanted, but as I age and see the haranguing cruelty of the patriarchy crush all things sincere and delicate; I have to admit that the version of love I thought I needed (old-school hand holding in the park, sharing sweets on the bus with a lover who will cherish me forever in sentimentalized photo albums and diaries- don’t judge me.) VS the ‘reality’ of what is inside each individual, is never going to calibrate with this hypocritical cess pit of ‘society’. So many ‘concepts’ I cannot wrap my head around.

Monogamy, and partnering in general is a myth of patriarchy to keep womyxn feeling like they aren’t enough if they aren’t ‘chosen’. Like womyxn need to complete themselves with a man who will ‘take care of them’, which really just means less women working and being bosses for themselves. NEWS FLASH: WOMYNX DON’T NEED MEN. WE NEVER HAVE. STOP RIDICULING SINGLE WOMYNX. STOP DEMONIZING PEOPLE WHO ARE HAPPIER ALONE. WOMYNX WANT LOVE. WE WANT HAPPINESS. WE WANT TO FUCK. WE DO NOT NEED MEN FOR THESE THINGS. WE TOLERATE MALE BULLSHIT TO TRY AND FIND DIAMONDS IN A SHIT STACK. I am glad I got that off my chest, because that is one of my main despairs at modern depictions and thoughts about love: that we need someone else. It is such bullshit, because as soon as you feel you need love, and that you’ve got to force and be desperate and do anything you can to be completed, then it isn’t love but fear.

What I’m saying isn’t anything new, feminist movements since the suffragettes and before have been saying that womynx need to stop relying on men, and I think it’s especially important when it comes to love. We do not need permission to feel beautiful, we do not have to feel ugly just because a man said it so. Men (lol NOT ALL MEN) are pretty stupid, we should not be following the same rules they have been trying to enforce. Their rules are leading to the 6th mass extinction of earth. We can do better than that, we can choose ourselves and start thinking of important things other than what men want their dates to dress like, or how to lose weight fast.

I know it may seem hypocritical, considering I myself have a boyfriend. But, actually he is one of the reasons why I am trying to be more astute in recognising the difference between needing and wanting love. He always tells me that I should never let a man break my heart, and that’s him included. Knowing that you can survive alone, and that anyone else is just a glorious bonus of extra colour to an already mystifying and divine existence, is a much more beneficial foundation for happiness than feeling that you will be nothing unless you force another creature to be tethered to you always. People like Chidera Eggerue ( AKA- The Slumflower), Audre Lorde (MY QUEER QUEEN) and Virginia Woolf (the way she cherishes the world and writes so exquisitely could not have been done had she been chasing a man incessantly) are much more eloquent on the importance of self-love before anything else much more than me. But I hope that this little snippet of thought has given a different perspective on one of the most tired and money-fuelled exploitations of love this western world has created.

If anything, I hope you all have a lovely day by yourself. I hope you romance yourself, take yourself on a date so that when you are encountered with amazing humans you can fully appreciate them without the clouded perspective of desperately searching for validation. Fuck the patriarchy, smoke a blunt and bask in the miniscule yet cosmic significance you hold on this fleeting planet, ignoring how pretty you may or may not be. Love without permission, from the state, or God, or family, or popular culture, or even yourself.

XOXOXXOXOXO

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!!! Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire!

Hello everyone! With the recent descent of Trump and his white supremacist cronies in the US mid-terms ( may they sink ever lower) and the higgeldy-piggeldy MESS that is Brexit, Windrush and Grenfell swamping the UK with arguments over who is or is not allowed protection under ‘great’ Britannia’, it seems appropriate to talk about this book now. Today’s post is all about Akala’s first novel Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’- I know he has also released graphic novels- i REALLY wanna read them- but I mean in terms of non-fiction hardbacks.

Natives is clever, to say the least. It boasts pages and pages of educational anti-colonial, anti-racist facts and footnotes, and you can tell that it has been a passion long in the making, articulately put together to tackle some great issues of race and class for not only Great Britain, but the entire history of the world: Apartheid and segregation, education and prison systems, white supremacy and imperial history are amongst some of the topics Akala touches upon. His aim with this book is to analyse the way race and class both intersect and feed off each other in conflict with the white state and upper classes, and how these historically institutionalised concepts affect a singular life in the making.

Akala uses the story of his own life to examine the workings of history and politics around him, and how these forces have shaped who he has become. Some people may feel he is boasting by constantly asserting his own past and achievements into the narrative of global history, but I disagree. All the auto-biography included is relevant to the intellectual arguments he makes, his own experiences generating courses of study to analyse the fates of so many working class black boys in the country. Life shown in contrast against the statistical hardship of so many others (not that Akala himself has never known these struggles himself) only makes his achievements more commendable, and indirectly highlights the need to implement what Akala’s book is trying to equip us with and inspire: the knowledge and urgency to ensure that more such rigorous insights can be written by more people who know first hand the effects of state racism and violence onto a child’s future.

It reminded me of another book about race I read earlier this year, ‘Brit(ish)‘ by Afua Hirsch, in which she also recounts the difficulties of forming an identity as a mixed race child in the UK whilst unearthing and lambasting historical racism. However, I will say that though using the same method of analysis of auto-biography these two authors’ early lives could not be any more different. With Hirsch growing up confused, but ultimately sheltered in her posh Wimbledon neighbourhood, whereas Akala’s past is definitely not privileged in any sense of the word as we would expect in the UK; yet he has a surer sense of his identity with close ties to others from the Caribbean and to young boys in similar shoes as his own. Hirsch’s book is also amazing!!!!! It shows a different environment to Akala’s, which actually enforces the point which Akala is trying to make: it doesn’t matter how high up the ladder of capitalist achievement a black person can go or is born into, they will still be ‘Othered’, still be stereotyped somehow.

This definitely isn’t a book you can rush through, it’s one you have to think over before going to the next page; maybe that’s just me, but there’s so many facts and ideas about so many topics that it would seem negligent to simply graze over them without properly trying to understand the point at hand. This is a perfect book to start learning about key concepts and issues underpinning race in Great Britain- but Akala also uses his mixed Jamaican heritage and travels across the globe to give nuanced opinions about how race and class operate differently and arbitrarily for each country depending on it’s history and geography. I think his most powerful writing comes from critiques of the UK education and Prison systems, where argument is always founded on fact and long-meditated analysis fed by numerous theorists (who he references in the back- great for people looking for further reading once they’ve finished this book!).

The lens isn’t just focused on the effect of racism and classism on black and brown people though, Akala also turns arguments back on whiteness itself. Deconstructing what is the ‘default’ identity for governments and culture to build around, and showing its true nature: not ‘default’ at all, but a highly constructed, conceptualised and insidious weapon of Capitalism to pit man against man (or woman)  despite their similar material circumstances. This is a scathing attack, and a brilliant one. As the title may suggest, it isn’t the thugs or hooligans who we should be most worried about (still, fuck the bigoted scum bags) but the ‘powers that be’,  that create the ideas and conditions in which racism can grow unchecked. From teachers defending the KKK as America’s crime fighting vigilantes (the part where he talks about his teacher arguing that the KKK stopped crime by killing black people is horrendous, but when out against the backdrop drawn from history sadly not that surprising), Nelson Mandela as an upholder rather than complete destroyer of apartheid in South Africa, to the police who end up asking him for advice on how to tackle ‘black crime’ (his critique of ‘the idea of ‘black-on’black’ crime is unquestionably good) after trying to arrest him- no authority figure is safe from Akala’s most effective weapon: his brain.

To conclude, I am going to quote a section of the book where Akala is highlighting the double edged sword that is white supremacy; at once giving it’s wielders a sense of superiority, yet completely negating any sense of individual strength of mind they could have by centring superiority on the assumed, and false, inferiority of others.

If you care about ending inequality, this book is for you xoxoxoxoxoxox

“…The long and short of it is that the master makes himself a slave to his slave by needing that domination to define him… We talk about white privilege but we rarely talk about the white burden, the burden of being tethered to a false identity, a parasitic self-definition that can only define itself in relation to blacks’ or others’ inferiority…”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB-DARK DAYS!!!!

I’ve never had the chance to fully study all Baldwin’s work, and have only read ‘Another Country’ and a few of his essays (Another Country is soooo good, very gripping and it covers a wide range of characters whose stories interweave). But, yesterday I read one of his essays in the Penguin modern series compilation of his works- ‘Dark Days’; by the way, I throughly recommend these books as treats for yourself and/or others! They are only £1 and can help you discover authors like how you can sample food at the supermarket or how they spray perfume on you to test it in shops. They aren’t in depth or full represetations of authors’ work, but really good to carry when travelling or to dip in and out of when you’re busy! ANYWAYS- I haven’t gotten round to reading the whole collection yet, but the essay I read seemed very relavent to now, despite it actually being written in 1965. It’s called: ‘The White Man’s Guilt’.

It is a highly thought through and intelligent work, and it is amazing to me how one man can see and interrogate such small parts of human behaviour into political frameworks. The essay explores how history affects the present way we interact with each other, and in particular how black and white people feel in conversation. How whiteness percieves and reacts to conceptions of blackness when faced with real life people. Baldwin highlights a frantic guilt in the white man/woman; always defending themselves when they haven’t been attacked, either personally in conversation, or physically by the police who they so vehemently defend. Always pointing blame in another direction, feeling deep down there is an imbalance in the world and never wanting to admit it- because once you state the truth (not the glorious history the people in charge want to push) and its repurcussions, who wants to be the one held responsible, to clean up that vicious mess?

It reminded me of another brilliant book I’ve read recently about race relations under some strange cloud of repressed/mutilated guilt, which allows for discimination/murder/ poverty to carry on largely unchallenged. Afua Hirsch’s book, ‘British’ is a memoir/ evidenced portrayal of racism in Britain- and it effects on African ex-colonies- across history. Hirsch’s book is rooted in Uk (And also Ghana), whilst Baldwin was writing about America, but the similarities of what they delineate are strong. Both point to the stupidity of white people denying they see colour, and therefore denying they see history. By denying colour, you deny people their bodies, pride in their ancestry, and pride enough now to untangle the brutality that a one-sided history has created. Or, the cowardice of seeing colour but not the truth of the story that colour tells: when white british people are proud of their country without knowing a thing about Empire and slavery, or red neck Americans fighting for immigrants to ‘get out’, when their whole country was literally built by immigrants coming over and killing Native Americans.

Returning to Baldwin, he doesn’t only talk about how white people are harmed and constrained by a history they do not yet understand how to be accountable for, he also talks about the pain that this warped history has had on black people. He explains how, if your history is dominated by negativity and shame, always condemning the contemporary individual as symptomatic of inherited ‘wrong’; to blame victims for their own suffering, after a while it’s those lies that become how you view yourself and your people. Black people come to believe that what white people won’t say is true- the akward glances denoting a distance, the silences meaning an unwillingness to just let people be people. They fill the empty gaps left from the tatters of pillaged history with their own present suffering to try make the picture whole.

My favorite image that Baldwin uses in this essay to descibe the effects of history on a person in the present is that of a butterfly pinned by a nail. The nail is history: factual, hard, produced by some distant machine, and almost impossible to escape from. The butterfly is us: a creature ruled by change and frail beauty, that is supposed to fly and be free but cannot whilst that pin is stuck there. Baldwin’s prose is already poetical in describing his politics, but this image just really sticks with me. I think it summarises perfectly the predicament white people have stuck themselves in, unable to escape their materially comfortable, yet pscyhologically wrecked history. Emotionally stagnant, condemning themselves for what is unchangeable; with white people dowsing themselves in guilt, defensive anger or complete ignorance. People who refuse to even look at the nail, let alone remove it, are equally as in pain as those who acknowledge its presence every second whilst doing nothing proactive to ease the wound.

The fact is, history can be changed because history is always under construction. I don’t mean change history like Dr Who travelling back and undoing all wrongs; I mean challenging the stories we’ve been told which build the foundation- both material and emotional- of all lives today. Using white priviledge- access to education, money and no discrimination based on race- to destroy the machinery that has gotten us to where we are now, so no black or brown person has to fight to be human again. So, I think Baldwin is trying to say that it’s not enough to know that racism is wrong. If you’re not going to activley change the situation by trying (you do everything you can when you can) to learn and construct an un-whitewashed version of history, where those who need to be are held accountable; to rebuild a society that does not perpetuate these current conditions- then you are part of the problem. To talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk, and at the moment white people aint saying shit to make anyone wanna walk. And if nobody can even walk, when will we ever be able to dance? Because ultimatley, it can’t be black people who have been victimised throughout history who are burdened with the struggle of fixing problems forced upon them. The only one who can change a legacy of history programmed into a person’s brain is the person who that brain belongs to.

I know this post is a bit slapdash, but I hope I have not butchered his work and offended anybody. I hope I’ve understood Baldwin correctly, and if you think I’ve missed some major points or am wrong- please say! The ultimate thing is to not close off conversation; it isn’t bad to be wrong, but it is bad to never admit it. To end this post, I want to include a good quote from Baldwin, and I hope you’ll try to look out for more of his work in the future! BE REVOLUTIONARY AND READ HISTORY!!!!!

“… Moreover, the history of white people has led them to a fearful, baffling place where they have begun to lose touch with reality- to lose touch, that is, with themselves- and where they certainly are not truly happy, for they know they are not truly safe… White man, hear me! A man is a man, a woman is a woman, a child is a child. To deny these facts is to open the doors on a chaos deeper and deadlier, and, within the space of a man’s lifetime, more timeless, more eternal, than the medieval vision of Hell. White man, you have already arrived at this unspeakable blasphemy in order to make money. You cannot endure the things you aquire- the only reason you continually aquire them, like junkies on hundred dollar a day habits- and your money exists mainly on paper. God help you on that day when the population demands to know what is behind that paper… It is terrifying to consider the precise nature of the things you have brought with the flesh you have sold- of what you continue to buy with the flesh you continue to sell…”