Schooled in Disparity

Audio to follow.  For now, the audio file is on the Facebook page. Click here.

Written when the recent Disparty Report was published (2017), coinciding with our search for a primary school, I wrote this spoken word poem to reflect all my frustration at how, despite being British-born, third-generation, my child still faces systemic prejudice, discrimination and reduced life chances. It is a system based on structural racism at every level; something that is starkly apparent to us since applying for schools.

Note: The audio references the Macpherson Report as 1996, when it is in fact 1999.  Corrected in the text below. 

Schooled in Disparity

Don’t tell me you’ve only just heard
About what’s in this report of Disparity
Because to me that really is a travesty.
A massive divide between the rich and the poor
but that’s not all,
it’s the Black and Asian minorities who are victims of this barbarity.
Yes, it’s true, but this really isn’t news.
We’ve known it for decades in this nation,
we’ve been in this situation from before 1968,
The Joseph Rowntree foundation
to the Runnymede Trust and everything beyond and everything in between.
Highlighting disadvantage,
Held back in the workplace said Ruby McGregor-Smith.
The Macpherson Report of ‘99 still sticks.
Your racism is institutionalised,
Race and Work Survey 2015, racial harassment of ethnic minorities.
It’s institutionalised say the facts,
David Lammy and the over-representation of the BME;
the injustice system full of us ethnic minorities;
not something you can white-wash, paint over the cracks,
start facing the facts: we’ve been in this situation many times as a nation.
Listen up friends, the red, white and blue doesn’t leave much space for me or for you.

 

Don’t tell me that my child will thrive and survive in any school that we’re looking,
because my husband said something that got my blood pumping;
in my ears, in my brain, it drove me insane,
I tried to deny it but it came back all the same;
Over and over like an offensive refrain.

He said: Our child’s not white.

It hit me like a bus, that even today we needed to make a fuss about race,
like nothing’s changed.
It’s not the ‘60s, the ‘70s or even the ‘80s.
But he’s right.
Our child’s not white.
Don’t tell me that school’s are all the same, whatever their names because they’re not.
These days I’ve heard it a lot.
They’re not the same to us, because our child’s not white.
Don’t tell me that schools in my area are good enough for us,
because what you’re saying is we shouldn’t aspire for her to be the best.
That she should be like all the rest.
Don’t tell me our child can thrive anywhere
no matter what the colour of her skin and her hair.
Because it’s not true.
Your report says it’s so, even though this knowledge is not new.
You’ve sat on it a while, in your usual style,
pretending you care, when really, if you passed us in the street all we’d get is a suspicious stare.
Don’t tell me it’s a postcode lottery for everyone, I know.
But for us, we can’t move and not because of poverty,
but because your system doesn’t fit with our reality.
So don’t tell me that the Joneses moved for a school for their children,
that was a luxury their skin and their jobs afforded them.
White flight so now their future’s looking bright.
What’s that you say? Keep up with the Joneses?
Save up your pay. Take it to the bank, but wait! That job’s not for you, no thank you,
Your beard’s too long, too much fabric covering your hair, you say it’s not fair.
We won’t say it out loud but we all know it’s true:
Apply for 74 per cent more jobs before an interview,
then we might consider even touching you.

 

Now we finally got the job, we got the occupation,
now we’re part of the same situation.
Nine to five, or working around the clock,
we’re taking home the pay cheque and things are looking up.
The covert prejudice that says work harder, smarter for our satisfaction,
prove yourself because your melanin’s a distraction.
You see white colleagues lauded, applauded for doing the same as you,
but you can’t speak up because if you do
It’s a race card, conveniently your race card, in our face card.
Just work harder.
We’re not saying she’s better, but she’s definitely smarter.
I got straight As, a brilliant degree from an upstanding university.
I taught all my classes as well as I could, was told by OFSTED I was outstanding as could be.
I knew this teacher, she was an NQT, she needed help and so she came to me.
I planned her lessons, gave her all my stuff, but in the end it wasn’t enough.
Outsider, always an outsider, a minority;
Clearly more acceptable, whiter than me.
Acceptable, respectable, not matter what she said, no matter what she did.
My story’s not unique, my story’s not new, it’s a national reality for me and for you.
It’s not news, your report says it’s so; work so much harder for less recognition,
Just because we’re not Caucasian.

 

Is that a race card you see? No it’s reality, for her, her and her and for him and for me.
It’s not a brick through the window, it’s more stealthy;
unconscious bias, a prejudice or three.
For us stop and search more likely.
Don’t tell me a school can be anywhere, give her a book and it’s all fair and square.
Because our child’s not white.
Maths, English, Science and a healthy dose of Islamophobia;
Maybe under PREVENT she might be reported for drawing a cucumber.
And all before she hits double digits, and the concern that if she sits there and fidgets
Berated over and over because she’s under-stimulated
Another of the country’s brown misfits,
Not considered to be English though she’s as British as tea and biscuits.

 

Don’t tell me that we’re in this together, and she’ll be treated the same,
Because white privilege is to blame.
You shift uncomfortably, but I’ll say it again: white privilege is to blame.
Don’t tell me that I don’t care about the plight of the white working classes
and I just talk about the brown masses.
I rhyme what I know, my own reality, because if I don’t who else will speak for me?
Don’t tell me that it’s alright, because I’m seen as middle class,
with my middle-class diction and my middle-class books
and my middle-class house but not my middle-class looks.
Don’t tell me that this report is all new and my words don’t ring true.
Don’t tell me it’s the same for me and for you.
Don’t tell me when you’re sitting in your meetings, reading your papers,
That you really care, that something will change, that you’ll make it all fair.
“Burning injustices” of inequality, for all us browns and all the in-betweens.
You say it’s not about race,
O, serpent heart, hid with a flow’ring face!
Fake contrition, deceitful remorse, you’ll make it your mission, but we know it’s all false.

 

So, don’t tell me not to worry, don’t tell me not to fret,
About schools and education because she’s young yet.
Because our child’s not white.
We’re being conscientious, because we have to be,
We don’t have the luxury
Of sitting back, no plan of attack, because our child’s not white.
Don’t tell me it’s just primary, for most that’s not the key,
Because our child’s not white.
We’ve got start young, we’ve got to get it right.
Because our child’s not white.
Lay a strong foundation, teach her how to fight, not with her fists, but with other might.
Because our child’s not white.

 

Do I sound angry? Well, maybe I am.
Do I sound vexed because we have to plan?
I shouldn’t have to do this, I shouldn’t have to fight, it really isn’t right.
But our child’s not white.
She won’t have the same chances, the same opportunities.
We have to do it ourselves, rewriting our histories.
Don’t tell me what to think, don’t tell me what to feel,
Don’t tell me how to act, your concern isn’t real.
We want to be the same as our white counterparts:
We want to be represented in movies and the arts.
And not just as terrorists and downtrodden wives,
but as complete human beings with regular lives.
Because until we’re all the same and until it’s all fair,
There’ll be someone like me to rant and to shout,
There’ll be someone like me, calling you out.
Don’t cry fake news and try to turn the tides;
I never used to worry about race, or class or social divides;
I used to tell my parents it wasn’t true,
until I became a parent and saw it all anew with fresh eyes.
I saw the injustice, the inequality.
I didn’t need a report like yours to open up my eyes and to make me see.
All it took was one little child, with her big brown eyes and her beautiful smile.
I looked at her face and I realised, I would stop at nothing, so I planned and devised,
to get her the best of every experience;
but when it came to schools, I was told:
you deserve a substandard one because of your postcode.
So, it comes true the gulf of disparity, the racial divide because of where we live,
A self-fulfilling prophesy, keep us subjugated throughout history.
The past and the present has become one and the same
It’s not a brick through the window but nothing much has changed.
It’s not a brick through the window but nothing much has changed.
It’s a pig’s heads now, he’s the Lord of the Flies –
What’s the matter? You look a bit surprised, surprised that I’d know that,
surprised that I’m clever, surprised that I’m cerebral? Well, I never!

 

Is my offense rank? Does it stink to high heaven?
But even knowing Hamlet won’t make me less foreign.
To you I’m still the same, but you don’t realise
I’ve covered up my hair, but not covered my brain.
My opinion is offensive, maybe to you,
people online defensive: these Muslims, these immigrants, these…cockroaches.
I’m flying while Muslim, and in these times,
thrown off a plane for risky Arabic lines.
As Salaamu Alaykum. InshaAllah. Allahu Akbar.
Don’t tell me I don’t have to care and she can go to school anywhere
And she’ll have the same chance, because that’s not right.
You won’t listen to our plight
Because our child’s not white.
You’ve got your own agenda, not the same as ours;
sitting in your suits, you exercise your powers,
feeling vindicated in your ivory towers.
Women worse off, always the women, always the girls,
Why do we suffer when you tighten up the purse?
Don’t tell me we’re the same, because your make up rubs off, revealing who you are.
Your make up rubs off, when my melanin does not.
I do have to care and I do have to shout,
Because unlike you and the privileged few,
Our child’s not white.

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