Forgive me, I’m climbing on my soapbox again. Well I have to join in with worldwide Blog Action Day, don’t I? Especially as I’ve just had the privilege of attending a live reading by Linton Kwesi Johnson, thanks to the dynamic team up at Teesside University. Who else to flag up world action where it counts than the quintessential Kwesi Johnson, who came to poetry and the spoken word through a fundamental sense of injustice, i.e. racism?
It was interesting (and brilliant!) to hear a little of his journey through politics and human rights as well as his personal journey through creativity and literature. This is a guy who I’ve long revered for his persistence, and his courage to stand with his head above the parapet….because isn’t it so easy just to keep your head down and pretend the less acceptable side of life might go away?
You might wonder why a white middle class gal like me would be so concerned about black human rights…after all, I was grammar-school educated followed by a three year stint at university, not to mention further years of post-graduate study. What gripe have I got?
The answer is clear. My gripe is that I’m human. And I have the compassion and vision that accompanies an ability to put myself into other people’s shoes… Linton Kwesi Johnson was the child of the Windrush generation. I was the child of people who fought in the second world war, people who’d suffered at the hands of Europe-wide politics and greed, and who lived in poverty.And when I say Europe, I’m including Britain.
The community amongst whom I grew up were farm and factory workers, each with their own small battles, and yes, I remember walking to school in the rain wearing cardboard in my shoes when the soles had worn through. So maybe I didn’t need to step into other people’s shoes after all…
I had the impression from Kwesi Johnson that to some extent he’s handed over the baton with regard to racial battles. Certainly things have come a long way since the 1985 Brixton riot. But it’s an unpalatable truth that prejudice in the UK is still an issue, especially in the light of the Brexit vote; white against black, black against white, second generation immigrant against new immigrant, the issue against Jews, against women, against gays and transgender, not to mention disability and age. Reminds me of John Lennon’s immortal words of protest no time for fussing and fighting (We can work it out, The Beatles.) Maybe prejudice is a natural part of the human psyche…maybe it springs from a fear of what we don’t understand, a fear that something will come and steal what we have, plus a strong natural bent to lay the blame for our ills directly at someone else’s feet. Basic psychological instincts moulded by a culture that has lost sight of more authentic values of care and compassion.
If we had any insight, we’d not only try on other’s shoes for size, we’d also pull on their smelly socks in order to at least try to understand how they feel and begin to try to improve things further. Maybe we should start right now by turning towards a stranger and giving them a smile, whoever they are and irrespective of their external appearance.