SPEAK WHAT WE FEEL – REVIEW: KING LEAR – Shakespeare’s Globe, London

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Nancy Meckler’s take on King Lear sure ain’t perfect. Far from it. But it’s certainly inventive, and whilst it’s perhaps over-confident in parts, it offers an innovative (if inconsistent) glance at the ultimate dysfunctional family.

We see the stage, which all the world is. Only here, it’s covered with sheeting, and is to be gradually revealed throughout the performance. Dotted about the blank canvas are a number of pretenders to the throne that is The Globe: painted vagrants sitting off and having a doss as the real action is happening. Perhaps a nod to current conditions (or, indeed, our shocking attitudes towards them), I’m not convinced this device adds anything positive to the production. Lear is enough of a play on its own without adding extra layers or weaving contemporary subtleties into its fabric.

KING LEAR is getting on a bit, right, and is contemplating abdication or retirement or foot-putting-up or whatever you wanna call it.  Late-life crisis dude has a massive realm, and decides to split it between his kids, Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril. He’s gonna give the biggest slice of Kingdom Pie to whichever daughter has the arse-kissiest response:

….which of you shall we say doth love us most?

GONERIL comes along and kisses said fatherly arse, proclaiming that she’d rather go blind than live without this breathtakingly graceful and honourable man, beyond all manner of so much. He’s just like, SO AWESOME, goddammit, this king of everything. But, so two-faced is she that she declares her love the bringer of speechlessness, despite using wordy insincerity to get her point across (Shakey, mate: I see what you did there).

Her sis, REGAN, is made of the same crappy fabric. She declares her love superior to her sibling’s, and is, ergo, surely the ONLY one who loves him how he deserves to be loved, what with him basically being God ‘n’ all. Lying cow.

But then there’s my girl CORDELIA, who, despite her initial contemplation that she should keep schtum and just get on with loving the crap out of him, confesses:

I love your majesty according to my bond; no more, nor less.

Ouch. Very ouch. I mean – damn if she ain’t sincere, but Daddy, being so far up his own posterior ‘n’ all, simply hasn’t an igloo about true love. He gives her a chance (and then another…and another…) to speak again, because she’s his JOY, his blue-eye. But —damn it— she can’t lie, DAMN her damn honesty. So, Lear banishes her –very dramatically– from his kingdom, which he then divides between that arse-kissing pair.

Kevin R McNally ain’t half bad. Not half bad at all. Despite certain instances in which he and his character are let down by cheap laughs and even cheaper props, there are moments I swore I was looking at Lear himself; the madness worn on his face like a badge of dishonour. Fragile, commanding, and altogether bonkers, we see Mac delivering a right ol’ smorgasbord of demented torment, tainted only by the aforementioned playing for laughs thing. Yes, we get the irony of certain lines. Yes, the phrasing and timing and delivery is all-important, but for goodness’ sake, let’s not forget that this is a Shakespearean tragedy here. I could’ve done with the whole comedy aspect being taken down a notch or twenty; although it could be said that it was the audience themselves who didn’t understand that dementia and/or mental illness just isn’t funny.

[Consider inserting names of the sister-actors here, but move off the subject ever-so-gracefully because not a single one of’em floated my proverbial – we don’t wanna go giving scathing reviews, now, do we?]

Lear’s parallel-character, his Tyler Durden, the EARL OF GLOUCESTER, has two kids – Edmund The Bastard (really) who’s a bit of a bastard, really … and Edgar, who is pretty much a stand-up guy. Top bloke. To even up the ILLEGITIMACY 0 LEGITIMACY 1 score, Edmund plots to bump off his legitimately-sheeted brother. Burt Caesar is a strong Gloucester in parts, somewhat amateurish in others, although he was possibly let down by the naffness of metal trolleys and the insufficient eye-gouging that just wasn’t gougey enough [Dude-Wot-Played Edmund: totally forgettable. Soz].

Saskia Reeves – what can I say about Saskia Reeves? That woman was on fire. And I mean FI-YUH. The very definition of ACTOR, the lass was so skilfully versatile and sob-inducingly restrained, that she controlled her gift and kept the audience up in the air with it. It would’ve been pretty easy – and obvious – to play Kent-in-a-Dress. But, thankfully, Reeves didn’t go there – instead opting for the refinements only a true artist can display.

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Saskia Reeves as Kent / Photo: Marc Brenner

Joshua James is a stand-out Edgar/Poor Tom, giving his very self to the role whether slathering himself with mud or delivering one of the finest lines ever written, as he summarises everything we’ve just witnessed.

Lear is dead. And we know this, thanks to Eddie baby:

The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

In line with this guidance, I feel that this production, whilst a worthy effort offering some powerful performances, was let down by a dash of over-ambitious imagery and a peppering of Trying Too Hard. That said, seeing Lear come to life on ANY stage — particularly this one — is always a plus, particularly when he is realised by and reanimated through such an accomplished and perhaps under-rated performer as Kevin R McNally.

CM Franklyn

Kevin R McNally as Lear_credit Marc Brenner_

Kevin R. McNally as Lear / Photo: Marc Brenner

 

 

 

SECOND DO NO HARM

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Your stories need you

As is the case every single day that ends in y, you pick up a book. And whether it’s just-pressed fresh, or hills-old and tattered, it looks and smells delicious – each individual page tempting your nose towards a sniffywhiff, and collectively, begging you to fan them towards your face just so you can snort their entire essence right up the ol’ snout in one go. Shaven, pulped wood feels more natural to you than the trees whence it came; books just make you happy, gosh darn it. Good ones – happier still.

Some books are bookier than others, though: they were not all published equal. The one in your hand now, for example, has certain majestic qualities from its smart artwork to a title embossed in tall metallic lettering.  And until you unshelved it, it had just been sitting there lording it over all the other little books, knowing it looked good with its subtle swank and promises of unputdownability.

But there’s a thing, and the thing is this: this particular volume is written in the dreaded second person, the thing they tell you never to do. The technique they insist you should never, ever, employ. The perspective of, they suggest, sad madmen, hairy-knuckled bookdraggers and those with more than a smattering of ruthless conceit. And because they say those things all the time, on a loop, they must be right, right?

Balls. What utter twaddle. What absolute cobblers, you say. You’ll be the judge of what makes a book a good ‘un; regardless of the author’s choice of perspective, yours is the one that counts.

Just what, then, is it about a book that begs you to devour it? Perhaps it’s something as simple as having been written by your favourite author, or blurbed to Bookdom Come by those whose opinion is Gospel to you. It could be that it’s the right price, in your genre of choice, or it might just have an incredible cover by an even incredibler artist whose creativity acts like a beckoning finger to your salivating, tingling artishness and readerhood. And maybe, just maybe, you’ve read a review that’s made you hop on down to Waterstone’s. Or, y’know – to the nearest laptop, i-thing, or smarter-than-you ‘phone.

George Orwell asks a similar question, which you will already know if you have ingested The Decline of The English Murder and Other Essays[1] (if you haven’t, you really need to get on that). In the essay-wot-bears-the-same-title-as-that-of-the-collection (this description being deliberately cack-handed because of your utter detestation of the uber-wanky term titular), he takes you straight into a warm, cosy setting; you snuggle up, and settle down:

“It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World. Roast beef and Yorkshire, or roast pork and apple sauce, followed up by suet pudding and driven home, as it were, by a cup of mahogany-brown tea, have put you in just the right mood … In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about?”

You can see how, straight away, he’s made you at home, having even given you a choice of fodder – what a considerate host he is! Of course, the next choices on offer are of the infinitely more sinister variety; after answering his own question and telling you what you want to read about, which is,

“Naturally … a murder. But what kind of murder?”

You know these are going to be relatively nice murders, though. The good old-fashioned sort. Accordingly, you don’t fret too much at this stage – ol’ Orwell’s got your back. (At this juncture, your brain takes a little deviation as you wait for some smart arse to chime in on the comments section with George’s real name as if it’s the Ark of the Covenant, because there’s always that one guy)…

aaaand you’re back. Back to the beginning. Just read that first line again – go on.

“… preferably before the war.”

Damn.

Considering this essay was first published in 1946, our George speaks of a war through which you know he’s lived. Of course, you know that anyway, because you aren’t too bad at the ol’ history – and even if you are, you could do the maths and work it out. (You also know that maths has an s on the end, because you’re British, what.) And, bless his stiff-upperness, Orwell wants you all cosy and comfy, not smack bang in the middle of an air raid.

You realise soon enough that he doesn’t stay in Second Person, of course; you adore George for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that he knows how to mix it up. As he jumps around from second person to first, swapping tenses and playing wordball (whatever that is) with the reader, so you notice that he gets away with it – because he can. And so, using Orwell as your example, you feel empowered to do away with all the rules yourself, as long as you’re familiar with ‘em first. You might even say yes-yes to the big no-no of opening a sentence with And so.

***

It’s not just reserved for non-fiction, either, this stuff. Some of your favourite –and more contemporary — authors have been known to employ a crafty little Second Hand technique or two. Remember the first time you sat down with a brew and a copy of Ramsey Campbell’s Heading Home[2]? Remember when you noticed the horror, and how menacing it was? Remember how ghastly? How immediate:

“You know he’s a butcher, because once he helped one of the servants carry the meat from the village. In any case, you could have told his profession from what he has done to you.”

(You can work out how wholly unthreatening and rather dull the events would’ve been, had they been told in a first person alternative, “I know he is a butcher … in any case, I could have told his profession from what he has done to me.” It’s just not a mustard-cutter, is it?)

Campbell continues to direct the movie that’s playing in your mind now, with a reminder that this IS YOU, so you’d better be paying attention, now:

“You hear your wife’s terrified voice, entreating him to return to her. There’s a long pondering silence. Then he hurries back upstairs.”

You’re still not sure if it works? How about third, then? “He hears his wife’s terrified voice, entreating him to return to her…” Nah. Too far removed from the horrific happenings for your liking, isn’t it? Come on, admit it. You WANT to be in on it. You want to put yourself smack bang in the middle of the protAgony – and you have to admit, second person is the smartest – and nastiest – way to do it. You know this. You know this because Campbell knows this. And as soon as you reach the end, like all good stories would have you do, you go straight back to the beginning. Yep – that which you know now has been pretty much spelled out to you from the start in a way you didn’t know you knew, y’know?

Or something like that. 

***

Here’s another thought: remember when you discovered Ray Bradbury’s The First Night of Lent, and noticed that he does the swapping-of-perspectives thing very well?

“So you want to know all the whys and wherefores of the Irish? What shapes them to their Dooms and runs them on their way? you ask. Well, listen, then.”

This isn’t so much a case of breaking the fourth wall, but starting with its bricks in a pile on the floor and assembling them into a partition with the mortar of the second paragraph. You then quickly find that Bradbury has flicked over to first person. And now that he’s fluck, he can tell you about Nick, the “most careful driver in all God’s world, including any sane, small, quiet, butter-and-milk producing country you name.” Did he just slip back into second again there? Why, yes. Yes he did.

Nick is sweet, and calm, and Bradbury wants you to understand that. After giving you some more of his first-person thoughts, he once again provides you with a bunch of instructions – pay attention, now:

“Listen to his mist-breathing voice as he charms the road, his foot a tenderly benevolent pat on the whispering accelerator… Look, compare. And bind such a man to you with summer grasses, gift him with silver, shake his hand warmly at each journey’s end.”

There’s a reason for this, of course. You’ll find out when you get to the next bit. Then get thee hence to the end of the story and you’ll see the beautiful, inharmonious harmony; the point of it all, where twains shall meet, and where somehow, your idea of a decent story has been toyed with, juggled, put through a blender … and been reassembled into perfection, just like Bradbury’s wall.

This technique can –if executed correctly– get you into someone’s head far quicker than any of the other perspectives. Just think about the humdrum things that happen in your everyday life, when you find yourself asking Second Person things of a friend. You know the sort of thing: “Ever get an itchy arse in public, and you just HAVE to scratch it?” or even asking yourself, “isn’t it annoying as fuck when you can’t get the last bits of blood off yer hands?”

What? You are a horror fan, aren’t you?

***

Speaking of the real life things, let’s not forget the hypnotherapy lark – for those of you who go in for that. How does the therapist talk to you? Well, the answer’s right there in the question: they talk to you. They don’t say “I’m walking into my house, try and imagine it with me,” do they? They don’t tell you about a man who is “walking through his front door, and sees a wall, painted in white…”. No – because how on earth would you be able to engage with that?

Proof of the second pudding is in the eating: this is how you can talk to your readers, too. So, after a long hard day at work, you come home and open the front door. Walking through the hallway, you put down your bags, hang up your coat, and enter the living room. There, you take a seat on the sofa, and pick up your notebook. You’re feeling verrrrry sleepy…

WAKE UP, WILL YOU? You’re supposed to be WRITING.

For “YOU”, the you that the second person often suggests, read “ME.” Me, Myself and I. An author’s choice to use pronouns beginning with Y, is not, as some may suggest, a jarring degree of separation, but quite the opposite. It’s a way – if done correctly – to pull the reader over the ropes and become the fighter in the boxing ring of the story … and you might just be kept up in the air with left hooks until you’re given permission to land.

A crackin’ example of this comes from John Skipp, in Empathy, a good ol’ rompy mindfuck of a headmessin’ story. The Skippmeister does a good ol’ bit of bouncin’ around between first and second person, one of your favourite things they-tell-you-not-to-do. You don’t know why he does it – at first. But as he draws you in with a dash of persuasion, a peppering of suggestiveness and a threatening air of filth and intrigue, so you realise you must stick around. And you know you’re bad, for he tells you so. You’ve:

“…done a horrible thing. And you’ll do it again. I know.”

As you continue, Skipp helps you to lull yourself into a sleepfully waking state, feeling, as an engaged (yet slightly inebriated) reader, the “ripple as the veil of sleep parts.” It’s Empathy 101, this, whether you like it or not. This way, when it’s necessary for the first person to take over, your mindframe is in the appropriate state to receive any perspective on offer.

“I don’t even want to think about you. No offense – you know I love you to death – but you’re a total fucking loser, and you’re making me sick.”

You almost feel guilty for making your partner despise you so. What have you done to them? You MONSTER! So, you read on, to find out what the frig kinda things you’ve been up to … and to unravel all the what-the-fucknesses. And as in Campbell’s story, once you figure out the hitherto unfigureoutable, you realise the answer’s been laid out for you all along. Quite literally, in this case.

Even though you’ve put the story down, now, it hasn’t done the same to you. It still has you in its grasp. As you read it for the second time in five minutes, you find yourself,

“Laying there like a lump. Scintillating as mud, and sexy as a tumor.”

Ouch, man. Ouch. Must lay off the carbs. Must … step … away … from that cake.

Speaking of cake, to make the batter, you must first combine the butter and sugar…and to make a story work in an alternative perspective, first you must …

… see all of the above.

Like a recipe written in second (which all good recipes should be, giving to-the-letter, direct-to-the-person instructions), a story in that same perspective will ask –nay, demand –something of the reader. That extra little requirement – the suspension of disbelief a little bit further than they are normally willing to suspend it.

The pre-requisite of a decent attention span comes with a teasing carrot of danglement that offers the reader the choice to step right inside the head of the protagonist for a wee while. As the reader, it’s for your own good in any case – do you want to lose yourself in the story or not?

So you do. You suspend that disbelief, and relish having proved the know-alls to be know-nowts. You allow yourself to become the YOU of the story, and you enjoy a fresh, empathic experience from which there is no escape. And then, you go and write the hell out of your own imagination.

Don’t you?

…………………………………………………….

LINDA ANGEL

[1] Reprinted:

— ‘Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays’. — 1950.

— ‘The Orwell Reader, Fiction, Essays, and Reportage’ — 1956.

— ‘Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays’. — 1965.

— ‘The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell’. — 1968.

[2] First Published:

— ‘Whispers’ – Volume 3, Numbers 3-4, whole number 11-12 (edited by Stuart David Schiff; Chapel Hill, October 1978)

[3] First Published:

—Playboy, March 1956

[4] First Published:

—’Conscience’ – 2004 (now available through Crossroads Press)

    Reprinted:

—’Demons – Encounters with the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed’ – Black Dog and Leventhal – 2011.

Purchase Links:

Orwell: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Decline-English-Murder-Penguin-Great/dp/0141191260/ref=la_B000AQ0KKY_1_29?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493591959&sr=1-29

Campbell: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alone-Horrors-Fiction-Campbell-1961-1991/dp/0765307677/ref=sr_1_cc_2?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1493590944&sr=1-2-catcorr&keywords=alone+with+the+horror+campbell

Bradbury: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bradbury-Stories-Most-Celebrated-Tales/dp/0060544880/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493591120&sr=1-10&keywords=ray+bradbury

Skipp: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Demons-Encounters-Minions-Fallen-Possessed/dp/1579128793/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493591832&sr=1-1&keywords=john+skipp+demons

POETRY REVIEW: You Took the Last Bus Home – by Brian Bilston

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I’m not one to compare writers. I hate that. Yuk. Sure, it’s great for marketing, I suppose – if you must market. “Fans of such-and-such will love this novel by so-and-so…” YAWWWN. That sort of crap is lazy and unclever, and has never once given me that I JUST GOTTA HAVE IT vibe.

It’s somewhat pissing on the author’s skills, too: when the blurbage tells me that Writey McScribe is the next Clive Barker, all I hear is “this guy is wholly unoriginal, having re-hashed some dying old trope or other.” Talk about damning by faintstuff.

What I will do, though, is tell you who my own particular boat-floaters are, just so you know where I’m at; this *chick is notoriously hard to impress, particularly when it comes to those who poe. If you’re gonna rhyme your way straight to my heart, buddy, your wordplay is going to have to contend with the likes of Thackray and Lehrer, and you need to be eatin’ Shakespeare and Gilbert for breakfast – and you have to be able to think all four of ‘em under the table.

*Old bird.

Disclaimer: If you believe that poetry is simply defined as ANY OL’ PROSE WITH ARBITRARY LINE BREAKS arbitrarily shoved in ARBITRARY PLACES, then:

I

will

not

be

read

ing

your

stuff.

If you don’t put your very self into your art, please refrain from bothering my eyeballs. I ain’t interested in reading writing; I want – NEED – to read WRITERS.

So, what DOES make a poet? Or, rather, what makes my kinda poet?

It’s simple. It’s not about what the words mean to the reader – but what they mean to the person doing the poeing. Can they twist and bend words like Twisty McBenderson at his finest? Do they leave you salivating, dangling that end rhyme in the air, postponing it until you can cope no more, before landing it safely on the runway? A true (to himself and the reader) poet relishes how words feel, smell, and sound, how they taste in your mouth as you speak ‘em, and he knows exactly how to make ‘em DANCE.

I can count on one finger those I hold sacred amongst my contemporaries. Ladies and gents (and every gender in between), I give you Brian Bilston. This dude knows how to word.

THE LAST BUS HOME is Bilston’s debut … oh, bollocks to all that. I’m not going to tell you the stuff you can read anywhere else. That’s just padding. If you want to know when and where it was published, and by whom, then check the BUY IT NOW OR FOREVER HOLD THY WORDS link here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Brian-Bilston/e/B01I8GPLFG/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1

This is the sort of book you should forget to feed your cat for. This is the sort of book for which you should drop everything, RIGHT NOW, and just reaaaaad. (Speaking of dropping, do not even THINK of taking said volume into the bath with you. I speak from soggy experience. Actually, strike that. DO bathe with it, because then you shall have to take purchase of a second copy.)

Unputdownable is a term that should be reserved wholly and exclusively for the work of BB; his very mind is on them thar poetic pages, I tellzya. From simple silliness to moments of sheer genius, there’s something for everyone. And if you have a brain of the more literary persuasion, then this stuff is nothing short of grey-matter-fodder.

To say there is wordplay in store for you is the underest statement since Tiny Isaac, my local skint midget, said he was coming up short. Who else would do poetry by mathlight to make words be all Fibonacci sequency? Who else could offer lip-reading lightbulb moments of broken hearts and fixed words? Who _ls_ would omit a l_tt_r from an _ntire po_m to mak_ a point?

I have many favourites. But Read My Lips is the one – THE ONE – that seeps right into the very core of me (I won’t spoil the ending for you):

“To be clear, I’m not talking

Fifty Shades of Grey here,

but someone who knows their way around

the complete works of Shakespeare.

 

“I would rip out my heart

and write her name upon it

if she might recite to me

his eighteenth sonnet.”

THIS – right here – is how he rips my wordy l’il heart out. I was using that, damn you, Bilston.

So yes – buy this book. NOW. Eat this poetry. Salivate, devour, and relish it, and savour every last drop of Brianness as you decide whether to envy or idolise the man. Me?  I’ll be right here, waiting for the next bus.

Linda Angel

Excuse me, 2017-by guest blogger Dyer Wilk

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Excuse me. 2017?
How do you do? Can we speak please?
I know you’re new, so we MUST talk
Since New Year’s is around the block
I have requests I hope you’ll grant
Though, to be fair, my hopes are scant
I only want the usual things
Good will towards men and Earthly peace
Perhaps you’ll save some poor folks’ jobs
And focus less on rich ones’ gobs
And if inclined to alter fate
Could you please drop the murder rate?
And while you’re at it, lessen hate
And find some homes for those displaced
I want to love you, ’17
To feel as if you’re family
I could, you know, if you are good
But you must help us, understood?
I’m sorry for these tough demands
I’m sure that you have other plans
Just promise me you’ll be a lesser
Evil than your predecessor

Missing

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Take me back in time a year,
before we lost our stars
The place was very different and
We still had Alan Rickman
And gods they fell to earth, perhaps from Mars.

Let me be back there again, when Richard Adams wrote
A planet with Dave Brubek meant
we still had time-out music
And Charon still had spaces on his boat.

Would that I could travel there, back to the past so rich
When Wilder’s Genes lit up the screen
And Garry Marshall was still here
And Ali fought his fight out of the ring.

We would share the air with them; their artistry we’d keep
Then Harper Lee’d write number three
There’d be two more in ELP;
Guitars would sing – they wouldn’t need to weep.

On Christmas Day George turned a different corner at the end
Choose Life he said, but died in bed
So musically thoroughbred
A loss so hard for us to comprehend

Postcards were sent from the edge
A life so unrestrained
A daughter died, a mother cried
And due to all the pain inside
She left to join her girl, to sing in rain.

I wish that I could write us there
Let Cohen’s days return
Erasing all the loss this year
So Doves won’t cry their purple tears
But me, I am no Caroline Aherne. image

WALL – by Dyer Wilk

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A head on TV said it’s like this and that
Then another head joined into this little chat
The two heads then talked and yammered and yawed
With no full cessation of flapping of jaws
And of earlier times, they did reminisce
Though every word spoken was quite meaningless
Expounded they did on American greatness
Insisting so much that white men were thankless
But this greatness they wanted so much to restore
By showing the brown folk the exiting door
And then flashes of fascists appeared on the screen
King Asshole on stage, flanked by Asshole Queen
King Asshole then smiled, his mouth like an ass
And by freak of nature his voice was then shat
He said, “Thanks for the crown and the loyalty, too,
But I’m loyal to no one. The joke’s all on you.”
Then he won the election, ascended to throne
And he dropped every pretense that he had a soul
He rounded up brown folks and started some wars
He killed many children, I hope they weren’t yours
Yet he’s emperor crowned and we’ve all grown so tired
Now we’re against a wall and we wait to be firedimage

I’m being racist, but…

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I’m gonna go ahead and tell you that I knew a black person once. That’s what white folk do to prove they’re not racist, after all. So yeah – I’ll do that. I’ll tell you about the black kids I grew up with, and how black people have affected ME throughout my life – because that’s what we Caucasians do. We make it all about us. And I wouldn’t wanna disappoint. Plus, y’know – when white folk speak favourably of people of colour, they get all the cheers and accolades. Because white saviour, right?

So…

…as a little kid, I kinda sorta wanted to be black. It wasn’t that I particularly wanted to be unwhite, it’s just that, well, goddamn it – black folk were cool. They were smart, beautiful, funny, and lookupable-to. Yes – all of them. In those days (late seventies – early eighties *I am a ‘little’ old – ahem*), you didn’t have to have a clone with whom to identify (otherwise, in my case, there would have been some freckled ginger kid with an enormous nose, rubber lips and gozzy green eyes, presenting Blue Peter).

The tellyfolk I admired the most were people of colour (making sure you still know I’m not a racist). From Sesame Street’s Susan (now one of my son’s YouTube favourites, to make sure you know I’m not raising racists) to Playschool’s Floella Benjamin, it was THEIR skin that stopped me in my six-year old tracks. I still don’t know why. I think maybe I was a little bored of everybugger being white – ’cause those folk sure all looked the same…

My street was ethnically diverse, too: two doors down, there was a white woman who married an Indian guy, and they had two Indlish kids. And yes – their house always smelled of curry, and it smelled FUCKING AWESOME. He was teaching her how to dabble in the kitchen with experiments in his native cuisine, and I (being a pal of their kids) got to taste the experiments! Me! How lucky was I?(Loving foreign food: not racist).

I used to knock round with a black girl named M, who, despite having a white Mum and black dad, came out into the world even darker than he. Because genetics. Throwbacks. But there’s a thing, and the thing is this: if we throw OURSELVES back far enough, and climb that family tree high enough, we’ll find BLACK.

M had the darkest, smoothest skin. Dark brown, it was. And that’s all I’m gonna say on that matter – because, FYI, PEOPLE are not coffee or food (awareness of inappropriate vernacular: raceless). She also happened to be a World Champion Disco Dancer (no kidding), so to say I idolised her is the undermost of statements (Note: black childhood friend = I’m an awesome white kid).

Later on, in high school, I hero-worshipped this pair of lads who’d just joined the school. Twin boys from Nigeria, same age as me. One lad – K – was put into my class, his brother T in another. First thing I noticed about K was how smart he was. I don’t quite know what I expected but it wasn’t this: a boy from another country, speaking English, French, and now joining me in Latin class.

He became THE ONE. The one to beat. Everyone has that competitor, right? Well, that’s how it was. He was the genius of the class (*now an accountant in Paris, by the way), and the aim was to beat the bugger at everything. And ridiculous though that aspiration was, it made me better. It made me smarter, faster, and tougher.

*Making sure to point out that the man done good. Because I wasn’t racist. Wouldn’t want you to think he was a failure or anything.

Not once – not ONCE – did I experience any bullying being thrown his way. Neither was it thrown in the direction of any of the other black or brown kids in school – we just didn’t roll like that back then. Bullying happened, sure (to me, usually – because they liked to pick on swottery rather than hue) – but never white-on-black.

Now, though, things are different. They just are. I wasn’t a racist back then – I was a kid. You aren’t born into bigotry – you’re taught that shit.

Now? I’m TOTALLY racist. I don’t see people for who they are –  I see in colour. When I look at a black man, I see slavery, oppression, the past. I see white people in black people’s eyes, I see what we did to them, and that which we continue to do.

When I see a black man driving a car this side of the pond, I think how lucky he is not to be an Amercian – because I don’t see the individual, I see Messrs Castile and Crutcher.

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If I see a black woman driving a megaquid car, or running a successful business, my first thoughts are “how fucking awesome”. I know how hard she must have worked and struggled to get where she is. And that, my friends, is racist.

I don’t do any of this stuff when it comes to white people. I don’t worry for my white friends when they go out wearing hoodies, or for any male friends who are asked to produce their driving licence. I don’t worry that my son will be shot to pieces for complying with the cops – because I don’t have to.

I don’t want to be a racist.  I don’t want to see in colour – but I have to. For now, I have to. I HAVE to treat black people differently; it’s what my heart tells me to do. I have to rant and shout that #BLACKLIVESMATTER until I’m blue in my lily-white face, because staying silent isn’t an option. And if this means I’m a racist, so be it.

And over here – whilst there may not be guns, there’s the GO HOME brigade. People of Colour or ethnic extraction being attacked at every opportunity. Bricks through windows from “people” (I use the term loosely) who like to see dead babies washed up on beaches.

I’m being totally racist but…now, I’m glad I’m not black. Because this means my son isn’t, either.

And if it keeps me AWARE, and if it keeps me EDUCATED, I will own my racist status just as I own my white privilege – and I will shout even louder. Alton doesn’t have a voice any more; so I’ll use mine to shout once more: BLACK LIVES FUCKING MATTER. 

Don’t you dare come at me with that “All Lives Matter” horse shit. Don’t say “I’m not being racist, but..” and then go on to be a bigotty bastard. And don’t deny your white privilege. OWN IT.

Read between the lines. Everything’s not just black and white, y’know.