By Rebbecca Hemmings
This poem was written and performed by Rebbecca Hemmings, Director of Strawberry Words for Lauren Currie OBE’s 7×7 event on 31.3.22. In celebration of Lauren’s 2 year newsletter anniversary, 7 black and brown women were invited to speak about matters close to their hearts. This poem is written for white women to hear how microaggressions affect black women.
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I love but… (The microaggression poem)
By Rebbecca Hemmings
Dear white sister, I love you. I really do.
From a young age, I admired all the things you have and do.
Growing up first generation Jamaican in Aston, Birmingham.
Not having long flowing hair, I started learning then,
That you were the epitome of beauty, and I was not.
My afro a 70’s wig which made people laugh a lot,
I wanted to be a princess like Cinderella on TV,
But none had my skin tone, they weren’t brown like me,
Dear white sister, I love you I really do.
The reason I am here, is to ask a favour of you.
Can you please see me for who I am?
A whole human being with dreams, hopes and plans.
I know you mean well when you say certain words.
You’d never call me the N-word, that’d be absurd!
I’m talking about the microaggressions, you shoot out everyday.
Often without conscious awareness, daily they’re fired my way.
Every time I think I’m being dealt with just as me,
I’m reminded I’m just a stereotype that you see.
Let me break it down so it makes more sense
Gain comfort from the discomfort, this might feel tense.
So what’s a microaggression? I’m hearing you ask?
It’s when you treat me differently and I don’t get a pass.
My skin colour is often seen first,
Like an Instagram filter entitled ‘cursed’.
They’re messages that are communicated loudly,
They say, “You’re not white.” Quietly, yet proudly.
I’m invisible, not welcome and cannot perform.
“You are not the gold standard; you are different to the norm.”
I know that this may hurt to hear, but trust me, it’s worse to feel.
I know for you; this may not seem real.
But believe me daily I’m reminded, I am the other.
For no other reason, my-girl, than my skin colour.
You say, ‘You’re so eloquent!” But why the surprise?
I say, “Why wouldn’t I be?” and see shame is your eyes.
You make quick assumptions, constantly about my ability.
I’m the boss, and not the person you thought would make your tea.
When you subject me to a MAG, that’s what I call them for short,
You tell me I don’t belong, I don’t deserve support.
You think it’s a compliment to tell me my race you do not see.
But what you really do, is erase a huge part of me.
I am going to elaborate, so that you really get it,
Then please tell your friends so they don’t forget it.
When I wake up, I do not say “Oh I’m looking very black!”
When I brush my teeth, I don’t declare “Oh yeah, still black.”
I don’t think of my colour like that, I’m just me.
I’m Becky, Rebbecca, mum or just me.
But when I leave my house or turn on the TV,
Get followed around the shop or see Child Q on GMTV.
Struggle to find a plaster to blend in with my colour,
Or find nude foundation, a pair of tights, I start to shudder,
As I’m reminded that “It’s because I’m black!
I’m not seen as the norm I want to shout “f***!” that!
Whether I choose to or not, my skin colour is part of my identity.
I didn’t make it that way, it’s how the world defines me.
So when you say “I don’t see colour!” What you’re really saying is…
That racism is taboo, none of your biz.
“All that horrible race stuff you’re saying and pain your displaying,
Makes me really uncomfortable, the joy is fading.
Hide that part of you, don’t be authentic,
My feelings are what matter, you’re just being pedantic.”
It’s called white centring, my feelings do not matter.
I’m gaslighted, called angry, and seen as the Mad Hatter.
I’m human, I’m allowed to express my emotions.
The tears I hold back, can create new oceans.
Please see that I’m hurting and want to be free,
But whilst you don’t see colour, you imprison me.
The colour-blind approach only causes harm.
See the whole person, lay down your arms.
Dear white sister, I love you, I really do.
The patriarchy wants submission from me and you.
But why is there silence when black women get attacked?
We stand up and fight, but volume in your presence is lacked.
Where is the outrage when 1 in 5 black mothers die during childbirth?
You get protests and vigils; of that you are worth.
But it seems I do not have the same level of value,
Can I get that generosity of thought, do that, can you?
Oh lawd a God! How can I make you hear?
Anxiety, depression, confusion appear.
Internalised racism, stunted emotions make me sick.
We’re dying from your silence; can you hear me chick?
Chu, me cyan boder. Is there any point to my plea?
Or do I go back to venting, to my black sisters and me?
No, I know better than that,
You want to be an ally and I ain’t mad at that.
Okay, all I am really asking of you,
Is that you see my human all the way through.
Get to know me for who I really am,
To break down those unconscious biases, I know you can.
Educate yourself on what racism really looks like.
Stand up and apologise when you don’t get things right.
We’re all fallible humans and we all make mistakes.
Take risks to challenge and the bias you will break.
That’s all I’ve got to say, I hope that I was heard.
Not as an angry black woman, but a person who’s hurt.
There is so much more to me than just my race.
I’m a whole person who does not want to be erased.
Let’s arrange a coffee, and debate The Oscars,
But do not shut down if I say, “She touched my coiffure!”
Just ask me how I’m feeling, and then hear me out.
Let me vent and work the frustration through my pout.
Dear white sister I love you, I really do.
Today I’ve opened up my heart to you.
Shared my vulnerability right from the source,
Feel my humanity and I know, we’ll be, a formidable force.