Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
During the last 3 months Alison has been working in Ghana, Australia and New Zealand – all post-colonial contexts where questions of race and indigenaity are deeply implicated in the histories, the present and in the imagined futures of the countries. How refugees are welcomed, what happens to displaced peoples and how white bodies make decisions and wield power over displaced peoples have also been strong themes of the work. With the xenophobic election campaigns in both UK (BREXIT) and USA recently many questions have been asked of her in her public lectures, in panel debates and workshops about the role of race in decolonizing contexts of research, arts and culture. This poem is one of her responses to these questions.
My name is Alison,
…and I am a recovering racist,
But I was born with this addiction
because my ancestors were white
and the country I am from grew fat
in every imperial fight.
Money, privilege and power
come through the barrel of a gun.
That wasn’t just in history
it’s still how this is done.
The work which calls me loudly
towards your skins and eyes and tears
is the work which is intention
to assuage those birth-right fears.
So do not idolize my actions
do not praise my words as bold
do not look at the donations
or the papers that I hold.
The thoughts I have of charity
are just part of this addiction
inherited from a line
that is a long and bleached-out fiction.
I do not have to worry when my skin
is in a room
or on a train
or in a car
or in the immigration tomb.
I will be given space and money
and more time,
because I’m white,
because my ancestors were slave owners,
or slave drivers
While you my friends, my kindred
will be skinned another way,
flayed into diminishments
through ever greater punishments
and all those cruel admonishments.
The only proper meaning of the white man’s burden.
is that for all my days commitment
will be to a healing labour.
on my death bed, in my dying
I will be a racist too.
But its shouldering the burden
that will lead to something new
not denial of what sticks to
every tone, or shade or pore
but the making of relationships
that brim with something more
something giving and forgiving
of the shame upon my skin
something real and raw and honest
that can live with history’s sin.
At times our conversation
will make our skins dissolve
and around us through the laughter
a new world may revolve
when the tears are all that join us
when the skin gives way to bone.
And through the pain we’ll love again
and call this earth our home.