[Marxism] FW: Benjamin Zephaniah

Paddy Apling e.c.apling at btinternet.com
Thu Nov 27 17:36:33 MST 2003

[ Paddy: posts should be sent to marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu not
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Forwarded from my grandson,
NFHS Member #5594
Mailto:e.c.apling at btinternet.com
or http://www.e.c.apling.btinternet.co.uk

-----Original Message-----
From: Chalk, Joseph (RDSSW) [mailto:Joseph.Chalk at defra.gsi.gov.uk]
Sent: 27 November 2003 08:51
To: 'djengofr at yahoo.fr'; 'e.c.apling at btinternet.com';
'hreynolds at cliftonhigh.bristol.sch.uk'
Subject: Benjamin Zephaniah

Two articles from todays Guardian

love joe
> 'Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought'
> http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,1093962,00.html
An invitation to the palace to accept an New Year honour... you must be
joking. Benjamin Zephaniah won't be going. Here he explains why

Thursday November 27, 2003

I woke up on the morning of November 13 wondering how the government
could be overthrown and what could replace it, and then I noticed a
letter from the prime minister's office. It said: "The prime minister
has asked me to inform you, in strict confidence, that he has in mind,
on the occasion of the forthcoming list of New Year's honours to
submit your name to the Queen with a recommendation that Her Majesty
may be graciously pleased to approve that you be appointed an officer
of the Order of the British Empire."  Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours,
I thought. I get angry when I hear that word "empire"; it reminds me
of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds
me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised. It
is because of this concept of empire that my British education led me
to believe that the history of black people started with slavery and
that we were born slaves, and should therefore be grateful that we
were given freedom by our caring white masters. It is because of this
idea of empire that black people like myself don't even know our true
names or our true historical culture. I am not one of those who are
obsessed with their roots, and I'm certainly not suffering from a
crisis of identity; my obsession is about the future and the political
rights of all people.  Benjamin Zephaniah OBE - no way Mr Blair, no
way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.

There's something very strange about receiving a letter from Tony
Blair's office asking me if I want to accept this award. In the past
couple of months I've been on Blair's doorstep a few times. I have
begged him to come out and meet me; I have been longing for a
conversation with him, but he won't come out, and now here he is
asking me to meet him at the palace! I was there with a million people
on February 15, and the last time I was there was just a couple of
weeks ago. My cousin, Michael Powell, was arrested and taken to
Thornhill Road police station in Birmingham where he died. Now, I know
how he died. The whole of Birmingham knows how he died, but in order
to get this article published and to be politically (or
journalistically) correct, I have to say that he died in suspicious
circumstances. The police will not give us any answers. We have not
seen or heard anything of all the reports and investigations we were
told were going to take place. Now, all that my family can do is join
with all the other families who have lost members while in custody
because no one in power is listening to us. Come on Mr Blair, I'll
meet you anytime. Let's talk about your Home Office, let's talk about
being tough on crime.

This OBE thing is supposed to be for my services to literature, but
there are a whole lot of writers who are better than me, and they're
not involved in the things that I'm involved in. All they do is write;
I spend most of my time doing other things. If they want to give me
one of these empire things, why can't they give me one for my work in
animal rights? Why can't they give me one for my struggle against
racism? What about giving me one for all the letters I write to
innocent people in prisons who have been framed? I may just consider
accepting some kind of award for my services on behalf of the millions
of people who have stood up against the war in Iraq. It's such hard
work - much harder than writing poems.

And hey, if Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to lay all that
empire stuff on me, why can't she write to me herself. Let's cut out
the middleman - she knows me. The last time we met, it was at a
concert I was hosting. She came backstage to meet me. That didn't
bother me; lots of people visit my dressing room after
performances. Me and the South African performers I was working with
that night thought it rather funny that we had a royal groupie.  She's
a bit stiff but she's a nice old lady. Let me make it clear: I have
nothing against her or the royal family. It is the institution of the
monarchy that I loathe so very much, the monarchy that still refuses
to apologise for sanctioning slavery.

There is a part of me that hopes that after writing this article I
shall never be considered as a Poet Laureate or an OBE sucker
again. Let this put an end to it. This may lose me some of my writing
friends; some people may never want to work with me again, but the
truth is I think OBEs compromise writers and poets, and laureates
suddenly go soft - in the past I've even written a poem, Bought and
Sold, saying that.

There are many black writers who love OBEs, it makes them feel like
they have made it. When it suits them, they embrace the struggle
against the ruling class and the oppression they visit upon us, but
then they join the oppressors' club. They are so easily seduced into
the great house of Babylon known as the palace. For them, a wonderful
time is meeting the Queen and bowing before her presence.

I was shocked to see how many of my fellow writers jumped at the
opportunity to go to Buckingham Palace when the Queen had her "meet
the writers day" on July 9 2002, and I laughed at the pathetic excuses
writers gave for going.  "I did it for my mum"; "I did it for my
kids"; "I did it for the school"; "I did it for the people", etc. I
have even heard black writers who have collected OBEs saying that it
is "symbolic of how far we have come". Oh yes, I say, we've struggled
so hard just to get a minute with the Queen and we are so very
grateful - not.  I've never heard of a holder of the OBE openly
criticising the monarchy.  They are officially friends, and that's
what this cool Britannia project is about. It gives OBEs to cool rock
stars, successful businesswomen and blacks who would be militant in
order to give the impression that it is inclusive.  Then these rock
stars, successful women, and ex-militants write to me with the OBE
after their name as if I should be impressed. I'm not. Quite the
opposite - you've been had.  Writers and artists who see themselves as
working outside the establishment are constantly being accused of
selling out as soon as they have any kind of success. I've been called
a sell-out for selling too many books, for writing books for children,
for performing at the Royal Albert Hall, for going on Desert Island
Discs, and for appearing on the Parkinson show. But I want to reach as
many people as possible without compromising the content of my work.
What continues to be my biggest deal with the establishment must be my
work with the British Council, of which, ironically, the Queen is
patron. I have no problem with this. It has never told me what to say,
or what not to say.  I have always been free to criticise the
government and even the council itself. This is what being a poet is
about. Most importantly, through my work with the council I am able to
show the world what Britain is really about in terms of our arts, and
I am able to partake in the type of political and cultural intercourse
which is not possible in the mainstream political arena. I have no
problem representing the reality of our multiculturalism, which may
sometimes mean speaking about the way my cousin Michael died in a
police station. But then, I am also at ease letting people know that
our music scene is more than what they hear in the charts, and that
British poetry is more than Wordsworth, or even Motion. I have no
problem with all of this because this is about us and what we do. It
is about what happens on the streets of our country and not in the
palace or at No 10.  Me, OBE? Whoever is behind this offer can never
have read any of my work.  Why don't they just give me some of those
great African works of art that were taken in the name of the empire
and let me return them to their rightful place? You can't fool me, Mr
Blair. You want to privatise us all; you want to send us to war. You
stay silent when we need you to speak for us, preferring to be the
voice of the US. You have lied to us, and you continue to lie to us,
and you have poured the working-class dream of a fair, compassionate,
caring society down the dirty drain of empire. Stick it, Mr Blair -
and Mrs Queen, stop going on about the empire. Let's do something

Bought and Sold

Smart big awards and prize money
Is killing off black poetry
It's not censors or dictators that are cutting up our art.
The lure of meeting royalty
And touching high society
Is damping creativity and eating at our heart.
The ancestors would turn in graves
Those poor black folk that once were slaves would wonder
How our souls were sold
And check our strategies,
The empire strikes back and waves
Tamed warriors bow on parades
When they have done what they've been told
They get their OBEs.
Don't take my word, go check the verse
Cause every laureate gets worse
A family that you cannot fault as muse will mess your mind,
And yeah, you may fatten your purse
And surely they will check you first when subjects need to be amused
With paid for prose and rhymes.
Take your prize, now write more,
Fuck the truth
Now you're an actor do not fault your benefactor
Write, publish and review,
You look like a dreadlocks Rasta,
You look like a ghetto blaster,
But you can't diss your paymaster
And bite the hand that feeds you.
What happened to the verse of fire
Cursing cool the empire
What happened to the soul rebel that Marley had in mind,
This bloodstained, stolen empire rewards you and you conspire,
(Yes Marley said that time will tell)
Now look they've gone and joined.
We keep getting this beating
It's bad history repeating
It reminds me of those capitalists that say
'Look you have a choice,'
It's sick and self-defeating if our dispossessed keep weeping
And we give these awards meaning
But we end up with no voice.
· Taken from Too Black, Too Strong. Published by Bloodaxe Books (2001)

> Rasta poet publicly rejects his OBE
> http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1094118,00.html
Merope Mills
Thursday November 27, 2003

The leading poet Benjamin Zephaniah has publicly rejected an OBE from
the Queen in protest at British government policies, including the
decision to go to war in Iraq.  Writing exclusively in the Guardian
today, Zephaniah breaks with the convention that those rejecting
honours should do so privately when he openly dismissed the award as a
legacy of colonialism.  The Rastafarian poet argues that the very name
of the Order of the British Empire reminds him of "thousands of years
of brutality - it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my
forefathers brutalised".  Zephaniah also challenges the prime minister
to clarify the "suspicious circumstances" surrounding his cousin's
death in police custody.  Zephaniah was perhaps an unusual choice to
be nominated for an OBE: one of his poems, Bought and Sold, criticises
contemporaries who compromise their work by accepting honours.  Today,
he condemns those who permit ego to win out over artistic integrity.
Courting popular figures with honours is "what cool Britannia is all
about", he writes. "It gives OBEs to cool rock stars, successful
businesswomen and blacks who would be militant in order to give the
impression that it is inclusive." He feels such people with OBEs after
their names have "been had".  The poet writes: "Me? I thought, OBE me?
Up yours, I thought ... You can't fool me, Mr Blair. You want to
privatise us all; you want to send us to war; you stay silent when we
need you to speak for us, preferring to be the voice of the USA."
Zephaniah joins the ranks of luminaries such as the actor Helen Mirren
and the film director Ken Loach who turned down similar honours. In
keeping with the request of the prime minister's office, however, they
kept tight-lipped about the offer until some years later.  Downing
Street refused to comment on the poet's rejection. A spokesman said:
"We don't discuss honours lists. It is a matter for Mr Zephaniah."

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