Pupils in Year 8 and 9 French classes drew inspiration from a poem about racism in a lockdown poetry competition.
The starting point for the contest was a poem attributed to the 20th-century Senegalese poet and statesman, Léopold Sédar Senghor, entitled Poème à mon frère blanc (Poem to my white brother).
The boys could either produce an English translation of the poem, their own poem inspired by the message of the original, or a commentary on the poem, with an analysis of the meaning and style.
French teacher Rebecca Grundy said: “We encouraged the boys to research the recent headlines about the Black Lives Matter movement in order to give their work a modern, updated twist. We were delighted with the way that they managed to take Senghor’s poem as inspiration while also reflecting on recent events: they produced some really beautiful, creative writing and translation work.”
Two winners were chosen:
- Aaron Rodrigo, of Year 8, for his English translation
- Darren Lee, of Year 9, for his own poem inspired by Senghor’s original but also expressing the outpouring of outrage caused by the death of George Floyd.
Aaron gave his entry the title Black Lives Matter – we can make a change! and illustrated it with the 2018 Nike advertisement featuring the face of the Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling and bearing the legend ‘Speaking up doesn’t always make life easier. But easy never changed anything’.
Darren’s 17-line homage to the original is entitled Poème à mon Frère Blanc – Revisit and Reflection. Starting with a very personal perspective (‘I may not be black, but I can still see the injustice’), it ends with the thought that recent events have affected the whole world: ‘…the infamous line that shook the globe, “I can’t breathe”’.
Darren and Rodrigo’s entries have been selected for inclusion in the next edition of The Arabella, QE’s pupil-produced arts magazine. Scroll below to read them.
Poème à mon frère blanc
Léopold Sédar Senghor
Cher frère blanc,
Quand je suis né, j’étais noir,
Quand j’ai grandi, j’étais noir,
Quand je suis au soleil, je suis noir,
Quand je suis malade, je suis noir,
Quand je mourrai, je serai noir.
Tandis que toi, homme blanc,
Quand tu es né, tu étais rose,
Quand tu as grandi, tu étais blanc,
Quand tu vas au soleil, tu es rouge,
Quand tu as froid, tu es bleu,
Quand tu as peur, tu es vert,
Quand tu es malade, tu es jaune,
Quand tu mourras, tu seras gris.
Alors, de nous deux,
Qui est l’homme de couleur ?
Poem to my white brother
Translation by Aaron Rodrigo
Dear white brother
When I was born, I was black
When I grew up, I was black
When I am under the sun, I am black
When I am sick, I am black
When I die, I will be black
While you, white man
When you were born, you were pink
When you grew up, you were white
When you are under the sun, you are red
When you are cold, you are blue
When you are scared, you are green
When you die, you will be grey
So, out of the two of us
Who is the coloured man?
Poème à mon Frère Blanc – Revisit and Reflection
I may not be black, but I can still see the injustice,
To know if you’re a bystander then you’re an accomplice,
I may not be black, but I still see the gunshots,
To see the ground all covered in scarlet,
I may not be black, but I can read the numbers,
To show that black men are shot down to slumber,
I may not be black, but I can still hear their cries,
Of a black dad still waiting for his son,
Of a black girl still waiting for her mum,
Lives stolen by the flares of the gun.
I may not be black, but I’m still tired.
I will use my privilege as my weapon,
My voice as my ammo,
My beliefs as my grenades, to explode,
To call the war on racism as we grieve,
Should never have heard the infamous line that shook the globe,
“I can’t breathe”.