Growing Up Black. By Tanya Mariga.
Growing up black was not having a Disney princess to identify with until 2010.
Growing up black up was picking up dolls and seeing only a white Barbie and a white Ken.
It was being taught straight hair is prettier than afro and when we try to get straight hair we are told we are fake.
It was being told I was pretty for a black girl, a complement I just didn’t know how to take.
It was colouring in people in golden time and there being no crayons that were even close to my skin tone.
These were struggles that often made me feel alone.
Growing up black was reading story books and wondering why none of the characters looked like me.
It was people making jokes that I couldn’t swim and would probably drown at sea.
It was not getting into makeup because my shade didn’t exist until Fenty 2017.
Now aged almost 17, I want to tell you what being black is like now.
It’s being mistaken for other black people because apparently we all look alike.
It’s saying no to people asking for n word passes and being deemed as sensitive.
It’s being passionate but being seen as aggressive and argumentative.
It’s being articulate and calm and being told ‘oh you aren’t like other black girls’.
It’s people not asking for permission before they start touching my beautiful afro curls.
It’s someone mentioning the word slave and all eyes are on you.
It’s being called a monkey as if I belong in a zoo.
This poem isn’t for sympathy or pity, it’s to just show how racism is most definitely real in this city.
We were able to catch up with Tanya and find out a little more about her poem.
Can you tell us a little about how and why you created this poem?
I wrote a speech which has this poem incorporated into it to express how the experiences I have had growing up as a black teenage girl in a predominantly white city. It was written in one sitting on the night before the Worcester Black Lives Matter Protest on the 13th June 2020 and performed there too.
Why did you want to be involved in this project with Worcester Arts Workshop?
I believe that the arts can be used to express how people feel and their message through a media that can really connect and resonate with people.
What’s challenging about bringing this work into a public space for people to see/hear for the first time?
Learning about the racism that is still embedded in a city that people love is a really hard pill to swallow. Upon presenting my poem at the protest, I have had individuals tell me that they have been stricken with guilt and shame, either from being a part of the problem or not being aware of the problems. The aim isn’t to make people feel guilty but is to just educate people.
Is your response to the recent Black Lives Matters protests bringing something new to your work?
It has given me courage to speak out about how I feel. It has shown me that we have to fight for justice.
With thanks to ACE Emergency Response Funding, enabling us to help support emerging artists.
Author: Eleanor Miles