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'Dicohotomies' by Christabel Okongwu

Christabel with Professor Jason Arday at the Black Awarding Gap & Decolonisation Forum, March 2023.


         ~ By Christabel.

Do you know how it feels to be black?

Now I promise I will get to the awarding gap,

But let’s start with the generic question: do you know how it feels to be black?

See white is used to symbolise purity, whilst black is used to represent evil,

And that’s the narrative that they’ll take and run with.


Because they do anything to make us seem more violent…

“Black on black crime”.

I bet you hear that all the time,

But have you ever heard someone say “white on white crime”?

They’ll do a madness and get off with less time

Coz they’re seen as civilians,

But we’re barbarians who can’t be civil, so they’ll try and sieve all of us out,

But no matter the strain you place on us, we won’t be drained.


Or sometimes it’s more subtle,

Like when they call us “The Blacks”.

Like we’re not deserved of being human beings, nah we’re not ‘Black people’,

Just: ‘The Blacks’.

Like something that should be kept in the dark and hidden in the cracks, right at the back,

Well black don’t crack!

No my melanin shines bright,

So put on some sunglasses if you’re offended by my skin’s shade, or sorry… offended by my light,

Or the fact that my skin isn’t light, but it still shines bright.

See black is made by absorbing every ounce of visible light so of course I’m rich with colour…

And rich with history.

I see every black person and wonder what’s his story, so let’s take a trip down memory lane.


See I remember clearly, for GCSEs I took PE and I loved that subject dearly,

Spent hours on my coursework,

Yeah that course made me work.

The final part was to make a front cover,

And I spent hours deliberating if I should include a picture of my face because I didn’t know if my race would then cap my grade.

That’s something I shouldn’t have to sit there and deliberate,

No my race shouldn’t debilitate,

Because this should be a race where whoever does the best gets the best rate,

Not a race that’s capped by my race.

Coz we’re playing the same game but we’re not in the same lane,

See my lane veers off to the left before it reaches the end,

But you run in a straight line, turn to the side and wonder why I’m stuck so far behind.

You have spikes on your shoes so that advantage you gain,

But for me every step I take I’m running against the grain.


So excuse me if I repeat the same points because this drives me insane…

But don’t you dare call me crazy.

Coz you see us struggling and manage to call us lazy,

But I feel like I have to work overtime to reach the same degree…

Yeah I’ve gotta work overtime to get the same degree,

So you don’t get to sit there and give me the third degree,

Yeah you and me, we should be equals but we’re not the same, can’t you see?


And some of that was back in secondary but the problem still extends to university,

And that includes the awarding gap, but let’s take a second to talk about what it’s like to be at Cambridge and be black:


It’s managing to get your foot in the door,

Just to have the porters question if you even go here whenever you put your foot through the door.

And another point that we can’t ignore, I think we should address how Cambridge is so different to my previous address.

It’s coming from somewhere where half the school was black,

To now being hyper aware of the fact that I stand out because I’m black.

My first interview to get here I wore a straight wig rather braids because I didn’t wanna look ‘too black’.

It’s seeing the odds against me stack,

Like a modern-day version of when they went in the hood and put crack,

Trying so hard not to let the pressure make me crack,

Because “black excellence” makes me feel like I’m carrying the weight of my whole ethnicity on my back

And that’s a mental strain that I can’t seem to hack.


But I’ll be… sitting in my lecture theatre and I’m being taught about capitalism,

But it’s ironic because people have capitalised on any chance to colonise,

So when I pick up a book to revise on capitalism, or classism, or racism or any broken-down system,

It’s from a white perspective,

And I guess this is the rhetoric now so I should really expect this,

That white perspective that tries to wipe the slate clean, so no black mark is evident, and no black mark is seen,

But our blackness is evidence that we’re still on the scene and we deserve to be seen,

So why don’t I ever see a lecturer that looks like me?


I have been taught about what it’s like to be black from someone that’s never walked a day in my shoes,

Let alone run a mile on my track.

The uncomfortability wondering if the lecturer will read out the word ‘negro’ or replace it with the term ‘black’.

So we can talk about decolonising learning,

But you learn from a teacher so how about we break it down from the top?

Maybe we need to introduce a quota for professors

Because the day I walk in and my lecturer is black, I think my heart might stop.


And I do appreciate any work that’s done to decolonise,

But let’s not close our eyes to colonial ties,

Because Jesus College still has a statue of Mr Tobias Rustat,

When the work Rustat did was to buy us and sell us overseas,

Yet a statue of him for so many years had been overseen.

Don’t you see? The problem is sewn into the fabric of our society,

So don’t tell me the racism that I can see is fabricated.

When colonisers are idolised, then it seems like racism is idealised,

And to say “I don’t see race” is an ideal lie,


We can do the work to unstitch it,

To take the current narrative, flip it and switch it.


So what does it mean to decolonise university?

Because for so long the whiteness of Cambridge has been universal tea,

But I’m hoping for an institution that exudes diversity,

From the people we see, to the books we read,

Because I can’t relate to the curricula if it’s from a white man’s point of view,

It doesn’t make me tick,

So how can you expect the knowledge to stick?

It’s no wonder why I always feel stuck,

Like I’m down on my luck.


So we need a revolution,

And I don’t mean the club, but you should join this club,

Because Cambridge needs a whole new edition.

We need more blackness and black support as an addition,

So I don’t have to pray that the person marking my paper isn’t racist…

Coz that’s a real prayer that I’ve prayed, let’s face it.

Or that they never get the chance to see my surname,

But it wouldn’t be a problem if they see the white sir’s name.


No my face, or my race, or my name, shouldn’t change the award that I gain,

So this right here is a war not a game,

So let’s start this change.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m game.


~ Christabel.