This is the age of division—of crowded twenty-six lane highways existing alongside speeding motorcycles about to hit a T in the road. An age of shiny watches and clothes draping suffering souls; cultures on a collision course. A time of CGI, and action-packed prose—a great medium; but, where does poetry fit in?
William Wordsworth once said, “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” The type of expression formed through reflection and contemplation—as we prepare to address the things that bother us. I remember reading the preface to a little book of poetry once (a tiny back pocket volume), it said that poetry is meant to enrich, ennoble and encourage. These are the first things I thought of when I heard Takunda Muzondiwa speak.
A New Zealand high school student at Mt. Albert Grammar School, Muzondiwa has been making news for a speech she made at the Human Rights Commission’s annual Race Unity Aotearoa Speech awards. At these awards, six of New Zealand’s best high school speakers addressed how we can improve race relations. Thanks to the past twenty years of technological influx, someone recorded the speech, which sees Muzondiwa delivering a poem she wrote. The video has been viewed over half a million times.
“Yesterday I was African, today I am lost.”
In the above video, Muzondiwa recounts her experience immigrating from Zimbabwe to Aotearoa at the age of seven. She has, unfortunately, had to deal with the type of cultural assimilation and the racism that seems to plague so many. Her poem, which she wrote to a man who had the audacity to touch her hair on the bus (because it was curly? Different?) describes the pitfalls of assimilation; such as aligning with societal beauty standards.
“I believe unity comes from a better understanding of one another as people. The best way I know how to share the perspective of those I represent as a black immigrant woman is through my writing. I write my poetry and I send it to the man who sat behind me on the train last week who had the audacity to touch my hair without even asking.”
“I guess the basic human concept of respecting personal space doesn’t apply to you?” I didn’t say that which is crazy because I almost always have something to say but at that moment, like my split ends, my mouth was too dry to speak.
The Takunda Muzondiwa in this video is a young woman who refuses to feel shame; she realizes how important her culture is (if by some weird reason you haven’t watched it and realized that yet).
“But luckily my hair, my hair speaks volumes. Tangled and twisted there are stories in these in curls. Stories of a mother, father stamped with a number marked as objects sold for property. Stories of my ancestors shackled in cages displayed in zoos the same way you stroke me like an exhibit in a petting zoo.”
I watched that video and literally mouthed the word “wow” (before thinking of obscure quotes about poetry). The kind of words coming out of this person’s mouth, the way in which they are being expressed, is the type of thing I can’t see on any silver screen or within the context of any story—other than a real one. It’s the kind of thing Wordsworth and my long-since-lost pocket book of poetry were talking about; Muzondiwa’s words enrich, ennoble and encourage.
At the end of her speech, Muzondiwa, after true contemplation and reflection, addresses the real recipient of her powerfully crafted words. The thing that she, and so many others, find themselves simultaneously alongside whilst racing towards.
“So dear racism, I’m rewriting the history you gave me because I know the future belongs to those who prepare for it and you have been preparing me for centuries.”
This is the age of unity.
Featured Image Via Theguardian.com