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'Have to work harder if you're black'

WORDS OF WISDOM: Linton Kwesi Johnson

WHAT'S THIS big fuss about a white truant officer telling a young black boy that he has to work harder in life because he's black.

It's true, innit? It's not like she's telling him something that his parents should have told him from long time.

Any of you who haven't told your sons and daughters this message need your heads tested. You're cruel to your children and deserve to have them taken away from you and given to a childless white couple who are prepared to be real with them.

It's Lesson One in the GCSE (Ghetto Children's Street Education), “Thou must break twice as many rocks in the hot sand, young black child, because you IS black.' Any fool knows that. Even those who haven't got an ‘O' level between them.

The first time I realised I had to work harder because I was black was when I was six or seven years old. I had just come to Britain and when I came home after a hard day at infant’s school and my father said, “I'm going to give you more work because you're black." He made me clean the whole house.

In those days we never even had a vacuum cleaner. Just this hand held carpet roller with no electric power. Remember them? And after I was done with cleaning the whole house, he gave me another book to read (because I'm black) and sent me off to bed.

By the time I was 12, while my classmates were playing subbuteo and going off to White Hart Lane on a Saturday to see Jimmy Greaves, Pat Jennings, Martin Chivers and Mike England, I was doing weekend shift work down at, first Sainsbury's then Selfridges. Just because I'm black.

And I won't even lie to you, back in those days, man would come up to your face and tell you in no uncertain terms that “You're lucky to have this job, and so you're going to have to work harder - because you're black.” Nowadays of course, man wouldn't dream of telling you that to your face - because you're black. But we know it anyway, don't we?

As far as I can tell, we've worked harder than any other community to make it in this country. No other people can walk around most of the great cities of Europe admiring all the great buildings and say, “My ancestors built this.” Not even the Irish. Whether you're talking London, Leeds, Manchester, Paris or Brussels all these cities were built on the backs of Africans. And yet, it seems, we have to work even harder.

Look at the Poles. They're nearly as far up the ladder as we are, though they only came the other day to build our houses.

Look at how the fight we have every day for every inch we get in this country. We've worked harder to stop our children dying in police custody, let alone our children killing one another.

Look at how much harder black children have to work to get a job, to keep the boss sweet, and to hold down a relationship with all the pressures of being black. The most daunting is having to prove you're working hard because the do-you-remember-the-days-of-slavery hype is that you're not - because you're black. As Linton Kwesi Johnson says:

We do hard wuk
An' we do dutty wuk
Dem say that black man is
very lazy
But if you see how me wuk,
you woulda say me crazy

Yes, work harder black boys. You don't need a probation officer to tell you that. You done know already.

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