Gray Area: A Spoken Word Poem – Celia Bergin

Winner of the Orwell Youth Prize 2016 – Year groups 9, 10, 11


From the day of my birth I had melanin.

I saw it every time I looked in the mirror from

Age zero to thirteen, but never knew the trouble

It could get me in.

I didn’t see the decades of history that

Sat on my skin and danced in my bones.

I was colour blind to my own skin and the soul that

Was buried deep within a

Coloured shell case, which could

Never be seen to be as pure as a shell that was


At age fourteen I realised I was taught to hate my curls,

And that I acted like me and not

‘Pretty white, for a mixed girl’.

I learnt that the place to I aspired to live,

New York, the city of my dreams, doesn’t look so bright.

America’s not a safe place for those

Whose relatives had to protest for basic human rights.

Age fifteen I realise that even my qualifications might not get me into

Oxford or Cambridge because at the end of the day

I’ll fall a victim to white privilege.


But it’s okay, because I’ll have my race card to help me.

That magical thing that will suddenly appear every

Time a white person doesn’t want to hear

That they have any form of advantage.

The race that is never told no, can’t handle when they are told

That they can’t use the N word.

So they respond with

“Well, think about it, what if

To use this slur was a dying child’s wish?

Slavery ended over 150 years ago,.”

The word uttered to keep us in our place and implanted

A seed into society that grew into plant with poisoned roots.

A word chanted less than 100 years ago as

A morbid bunting lined the trees of the Deep South.

The foundations of oppression formed in the mouth,

All standing on those two simple syllables.


You pick culture like fruit.

Only the ripest, juiciest, brightest will do.

You make a pinot grigio for you

To consume and claim how sweet and

Fresh it is. Even call it innovative.

Your Kim K braids are what black people have called

Cornrows for generations past.

You steal words out of the mouths of those

Who created the dialect.

It’s ‘lit’ ,right?

Your ‘glow up’ made of beauty traits stolen

For your pleasure. Eyebrows ‘on fleek ‘

Along with your Kylie Jenner lips.

You wear the life of another as a comfortable coat,

But you don’t have the leaden lining that was placed there

From the moment our lives began.

Everything’s beautiful as long as it’s not on black skin.


When the choir of the oppressed cry “ that’s cultural appropriation”

They are told “calm down, its just appreciation

Of your uniqueness”

This uniqueness is what is getting people of colour killed.

We raise our voices to protest the

Black bodies building blockades for their comrades

On the streets of America,

Only to be met back with a flood of tweets saying

“Um sweetie I think that you’ll find

That we should be caring about #alllives

Not just #blacklivesmatter you know”

Do you care about black lives when your not forced to listen?

Black people being shot down like its 1965.

A black family in the white house doesn’t mean

Racism has done its time.

White people walk the maze after studying

Its blueprints and know the

Underfoot grenades and creating the excuses

That everyone still has to go through the maze,

And that’s a challenge enough.


But we’ll find our path to the centre.

We’ve found the magic that is survival.

We’ll no longer fit into

Your cream coloured mould just to produce hit records,

Or novels, or films, or ourselves.

Our Afros won’t shrink, we won’t dilute our

Being to make us more palatable for the world.

You will need an ocean to swallow the pill that I am.

We are no longer willing to be

Your tokens

Your trophies

Your scapegoats

Your fetishes

Or your experiments.

Our voices can no longer be silenced.

Our gospel choir of the truth will sing songs

Of a deafening silence until you

Cannot ignore your privilege.

Louder than the thunderstorm of fire

In our bellies.

You will hear a song

You can no longer argue with

Or ignore.