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English Literature

John Agard: Checking Out Me History

Subject matter

Checking Out Me History

  • Dem tell me

  • Dem tell me

  • Wha dem want to tell me

  • Bandage up me eye with me own history

  • Blind me to me own identity

  • Dem tell me bout 1066 and all dat

  • dem tell me bout Dick Whittington and he cat

  • But Toussaint L’Ouverture

  • no dem never tell me bout dat

  • Toussaint

  • a slave

  • with vision

  • lick back

  • Napoleon

  • battalion

  • and first Black

  • Republic born

  • Toussaint de thorn

  • to de French

  • Toussaint de beacon

  • of de Haitian Revolution

  • Dem tell me bout de man who discover de balloon

  • and de cow who jump over de moon

  • Dem tell me bout de dish ran away with de spoon

  • but dem never tell me bout Nanny de maroon

  • Nanny

  • see-far woman

  • of mountain dream

  • fire-woman struggle

  • hopeful stream

  • to freedom river

  • Dem tell me bout Lord Nelson and Waterloo

  • but dem never tell me bout Shaka de great Zulu

  • Dem tell me bout Columbus and 1492

  • but what happen to de Caribs and de Arawaks too

  • Dem tell me bout Florence Nightingale and she lamp

  • and how Robin Hood used to camp

  • Dem tell me bout ole King Cole was a merry ole soul

  • but dem never tell me bout Mary Seacole

  • From Jamaica

  • she travel far

  • to the Crimean War

  • she volunteer to go

  • and even when de British said no

  • she still brave the Russian snow

  • a healing star

  • among the wounded

  • a yellow sunrise

  • to the dying

  • Dem tell me

  • Dem tell me wha dem want to tell me

  • But now I checking out me own history

  • I carving out me identity

This poem draws on Agard's experience to make us look at the way history is taught, and at how we conceive our identity as we learn about cultural traditions and narratives. It becomes clear that Agard had to follow a history curriculum biased towards whites, especially British whites, so that he learned about mythical, nursery rhyme characters instead of living black people from the past.

He challenges this view of history and cites some major black figures to balance the bias and create a basis for his own identity.

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