Citizens of the Word – Khadijah Ibrahiim presents a lively poetry debate by Asiya Hussain

Saturday 9th July 2016

As a part of the Ilkley Literature Festival and inspired by the current exhibition Rock Against Racism, the Leeds Young Authors presented a lively poetry session lead by Khadijah Ibrahiim at Impressions Gallery. Alongside Khadijah were some amazing poets such as Malika Booker, Evie Manning and Asma Elbadawi who presented their pieces proudly in front of the audience.

It was exciting to see Impressions Gallery being the host for an event like this and I was very eager to see what thoughts and opinons would be exchanged. This session was an open dialogue about the changes in society and how we can make a change. This topic seemed very fitting, especially after the results of the Referendum so I was curious to see what thoughts would be shared. The gallery was slowly filling up with people avidly waiting to get the session started and I always think it’s great to see people who share similar passions get together at events like this.

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The topics that were explored definitely delved into serious matters that have been somewhat sidelined by the media, matters that are too ‘graphic’ to be taken into consideration. In hearing the speakers and members of the audience speak about the seriousness of these topics, it actually made me take a step back and to think about how much I actually knew about these issues happening in society.

For example, there was the discussion about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which I feel remains to be a sensitive topic that many people don’t want to delve into. I have to admit that when I first heard this term and learnt what it meant, I wanted to simply ignore it and hope that it wouldn’t be brought to light again.  But hearing it from the perspective of young poets brought more clarity towards the issue and it highlighted how this act cannot be ignored by society. This appears to be a topic which people are too frightened to speak about, not knowing how to approach it or afraid of learning too much. But this session would destroy those barriers and tackle the issue head on.

In introducing the topic, a short video by studio12.org.uk was played in showing three girls reciting a poem about the barbarity of FGM, explaining how the practice is a form of ‘enslavement of the body … it is male domination over women’ and how it is viewed as ‘a cleansing and purification of the body’. The message was clear, millions of women and girls in the world have been ‘cut’ and something needs to be done to bring awareness to it. I was horrified to hear how this is seen as a cultural practice, it has been ‘normalised’ and embedded into many people’s minds as being an ‘orthodox’ practice which makes it difficult to eliminate as the women who have been ‘cut’ have also been taught that it is necessary.

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The issues surrounding media and identity and stereotypes was also explored and this was very fitting for the current exhibition Rock Against Racism. I feel that these three issues go hand in hand as the media play a big role in the construction of people’s identity and in creating stereotypes around certain ethnic groups. The young speaker Becky read out a poem written by herself about her identity and exploring how her skin colour is seen as being ugly to some. It’s truly remarkable that these young poets read their poetry in front of a live audience and were able to deliver such an amazing message about themselves and society, I don’t think I would have been able to do that!

Looking more closely at media and identity, speaker Asma Elbadawi explained how the media always shows for example, a certain type of Muslim or a certain type of African, their identities already being made for them whilst they remain silent and unheard. To break the cycle of the media misrepresenting people, Asma explained how she combined both her passions of basketball and poetry together and in essence, created her own identity. In addition to this topic, speaker Evie Manning elaborated on stereotypes and how they become an expectation for people, they dictate our actions and restrict what we can and can’t do. From a personal point of view, I agree with how stereotypes have played a role in how society perceives certain ethnicities, that they must behave in this way or act in this manner.

It definitely felt like the topics discussed were reflections of the current exhibition, showing how issues back in the 70s have resurfaced again and need to be dealt with. There was an interesting point made by Malika Booker in discussing the lives of refugees and asylum seekers that was stuck in my mind. She mentioned how the rich are able to move across borders with ease whereas the poor  who are fleeing from war zones are unable to cross borders. For me, this highlighted the struggle of not only the refugees nowadays, but of the migrants from the past who struggled to travel to Britain or elsewhere.

The discussion was then handed over to the audience and to elaborate on the topics discussed. They had the choice of going to a set of different tables that would discuss in depth the topics recently highlighted and to form some sort of solution for each issue. Instantly everyone leapt out of their chairs and dashed out to their tables, eager to discuss more in depth. It was clear that everyone was passionate about the topics discussed and they wanted to meet some sort of solution to it. I don’t think I’ve heard the gallery filled with so many intrigued and passionate voices before!

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In ending the session, Khadijah explained how when she was growing up in Britain, she understood what racism was and she was constantly told in school that she was black and ugly. She explained how she was confused at hearing this as she has never been told before that her skin colour was ugly, only in school did they say this to her. She also grew up alongside Rock Against Racism and instantly fell in love with the movement, hooray! She then read one of her own poems out which was inspired by Rock Against Racism. It was a very fitting way to end the session and she even mentioned how the gallery was the perfect place to host this event, to get inspired by Syd’s photos and to see what the movement was like back then.

Considering that this was the first time I’ve been to a poetry event like this, I have to say that it definitely opened my eyes wider to issues I thought I understood and made me more aware about the changes in society.

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