A poem for the times

By Mike Baynham, University of Leeds

Like so many people I have been shocked by the upsurge of xenophobia and racist abuse and hate crime that followed the EU referendum. One such form of abuse involves “linguistic xenophobia”. This is when people attract abusive comments simply by speaking their language in public places. Thinking about this phenomenon and how to resist it inspired the following poem. As those who read my earlier blog post describing a visit to Ethiopia will know, “Aizō” is an Amharic word meaning “Courage!”

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A poem for the times

I will speak Yoruba in the supermarket

I will speak Urdu in the queue

I will whisper to you in Vietnamese

tender things like lovers do

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I will hug my friends loudly in Amharinya

bumping shoulders three times

to show I care

Shout “Aizō” at the bus stop

to give them strength

for the hard road awaiting them here

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I will tease you in Farsi in the gym

wish you good night in Inuit

tell you in French that here

your face will always fit

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