'It is a stolen tongue I now use to speak of my oppression': Randell Adjei's poem on the impact of colonialism

Poet Randell Adjei and trumpeter Rudy Ray perform a powerful spoken word as part of FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2021, now streaming on CBC Gem.

Poet Randell Adjei and Rudy Ray perform a powerful spoken word for FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2021

'It is a stolen tongue I now use to speak of my oppression': Randell Adjei's poem on the impact of colonialism

2 years ago
Duration 5:03
Poet Randell Adjei and trumpeter Rudy Ray perform a powerful spoken word as part of FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2021, now streaming on CBC Gem.

Ontario's first poet laureate Randell Adjei, along with the talented Rudy Ray on trumpet, gives a stirring reading of his poem, "The footprints of a stolen tongue."

In this clip from FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2021, Adjei's poem speaks of the generational ripple effects of colonialism and how he's breaking free of oppression with his words.

Read the transcript below:

The footprints of a stolen tongue

If the ocean waves could speak,
Would they still remember stories of our ancestry?
Do the ripple effects of colonialism still linger across the Atlantic?
Have the ancestors who were once swallowed whole by its gaping mouth become one with the sea?

Did the oceans make us mermaids in Atlantis?
Does each tide weigh like long lost memories?
Do the shores still remember the ebb and flow of dark and shackled feet?
Do the shores still remember us as kings and queens?
Or do the waters continue to baptize and save us in the name of colonialism?

This colloquial tongue I speak is foreign to my ancestors who spoke me into existence.
I am of a bloodline that is scattered across the ocean.
This once foreign tongue used to oppress me.
It is a stolen tongue I now use to speak of my oppression,
A language used to abuse and defy my nature.
A system designed to wipe out my ancestral imprint with ignorance.
A tool misused to propel the exploitations inflicted upon me.
Used to divide and conquer.
Used in a court of law I was enforced to honour.
Laws of a stolen land are now used to govern stolen people displaced on native soil.

The English language is oppressive in its very nature.
It thrives on individualism and domination.
But these words do not exist in my mother tongue.
I come from a land that speaks in hollow drums and heartbeats.
Resurrected by redemption songs of love, and prophesied descendants.
See, the English language might have colonized the borders of my tongue,
But Mama Africa still lives in each breath of my lungs.

In the neglected piss-stained elevators, roach-infested apartments, boxed-in neighbourhood I once called home, nine out of ten of my friends grew up without real men.

So the cycle never ends.

Never knew our family trees because apparently Black fathers branch out and leave.
See, it's in our roots.
Look at our anger, it's proof.
We are the footprints of our forefathers' issues
Because our ancestors never fought to become free Blacks, they simply fought to be free.

We've lost touch with our family trees,
Our natural identities and I am tired.
Tired of trying to make sense out of life when our communities need change.
These bills and laws are being passed everyday.
We've built the walls and boxed in like Cassius Clay.
Our ancestors are spinning counter clockwise in their graves.
We've been sentenced to a marginalize bars of stagnance 
And we've barely turned the page.
Some of us are still cotton-pickin'
Materialistic and close-minded, we are saggin' our jeans, 
It's in our genes because saggin' spelled backwards is…

So, go figure that the finger on the trigger 
Is another brother brushed off from the canvas of the bigger picture.

'Cause see, race is a figment of our imaginations.
What are we chasin'?
Maintenance, enslavement.
Imagine if we open up our third eye and see past the faces.
Past too many coloured lines of segregation.
It wouldn't matter if you read the signs or blew your chance
See, it's still the matrix.

The colour of my skin does not define who I am.
My ancestors fought for this land so I could stand.
Those in power know knowledge of self can divide their plans
That's why the system won't teach you about yourself, it's a scam.
They teach us how to work for wage but not how to manage or invest.
The industrial revolution made us economic slaves.
That's why they take credit for cashing your cheques.
But see, we still gotta live our lives right,
And so we have nothing left.

Money is not the root of all evil;
The addiction to it is.
And they're commercializing childhoods,
Selling materialism to the kids.
Teaching them to be consumers before they learn to plant a seed into their future.
In my neighbourhood, we grew up thinking happiness was found in material possessions.
And a couple of my friends grew up thinking the solutions to their problems were found in automatic weapons.
See, bullets have Mother stressing and fear had us guessing,
Until I learned to tap into my spirit to find answers to my questions.

'Cause see, we are all reflections of one another.
We are all reflections of one another.
Conceived the Eve, the Adam,
Was Abel with walk without a Cain.

So now ask yourself:
What is love without pain?
What is pain without love?
What is love without pain?

FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2021 is a youth-led celebration of spoken word, dance, theatre and music, as we gather together to celebrate freedom. Stream it on CBC Gem and YouTube.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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