Arts·Video

'The truth about the race card': Vivek Shraya asks the hard questions through poetry

Poets unflinchingly face the world in its complexity in Poetry on the Mainstage, part of the Frankfurt Book Fair where Canada is featured as the Guest of Honour.

Poets unflinchingly face the world in its complexity in performances for the Frankfurt Book Fair

'The truth about the race card': Vivek Shraya asks the hard questions through poetry

1 year ago
Duration 3:06
Poets unflinchingly face the world in its complexity in Poetry on the Mainstage, part of the Frankfurt Book Fair where Canada is featured as the Guest of Honour.

At this year's 73rd edition of the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is the largest gathering of publishing industry professionals in the world, Canada is featured as the fair's Guest of Honour. As part of the cultural events and programming around Canada's selection this year, CBC Arts presents Poetry on the Mainstage, a series of poetry performances from three Canadian poets who examine their innermost feelings unflinchingly and, at the same time, face the world in all its complexity.

In this first edition, Vivek Shraya — award-winning author and an artist previously frequently featured on CBC Arts — performs her poem the truth about the race card. Watch her performance in the video above and read the poem's text below.

"This poem is very personal to me," Shraya says about the piece, "because when you're a racialized person you hear this phrase a lot — 'don't play the race card.' Or even if you don't hear it, in the back of your mind you've sort of been conditioned to never play the race card."

"Poetry ended up being a beautiful and powerful device to explore racism in particular because with racism, there are no answers; this is an ongoing issue. The beauty of poetry is that you can ask hard questions but there is no responsibility necessarily for the writer to have the answer. But it does force the reader to be challenged and think of how they might engage with the content in their own life, find meaning in the symbolism or the metaphors or in the lines that were on the page."

the truth about the race card

By Vivek Shraya

is that even before i knew what it meant
i knew not to play it refused
to spin brown into excuse let it hold me back
believed you when you said we are the same
blamed my parents and camouflaged to prove
you right no wonder you couldn't see me
people who said racism were whiny or lazy
and i was neither
but there's no worth for my work no toll for my toil
when you hold the cards keys gavels
unravelled, brown is not a barrier you are
and when you say don't play the race card
you mean don't call me white.

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