'The only black girl in too many rooms': Winnipeg poet explores bigotry through spoken word project

Winnipegger Chimwemwe Undi talks about what it's like to be the only black girl, asked to speak for others. Her poem is part of a series on the personal toll racism takes.

Chimwemwe Undi explores the weight of being the representative black person

Speaking my Truth: Chimwemwe Undi

3 years ago
Duration 2:29
Spoken word poet dreams of a better, more inclusive world. Video: Erica Daniels

Speaking My Truth is a three-part series that explores the personal toll of racism. CBC's Creator Network commissioned three Winnipeg activists to write a personal essay, poem or story about an experience with racism. Filmmaker Erica Daniels then collaborated with the writers to film short videos. 

Watch Chimwemwe Undi's story in the above video or read a transcript of her personal story below.

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This Tenacious Light by Chimwemwe Undi 

You know these stories. You've heard them all before,

from those of us who have them, that share them,

hopeful our tears will salt the earth from which they came.

Maybe it's her, riding the old tremble in her voice when she raises it to beg for or demand a better thing.

Maybe this time it's a sibling told to be a kinder version of the fist-fight that formed them, of the righteous anger that carved a space for them in this world.

Maybe it's me, the only Black girl in too many rooms, asked to be an avatar, a metaphor, a megaphone, to speak when spoken to and then never for myself, to open my mouth and unfurl the whole brown world, like a late summer fiddlehead.

The same old tale. It eats itself.

Sometimes, when the night is dark everywhere but between us, we gather, legs crossed and knees grazing maybe, or teeth purpled around a loosened tongue, a circle or table, or hushed and knowing and barely awake, we sit and offer our stories to each other, and this is how we make them real.

And we laugh, and we nod, and we know, and we dream better for each other and ourselves.

We dream of a new and far away world, where these old and here stories are told with flashlights at our chins.

We dream of our ancestors.

Folds smoothed from between their brows, mouths curved and full of laughter, and new myths.

How they would glow knowing all the things they built for us, all the roads they paved, all the world they lit with their tenacious light, all the things we are, not in spite of, or instead of, but because.

Sometimes we are all fist and fire-back, all strength and salt and song.

Sometimes we dream instead of fighting. This is how we keep fighting.

Other stories in this series:

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Chimwemwe Undi is a poet and spoken word artist living on Treaty 1 territory in Winnipeg. She is finishing law school at the University of Manitoba. She has performed at multiple literary festivals, in Canada and abroad. She is also a poet in residence with Poetry in Voice, a national organization that seeks to foster a love of reading and poetry in high school students.