This video is called Benjamin Zephaniah – Genetics.
Worldly wise words
Wednesday 12 May 2010
Benjamin Zephaniah knows that remaining true to your principles cannot be an excuse for failing to engage the masses.
And he is deadly serious about ensuring that his message remains accessible to as large an audience as possible and does not drift off into a critically acclaimed but otherwise ignored, elitist hinterland.
He’s fond of quoting Adrian Mitchell‘s that “Most people ignore most poetry/Because/Most poetry ignores most people.”
Ignoring people and the injustices which befall them is not an accusation that could ever be levelled against Benjamin who recently has been heavily involved in the Justice For Mikey Powell campaign. Powell, Benjamin’s cousin, was run over and badly beaten by police in Birmingham before being thrown face down in the back of a police car where he died from asphyxiation.
A longstanding campaigner against police brutality – he recounts some hair-raising tales of his own experiences while under arrest – he has been working with the justice organisation Inquest, which monitors deaths in custody.
Despite a jury finding that Mikey died at the hands of the police, an earlier trial found the policemen concerned not guilty. So it looks like the police will escape justice again, as they have managed to do in all of the 1000 or so mostly black deaths in police custody in Britain over the past four decades – black people seem somehow to be “killed without killers,” as Benjamin wrote in a poem.
“The truth is that the political class and the police are a law unto themselves,” he says. “You see them committing crimes, murdering people and getting away with it. And you think: ‘How can that be? We’ve got the film, we’ve got everything! And they still get off!’ Sometimes it just blows me away. It’s like magic.”
The police are still up to their same old tricks, he asserts. In the past it was black people, now it’s Asians. “It’s pretty much the same but it’s not the sus laws now, it’s anti-terror legislation.”
And Barack Obama? “When he was elected for a couple of days I celebrated. But I remember Thatcher being elected and I don’t think that was a great triumph for feminism, and so I don’t celebrate for very long because Barack Obama is black.
“In his own small way, he’s doing some good things. But he’s still a politician and and he’s got blood on his hands. He shouldn’t be in Afghanistan and whatever they say they are still in Iraq. So he’s not good, but I think trying to get healthcare for poor people doesn’t make him a Stalinist, like some people are trying to make out.”
Globally, people should always be challenging capitalism, “even more now that we’ve seen it fail in such a big way,” he insists. But there has to be new ways of struggle because “the old interpretations of Marxism are not happening but there has to be something on an international level.”
He’d like a new party to be formed headed by the likes of Arundhati Roy and Noam Chomsky because he believes such figures would make explicit the extent of media control and “the way we can tell our own stories, the way we can take control of our own lives, about the way that the real criminals operate.”
We turn to geopolitics and the impressive development of unity in the developing world, challenging US political dominance and discriminatory trade policies, which has largely been spearheaded by China along with the new left movement emerging in Latin America.
Benjamin has lived in China for some years and a book about his travels in China is due to hit the bookshelves soon. He’s clear that US dominance is on the wane and that China is a rising star. “China is nuclear, it has more dollars almost than America itself – it’s certainly got the biggest reserves – and it’s moved more people out of poverty than in the history of mankind,” he declares.
But he says that China has to change “because if it has the power the US has and doesn’t change, doesn’t become more transparent, we will be really fucked!” His hope is that in the new world order China is more influenced by developments in Venezuela and Cuba.
“Chavez said a few years ago: ‘We’re not going to just have the army sit there waiting for a war, start making houses!’ And he got them to work, building roads and homes. These places aren’t heaven and in China there are so many people who write against China – it’s a very fashionable thing to do right now, how people suffered during the Cultural Revolution.
“But what the fuck happened before? The so-called state had absolute power. Look at Cuba, what was before Castro? Women were forced into prostitution, Americans didn’t even need a passport to go there, it was their playground for sex and gambling.
“Now Cuba has 99.9 per cent literacy, it’s the only country in the world to have achieved that. When the New Orleans disaster happened, there were something like 500 Cuban doctors volunteered to go and they wouldn’t let them in at a time when they wouldn’t even get their own doctors there. But Bush didn’t care.”
And he’s got an interesting take on China’s moves towards a sustainable environment. “You get some of the most polluted cities in the world there, but there’s a complete carbon neutral city, and a couple of carbon neutral villages.
“They’re very efficient. One of the good things about having a one-party state is that if there’s something that needs to be done, it just gets done. The bad thing is that if there is a bad thing that’s being done there’s no one to oppose it”
Interview finished, I wonder where this inspirational figure finds the time to write highly succcessful novels aimed at teens – another “about kids taking over the world” is in the pipeline – and write such excellent film scripts. And poetry. And live as a “world citizen.”
But that’s for another interview.
Anti-war song of the week: “I’ve been listening to the wrong radio” by Benjamin Zephaniah: here.