by Robyn Banks

I did my best to learn the rules.
The world was a nice place,
children shared, we waited our turn,
we helped those in need and said thankyou and please.

The board was black and the chalk was white,
together we learned to read and write,
I tried to learn the rules.
There used to be racism,
there used to be war,
there used to be poverty and workhouses and suffering
but Martin Luther King had a dream and women won the vote
and everyone shared now, and waited their turn
and Tony Blair painted rainbow children on my primary school walls.

I really tried to learn the rules.
That everyone was equal,
to never judge a book by its cover,
to never speak ill of others,
to never engage in gossip and lies.
I was taught that life is sacred.
But I think I misunderstood the rules
somewhere along the way,
like at which point someone is less equal
by virtue of melanin or geography,
at which point a life is less valuable,
why racism is still okay in muttered tones
during a white Christmas
in a small town.

I think I missed the memo
about when it’s okay to let children drown,
when our neighbours no longer deserve our help,
when it’s better to let somebody starve than to share your own,
when gossip and lies make men rich,
and are bought and believed by the same people who told me
my generation mugged grandmas
at bus stops.

I think I missed the bit when Thumper told me:
‘If you don’t have anything nice to say,
don’t say anything at all –
unless it’s a generalisation about a whole group of people
which you heard from a bloke at work
or read, immortalised
in printed black and white.’

I think I missed the lesson when a can of lager
negates a man’s right to eat,
or when a third child can go hungry,
or when somebody deserves their suffering
and should be looked down upon.
I have trouble making these distinctions.
The worthy and the unworthy,
the scrounger and the striver,
the immigrant and the refugee,
them and us.

I think there might be something wrong with me
so will somebody please go back
and teach me again?

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