These four poems explore the racist views between white and black people during the last fifty years. The racism is viewed from many different angles, through both the perspectives off white and black people. The poems show how widespread the racism is, why some people are so racist and how some people attempt to stop it. The poems tell us about normal day to day racism, which everyone was used to, and of racism involving politics.
"Telephone Conversation" by Wole Soyinka, is based on an in-personal experience by Soyinka about what common attitudes would be to black people even if they were just trying to rent a place to live in. When Soyinka tells the landlady he is African he starts off by writing, "Nothing remained but self-confession. "Madam," I warned". Soyinka uses words like "self-confession" and "warned" because he knows, through his own personal experience, what the landlady's reaction could be.
The land lady questions Soyinka on how dark he is, this outrages him, "Stench of rancid breath of public hide and speak", "Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double tiered Omnibus", he uses the colour red every time not only to represent the colour of the landmarks of the country which he is in, but also to portray his anger, shame and embarrassment upon being asked the question. But Soyinka gains the moral highground with the landlady using his wit and humour. He asks her if she meant his colour to be "like plain or milk chocolate" and then answers that it was "West African sepia" which leaves the woman dumbfounded.
He then asks the woman not only to look at his exterior but also his inside which like the palm of his hand and the sole of his foot was the same as hers.
"In-a Brixtan Markit" by James Berry is based on what is probably a personal experience, in which he is confronted by a policeman in Brixton Market and is searched even though he did nothing wrong. The only reason he is searched is because of his appearance being black. This poem unlike the others has more political issues involved to it such as the police abusing their powers. They hit Berry even though he hadn't done anything wrong, " "Battn down, Tony. Battn down." An, man, Tony win." The poem is also written with a Jamaican accent to make it more realistic, "an wha them si in deh? Two piece a yam, a dasheen, a han a banana, a piece a pork and me lates Bob Marley." The items in his bag also represent his culture especially his Bob Marley record, it shows the difference between Jamaican people and English people, and why racism might exist between them.
"On the Subway" the newest poem among the four, written in 1987 by Sharon Olds is the only one based in America. But the same issues still exist over here as they do in America. The poem is about Olds stereotyping a black boy to be a mugger "He has the casual cold look of a mugger." It is her fear and racism, which convinces her of the black boy being a mugger.
The boy is wearing "black sneakers laced with white in a complex patter like a set of intentional scars", and, "he is wearing red". This makes Olds think about what the boy could do to her, scars which he can give her making the blood inside her body to be exposed like the red being exposed on the boy's body.
Old's is scared of the boy just because of his appearance, for all she knows he could be the nicest boy in the world. She is also very up front with her racism, "he is black, and I am white, and without meaning or trying to I must profit from his darkness, the way he absorbs the murderous beams of the nation's heart, as black cotton absorbs the heat of the sun and hold it. She compares the black cotton as being all the black people and the sun as being the white. She also seems to be sympathising for the black people saying, "how easy this white skin makes my life", and, "this life he could take so easily and break across his knee like a stick the way his own back is being broken". She feels sorry for black people and what they must endure just because of the colour of their skin.
"On an Afternoon Train from Purley to Victoria", written by James Berry in 1955 tells us of a Quaker (a member of a Christian group) trying to stop racism between black and white people, who met Berry on a train. Unlike everyone else on the train she tried to make small talk with Berry making meaningless comments such as about the weather. Then she recited a poem for racial brotherhood, "speak a poem loudly for racial brotherhood."
Berry was taken back by the Quaker's because he probably had never come across anyone like her in his life. Because of her actions he saw, "empty city streets lit dimly in a day's first hours. Alongside in darkness my father's big banana field." Her poem made him see a fusion of the two cultures living together in happiness, the city streets of London with the calmness and homeliness off his fathers big banana field back in Jamaica.
The Quaker wasn't really the cleverest of people, thinking that Jamaica was a part of Africa, but her virtues to abolish racism were strong, "so sincere she was beautiful as people sat down around us."
"Hard to see why you leave such sunny country she said. Snow falls elsewhere I said." This describes Berry's and other black people's intentions in moving to England, it is to seek things, which they cannot get where they come from.
The landlady in "telephone conversation" and the Quaker are nearly opposite to each other, the landlady is against black people while the Quaker wants everyone to accept them and hopes that everyone should live freely. She is also very religious so she is more tolerant of other people and races.
"On the subway" and "In-a Brixtan Markit" are similar to each other because both the woman and the policeman stereotype the people they see. But they don't really have a choice because off things which go on in everyday society with all the muggings and other criminal offences many off which are committed by black men, but that still doesn't mean that all black people commit these offences.
The woman in "On the subway" cannot look through the exterior of people unlike the Quaker and is much more self-centred thinking only about herself, leaving black people in poverty while she can afford luxuries such as fur coats and steaks.
The Quaker on the other hand seems to have devoted her life for racial equality caring about everyone and maybe trying too hard. She also doesn't stereotype people unlike all the other white people in the three other poems.
The boy in "On the Subway" could also be wearing red to show his anger at how everyone stereotypes him, like in "Telephone Conversation" the man mentions the colour red, "Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered Omnibus" to show his anger.
Also in "Telephone conversation" Soyinka changes his style in which he spoke with the landlady using humour, to tone her racism down and in "In-a Brixtan Market" Berry also has to change his tactic off conversation with the police man to control him.
People looked at black people suspiciously just because they were different, the police man thought of Berry as a dodgy character, Olds thought the boy was a mugger and the landlady wouldn't let Soyinka rent the place just because he was black. So black people had to learn how to tackle these situations, like Soyinka demonstrated in "Telephone Conversation" and Berry did "In-a Brixtan Markit".
"On the Subway" and "On an Afternoon Train from Purley to Victoria" show us how the stereotypical judge-mental views, which some people have, are completely wrong, "you can't judge a book by its cover". Even though in society now days people more than often do, judging people on their looks and first impressions rather than thinking what they are really like.
Both "On the Subway" and "Telephone Conversation" are about people hastily jumping to conclusions, rather than thinking for themselves.
The existence of racism itself has to do with the unfairness off people, who do not think off others and the consequences of their words. All the poems show what we should think before we make remarks or are unjust to someone just because of their colour.