Lesson Plan: Doing Away with Racial Discrimination

As the 21st of March is the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination I have prepared this short lesson plan to discuss the topic with my students. The lesson is based around the poem: “White Comedy” by Benjamin Zephaniah. He is one of my favourite poets. If you don’t know him, here are the words he uses in his official website to introduce himself:

“My full name is Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah which is Christian, Jewish and Muslim. I was born in the district of Handsworth in Birmingham. My poetry is strongly influenced by the music and poetry of Jamaica and I can’t remember a time when I was not creating poetry. This had nothing to do with school where poetry meant very little to me, infact I had finished full time education at the age of 13.”
“I try to write poems that are fun but they should also have a serious message.”

In the class first I ask my students to read the poem “White Comedy” and to tell me what is strange about it (the fact that the authour has changed the word black for white in some lexical items) and then we discuss whether he has done that solely for the sake of humour or not. Here’s the poem (You can download a file of Zephaniah reciting the poet in the British Council page. He’s great, it’s worth listening to him) :

White Comedy

from “Propa Propaganda”

I waz whitemailed
By a white witch,
Wid white magic
An white lies,
Branded by a white sheep
I slaved as a whitesmith
Near a white spot
Where I suffered whitewater fever.
Whitelisted as a whiteleg
I waz in de white book
As a master of white art,
It waz like white death.

People called me white jack
Some hailed me as a white wog,
So I joined de white watch
Trained as a white guard
Lived off the white economy.
Caught and beaten by de whiteshirts
I waz condemned to a white mass,
Don’t worry,
I shall be writing to de Black House.

After that, we discuss the meaning of the words if we turn them into their black counterparts. I usually ask them to match the words with definitions, but if you have advanced courses they may already know the meanings and they can provide the definitions. Gabriella Sellart has done a great job preparing a glossary for this poem in her blog “Glossaries”. You can also make your students pay attention to the meanings of the words white magic and white lies and what is the implication of referring to the White House as the Black House.

I would round off the class by asking the following questions for debate:

  • What do you think the poem says about the connotatins embedded in Western Language and Cultures?
  • Have you ever stopped to think about that?

Hope you find this lesson plan useful and remember if you use it or modify it share your experience with us. Finally, if you have any other ideas to do on this particular day let us know, it’s great to learn from each other.

Further reading: If you really liked Zephaniah and you want more, @harrisonmike has got a wonderful lesson plan on another poem by him: “Talking Turkeys” (great to use during Christmas season)


Posted on March 19, 2008, in Lesson Plans, Resources for tesl/tefl and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Gabriela Sellart

    Thanks for finding “glossaries” useful.
    Do you know what? I have the poem recorded by Zephaniah, but… in a cassette. It was released by the British Council, maybe it’s available online. It’s worth listening to him, he’s a great performer.
    see you

  2. Thanks Gabriella for the comment and yes it is available online the link is: http://www.britishcouncil.org/arts-literature-publications-and-resources-poetryquartets-benjamin-zephaniah.htm
    I have edited the post to include this link.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks a lot for the comment. Glad you find it useful

  4. This is where Zephaniah is from.

    Portrait Of The 1985 Handsworth Riots – Pogus Caesar – BBC1 TV . Inside Out.

    Broadcast 25 Oct 2010.

    Birmingham film maker and photographer Pogus Caesar knows Handsworth well. He found himself in the centre of the 1985 riots and spent two days capturing a series of startling images. Caesar kept them hidden for 20 years. Why? And how does he see Handsworth now?.

    The stark black and white photographs featured in the film provide a rare, valuable and historical record of the raw emotion, heartbreak and violence that unfolded during those dark and fateful days in September 1985.

  1. Pingback: Media Districts Entertainment Blog » Lesson Plan: Doing Away with Racial Discrimination

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