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Author Topic: Rastafarian refused to be made an Officer of the  (Read 16609 times)
Posts: 1788


« on: November 28, 2003, 07:33:17 AM »

Benjamin Zephaniah - Rastafarian refused to be made an Officer of the
Order of the British Empire

"I get angry when I hear that word 'empire'," Zephaniah, 48, wrote in an
article for the Guardian newspaper. "It reminds me of slavery, it
reminds me of thousands of years of brutality."  His move echoes Beatle
John Lennon (news)'s return of his MBE (Member of the Order of the
British Empire) medal in 1969 over Britain's stance on Vietnam and the
civil war in Nigeria. "

LONDON (Reuters) - British poet Benjamin Zephaniah publicly rejected on
Thursday an award from Queen Elizabeth in a protest against the war in
Iraq (news - web sites) and "years of brutality" under the British

The Rastafarian refused to be made an Officer of the Order of the
British Empire (OBE), one of the many honors the queen bestows on
achievers in public life each New Year.

"I get angry when I hear that word 'empire'," Zephaniah, 48, wrote in an
article for the Guardian newspaper. "It reminds me of slavery, it
reminds me of thousands of years of brutality."

His move echoes Beatle John Lennon (news)'s return of his MBE (Member of
the Order of the British Empire) medal in 1969 over Britain's stance on
Vietnam and the civil war in Nigeria.

Zephaniah said he would never accept an award from Prime Minister Tony
Blair (news - web sites), whose office picks the list to be approved by
the monarch.

"You can't fool me, Mr. Blair," he wrote. "You want to privatize us all;
you want to send us to war. You stay silent when we need you to speak
for us, preferring to be the voice of the U.S."

Zephaniah said the honors system was being used to make the
establishment appear more modern and inclusive and said he was puzzled
the OBE was for his services to literature.

"There are a whole lot of writers who are better than me," he wrote.
"Why can't they give me one for my work in animal rights...for my
struggle against racism?"

Born in Britain's second city, Birmingham, Zephaniah spent his early
years in Jamaica, where he developed a love for Caribbean music and

He published his first collection, "Pen Rhythm," in 1980 and has become
known for his distinctive "performance poetry."
Posts: 1788


« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2003, 07:35:43 AM »

'Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought'

An invitation to the palace to accept an New Year honour... you must be joking. Benjamin Zephaniah won't be going. Here he explains why

Thursday November 27, 2003
The Guardian

I woke up on the morning of November 13 wondering how the government could be overthrown and what could replace it, and then I noticed a letter from the prime minister's office. It said: "The prime minister has asked me to inform you, in strict confidence, that he has in mind, on the occasion of the forthcoming list of New Year's honours to submit your name to the Queen with a recommendation that Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to approve that you be appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire."
Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word "empire"; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised. It is because of this concept of empire that my British education led me to believe that the history of black people started with slavery and that we were born slaves, and should therefore be grateful that we were given freedom by our caring white masters. It is because of this idea of empire that black people like myself don't even know our true names or our true historical culture. I am not one of those who are obsessed with their roots, and I'm certainly not suffering from a crisis of identity; my obsession is about the future and the political rights of all people. Benjamin Zephaniah OBE - no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.

There's something very strange about receiving a letter from Tony Blair's office asking me if I want to accept this award. In the past couple of months I've been on Blair's doorstep a few times. I have begged him to come out and meet me; I have been longing for a conversation with him, but he won't come out, and now here he is asking me to meet him at the palace! I was there with a million people on February 15, and the last time I was there was just a couple of weeks ago. My cousin, Michael Powell, was arrested and taken to Thornhill Road police station in Birmingham where he died. Now, I know how he died. The whole of Birmingham knows how he died, but in order to get this article published and to be politically (or journalistically) correct, I have to say that he died in suspicious circumstances. The police will not give us any answers. We have not seen or heard anything of all the reports and investigations we were told were going to take place. Now, all that my family can do is join with all the other families who have lost members while in custody because no one in power is listening to us. Come on Mr Blair, I'll meet you anytime. Let's talk about your Home Office, let's talk about being tough on crime.

This OBE thing is supposed to be for my services to literature, but there are a whole lot of writers who are better than me, and they're not involved in the things that I'm involved in. All they do is write; I spend most of my time doing other things. If they want to give me one of these empire things, why can't they give me one for my work in animal rights? Why can't they give me one for my struggle against racism? What about giving me one for all the letters I write to innocent people in prisons who have been framed? I may just consider accepting some kind of award for my services on behalf of the millions of people who have stood up against the war in Iraq. It's such hard work - much harder than writing poems.

And hey, if Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to lay all that empire stuff on me, why can't she write to me herself. Let's cut out the middleman - she knows me. The last time we met, it was at a concert I was hosting. She came backstage to meet me. That didn't bother me; lots of people visit my dressing room after performances. Me and the South African performers I was working with that night thought it rather funny that we had a royal groupie. She's a bit stiff but she's a nice old lady. Let me make it clear: I have nothing against her or the royal family. It is the institution of the monarchy that I loathe so very much, the monarchy that still refuses to apologise for sanctioning slavery.

There is a part of me that hopes that after writing this article I shall never be considered as a Poet Laureate or an OBE sucker again. Let this put an end to it. This may lose me some of my writing friends; some people may never want to work with me again, but the truth is I think OBEs compromise writers and poets, and laureates suddenly go soft - in the past I've even written a poem, Bought and Sold, saying that.

There are many black writers who love OBEs, it makes them feel like they have made it. When it suits them, they embrace the struggle against the ruling class and the oppression they visit upon us, but then they join the oppressors' club. They are so easily seduced into the great house of Babylon known as the palace. For them, a wonderful time is meeting the Queen and bowing before her presence.

I was shocked to see how many of my fellow writers jumped at the opportunity to go to Buckingham Palace when the Queen had her "meet the writers day" on July 9 2002, and I laughed at the pathetic excuses writers gave for going. "I did it for my mum"; "I did it for my kids"; "I did it for the school"; "I did it for the people", etc. I have even heard black writers who have collected OBEs saying that it is "symbolic of how far we have come". Oh yes, I say, we've struggled so hard just to get a minute with the Queen and we are so very grateful - not.

I've never heard of a holder of the OBE openly criticising the monarchy. They are officially friends, and that's what this cool Britannia project is about. It gives OBEs to cool rock stars, successful businesswomen and blacks who would be militant in order to give the impression that it is inclusive. Then these rock stars, successful women, and ex-militants write to me with the OBE after their name as if I should be impressed. I'm not. Quite the opposite - you've been had.

Writers and artists who see themselves as working outside the establishment are constantly being accused of selling out as soon as they have any kind of success. I've been called a sell-out for selling too many books, for writing books for children, for performing at the Royal Albert Hall, for going on Desert Island Discs, and for appearing on the Parkinson show. But I want to reach as many people as possible without compromising the content of my work.

What continues to be my biggest deal with the establishment must be my work with the British Council, of which, ironically, the Queen is patron. I have no problem with this. It has never told me what to say, or what not to say. I have always been free to criticise the government and even the council itself. This is what being a poet is about. Most importantly, through my work with the council I am able to show the world what Britain is really about in terms of our arts, and I am able to partake in the type of political and cultural intercourse which is not possible in the mainstream political arena. I have no problem representing the reality of our multiculturalism, which may sometimes mean speaking about the way my cousin Michael died in a police station. But then, I am also at ease letting people know that our music scene is more than what they hear in the charts, and that British poetry is more than Wordsworth, or even Motion. I have no problem with all of this because this is about us and what we do. It is about what happens on the streets of our country and not in the palace or at No 10.

Me, OBE? Whoever is behind this offer can never have read any of my work. Why don't they just give me some of those great African works of art that were taken in the name of the empire and let me return them to their rightful place? You can't fool me, Mr Blair. You want to privatise us all; you want to send us to war. You stay silent when we need you to speak for us, preferring to be the voice of the US. You have lied to us, and you continue to lie to us, and you have poured the working-class dream of a fair, compassionate, caring society down the dirty drain of empire. Stick it, Mr Blair - and Mrs Queen, stop going on about the empire. Let's do something else.

Bought and Sold

Smart big awards and prize money
Is killing off black poetry
It's not censors or dictators that are cutting up our art.
The lure of meeting royalty
And touching high society
Is damping creativity and eating at our heart.

The ancestors would turn in graves
Those poor black folk that once were slaves would wonder
How our souls were sold
And check our strategies,
The empire strikes back and waves
Tamed warriors bow on parades
When they have done what they've been told
They get their OBEs.

Don't take my word, go check the verse
Cause every laureate gets worse
A family that you cannot fault as muse will mess your mind,
And yeah, you may fatten your purse
And surely they will check you first when subjects need to be amused
With paid for prose and rhymes.

Take your prize, now write more,
Fu**k the truth
Now you're an actor do not fault your benefactor
Write, publish and review,
You look like a dreadlocks Rasta,
You look like a ghetto blaster,
But you can't diss your paymaster
And bite the hand that feeds you.

What happened to the verse of fire
Cursing cool the empire
What happened to the soul rebel that Marley had in mind,
This bloodstained, stolen empire rewards you and you conspire,
(Yes Marley said that time will tell)
Now look they've gone and joined.

We keep getting this beating
It's bad history repeating
It reminds me of those capitalists that say
'Look you have a choice,'
It's sick and self-defeating if our dispossessed keep weeping
And we give these awards meaning
But we end up with no voice.

· Taken from Too Black, Too Strong. Published by Bloodaxe Books (2001)
« Reply #2 on: November 30, 2003, 02:33:52 AM »

Benjamin Zephaniah tends to appear on political panels, dicussion programmes and has interviews published  in newspapers.  Although he is the voice of Rastafari in the UK, he very much reflects the views of a lot of world citizens, his fight for peace, anti racisim and a classless society. His own words from an interview on Channel 4.  

He has the capacity to make people stop short in their steps, because, by voicing the views of a Rastafarian minority, he tends to get other people thinking about the truth of his words.  It is well worth reading his poems on his website.
My favourite is 'Neighbours' from Propa Propaganda.

Junior Member
Posts: 592

Higher Reasoning

« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2003, 12:31:15 PM »


"he very much reflects the views of a lot of world citizens, his fight for peace, anti racisim and a classless society."

I would like to know what a classless society is?!?!
« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2003, 12:33:37 PM »

InI lives in the UK and the old imperial system still very much rules where I live in southern England.  Benjamin Zephaniah lives in London and maybe he means that.  People still look down on other people because they consider them to be 'inferior' because they have less money, status, education.

I don't know.  I spend my days fighting this class system.  I don't know what it is like in the rest of the world but would like to know.
Peace and Love
Junior Member
Posts: 592

Higher Reasoning

« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2003, 01:35:38 PM »

I post this because this song is a great reminder of the ways in which the passions of the less fortunate are sometimes exploited by those who want more power in a society. This is the story of the American, French and to a certain extent, Russian revolutions.

"Old man Sammy had a farm
Walked the land with the wife
Most of the time sh** was calm
His whole life was maintained off the everyday labor
from the mules in the field to the cattle in the stable
This is how we kept food on this table (maxing)
You would have he was disabled by the way he be relaxing
Acting like Mr. Magnificent
But the animals were thinking something different
The sentiment was tension in the barnyard
Throughout the years they had been through mad drama
with the farmer, word is bond
And they all came to one conclusion
They argued there was no way they'd ever be free
If it was up to humans
Therefore the only course left was revolution which was understandable
And since the pigs promised to lead in the interest of all the animals
They planned a full attack
Under the leadership of Hannibal
The fattest pig in the pack
The next morning on the farm
Everything was calm
Just before dawn
But before long
The sun got so hot it made the farm seem electric
Now check it
This is when that sh** got hectic
Directed by Hannibal, the animals attacked
Old Sam was in a state of shock
And fell up on his back
And dropped his rifle
Reaching in vain
Each and every creature from the field at his throat
Screaming "Kill, feel the pain."
This is the animal in man
This is the animal in you
This is the animal in man
Coming true (2X)
Verse 2
After they ran the farmer off the farm
The pigs went around and called a meeting in the barn
Hannibal spoke for several hours
But when talks about his plans for power
That's when the conversation turned sour
He issued an offical ordinance to set
If not a pig from this day forth then you insubordinate
That's when the horses went buckwild
One of them shouted out
"You fraudulent pigs, we know your f****** style!"
Hannibal's face was flushed and pale
All the animals eyes full of disgust and betrayal
He felt the same way Sam felt
They took his tongue out of his mouth
And cut his body up for sale, for real
You better listen while you can
Its a very thin line between animal and man
When Hannibal crossed the line they all took a stand
What would have done?
Shook his hand?
This is the animal in man"

- Dead Prez "Animal in Man"
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