Half Caste (poem)
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Half Caste is a poem by John Agard, a Caribbean writer written in a combination of standard English and Caribbean and creole forms, which challenges the reader to reconsider their perceptions of mixed race identities. To an extent the poem seems autobiographical in that Agard himself is of dual-heritage, having a Portuguese mother and a black father.
John Agard wrote "this is not as an opposition of half, half, half on a person's total human complexity implies that some sort of 'purity' has been subverted. A child of mixed race is a tangible, loving expression of human beings from different cultural backgrounds getting together - that should be seen not as something threatening, but as something enriching..."
The poem is not written in any particular form, but consists of a monologue, in which the speaker's shifts between Standard English and a form of Caribbean creole. The "yu" which runs throughout the poem appears to be directed at the reader, whose assumed prejudices towards people of mixed-race descent, and in particular the belief that "purity" is superior to heterogeneity, are critiqued and ultimately shown to be fallacious. Agard explores this idea through a series of apparently lighthearted images, all of which in some way appeal to the cultural pretensions of a (white) reader who views a "half-caste" person as in some way inferior to themselves. He offers, for example, the analogy of English weather, a Tchaikovsky symphony and paintings by Picasso. In all three cases he argues that it is the heterogeneity of the images that lend them their peculiar force and cultural resonance.
In the second half of the poem Agard turns the "half" around to focus on the reader and how he, Agard, has been perceived in the past. His argument is, essentially, that people have only used part of their perceptive faculties, and, as such, he can only extend "half a hand" to them. It is, Agard believes, up to the reader to extend their own mode of seeing to be able to comprehend the meaning of a "half-caste" person, and only then will he "tell yu / de other half / of my story."
The poem is taken from Agard's 2005 collection of the same name, in which he explores a range of issues affecting black and mixed-race identity in the UK. Since 2002 the poem has been on the AQA GCSE English syllabus as part of the "Poems from Other Cultures" unit of work.
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