Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Caribbean, Poetry

Half-caste symphony, half ear, half head, half foot

Via Poefrika

This poem has a special meaning for me as I grew up in Nigeria being called “half-caste” and always despised the word and refused to acknowledge the term. Even today I meet Nigerians who continue to use the term either as a way of describing themselves or others leaving me cringing. The poem makes a mockery of the term “half”,

“half head half ear, half foot…….”half-caste” “coloured” “mixed race” “quarter-caste” “yellow” “high yellow” “low yellow” “red” “mulatto”, “quadroon” – how about just plain simple “Black”!

Excuse me
standing on one leg
I’m half-caste

Explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when picasso
mix red an green
is a half-caste canvas/
explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when light an shadow
mix in de sky
is a half-caste weather/
well in dat case
england weather
nearly always half-caste
in fact some o dem cloud
half-caste till dem overcast
so spiteful dem dont want de sun pass
ah rass/
explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean tchaikovsky
sit down at dah piano
an mix a black key
wid a white key
is a half-caste symphony/

Explain yuself
wha yu mean
Ah listening to yu wid de keen
half of mih ear
Ah lookin at yu wid de keen
half of mih eye
and when I’m introduced to yu
I’m sure you’ll
why I offer yu half-a-hand
an when I sleep at night
I close half-a-eye
consequently when I dream
I dream half-a-dream
an when moon begin to glow
I half-caste human being
cast half-a-shadow
but yu must come back tomorrow
wid de whole of yu eye
an de whole of yu ear
an de whole of yu mind

an I will tell yu
de other half
of my story
© John Agard

Listen to John Agard read the poem



  1. then there is cafe-au-lait, nusu-nusu and zebra-striped: those who spend most time is distinguishing shades of colour are those who very vocally decry racism that affects themselves. Internalising the projections and in turn re-projecting it out. Classic but still so sad. and a hurtful alienation, an us and them category. Never used to include.

  2. Exactly, Sokari and L Kituyu. I have a feeling that everyone everywhere has their own special appellation for people of mixed blood. Mixed blood? Bi-racial? In Lesotho we used “coloured” or, more crudely, “bushy,” I suppose for the closeness of skin complexion with that of Bushmen. I must one day soon come up with a post exploring this.

    Thanks for posting

    Rethabiles last blog post..RSA xenophobia

  3. This is a good poem full of insight. Thanks for posting it. Really makes you think of the duality of life for many people.

  4. richard oshowole

    The term half caste has its rigins in the colonial and racist era and should be treated in the same way as odious terms from that era.

  5. This is the type of required learning in Nigeria, excellent poetry that reflects today. How much education will it take to refer to people without disrespecting their race and evaluating them according to the preconceptions of one’s own? We have this huge problem at home yet people claim racism abroad. But then look up to the sky and see how tiny our biosphere is in order to appreciate how insignificant we all are.

    Beutys last blog post..The Greed Game? The smart game!

  6. Comment by post author


    Beauty @ “We have this huge problem at home yet people claim racism abroad.” My brother and I experienced both almost simultaneously – on visits to England we would be called “nig nog” “sambo” “wog” and “paki” by the local kids then return home to Nigeria only to be called “half-caste” which is not just a “descriptive” but is loaded with notions of superior / inferior, exclusion etc. And yes I think these abuses have very long term effects on children’s psyche that continues in adulthood in one form or the other.

  7. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

    When I 1st came across this Maya Angelou quote about how hurtful people could be, it brought the type of sadness that begged the question. Which hurt you more? Those people or our people?

    Beautys last blog post..The Greed Game? The smart game!