Angela Ozigbo and Chidinma Nwoka are both deep thinkers and fearless creatives.
They are advocates for positive social change.
And yet, both are only 14 and 16 years old, respectively.
Coming from Nigerian backgrounds, Angela and Chidinma attend Good Samaritan College, part of Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS).
They recently performed at the SCS annual ‘Eisteddfod’ performing arts showcase for students from the parent brand’s network of 147 schools, placing 1st (Chidinma) and 3rd (Angela) in the event’s first-ever ‘Slam Poetry’ category.
In this powerful piece, Chidinma and Angela speak about the brilliant capacity of spoken word poetry to refute ever-growing hate speech in our society, particularly for women of culturally diverse backgrounds, but also for those who feel voiceless, everywhere.
Chidinma: The Oxford dictionary defines hate speech as “abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice on the basis of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or similar grounds.”
Hate speech in its overt form is a huge issue and certainly deserves the attention it gets.
However, we also need to address its subtler manifestations through the presence of microaggressions.
Microaggressions are abusive as well as they are a carrier of prejudice. Oftentimes, this type of hate speech is perpetuated by people who would consider themselves progressive regarding racial matters.
It’s the ’empowering’ comments that believe me to be stronger and impenetrable due to my skin colour.
It’s the expression of surprise and praise and absolute felicitations regarding my ability to speak what is the national language of my country; a country you are not even sure I was born in.
It’s acting like speaking English is some great achievement or some symbol of distinguished intelligence (an intelligence that cannot be achieved in any other language, or accent for that matter) – and saying “congratulations” to the person who speaks it.
I believe slam poetry can be a powerful way to tackle this.
Poetry is an art, and with art, it’s all about expression. Spoken word can be a great tool for the expression of dilemmas regarding hate speech, and the exploration into the intricacies that accompany it.
It can be particularly useful for people struggling with ways to communicate their emotions and to assert their identity – and I’m so glad my school gave me the creative opportunity to do this, while giving me the platform to speak out.
Angela: I still remember experiencing the world as a happy child, then growing up and feeling ignored by wider society.
It’s the little comments.
“How do you do your hair like that?”
“You’re so exotic.”
“You speak English so well.”
“Why are you so loud? So aggressive.”
They would follow me around stores.
I get that I am different but I am sick of people touching me and looking at me like I am an alien.
When it came time to speak up, I felt bad. I doubted whether it was really a big deal. Why?
Because it is so normalised and common, it seems like nothing.
I can’t wear my hair in any way without people saying things like, “what did you do?” Forcing their opinions on me on how I should braid my hair, touching my hair and yanking, disregarding hours of perfection.
I am different but that does not mean treating me as some scientific experiment for your gain.
Poetry has served as a vehicle for social change and empowerment. It transcends language barriers and resonates deeply with emotions.
Through carefully chosen words and metaphors, poetry can expose the ugly ulterior motive of hate speech and its impact on women.
It provides a safe space for women to share their experiences, challenge stereotypes, and “break free” from oppressive systems.
I have written poetry since I was 10. It was a way to express my feelings that I did not have the strength to say out loud. Once I entered high school, it guided me to open up which led to me having opportunities that aid my future.
A key line in my Eisteddfod poem, Butterfly, is “addicted to trying, like it’s a medication,” and “You’re a slave to comparison, to chasing those highs like they’re a substance. You can consume every dictionary you own desperately trying to assign words to describe every indescribable feeling.”
In society, I’ve found that I have to look a certain way to be liked. It’s the light-skinned, blue eyes that are always chosen. Males sell their souls for even a glance from her.
Through the art of poetry, women can destroy stereotypes and defy societal expectations. They can challenge the narrow definitions of femininity and expose the fallacy of racial superiority.
By Chidinma and I embracing our identities and telling our stories, we hope to inspire others to do the same. We want to spark a ripple effect of change.
Poetry is an excellent tool for social transformation and dismantling the foundations of misogyny and racism.
Chidinma’s poem Break Free and Angela Ozigbo’s poem Butterfly, which won 1st and 3rd place at the Eisteddfod showcase, are both meaningful pieces of literature that pull at your heartstrings.
Both poets believe that by enabling young girls to express themselves verbally and creatively, we raise a future of strong women who will not be silenced.
Chidinma and Angela: Let’s foster an atmosphere where poetry thrives, women find comfort and power in their poetry, and hate speech is countered by the unyielding force of their voices.
Together, we can create a culture that values equality, celebrates variety, and uses poetry to put out the fires of hatred.
These two Nigerian Igbo girls refuse to be silenced and so should you.