Benjamin Zephaniah, a British activist and poet whose works were inspired by his Jamaican and Barbadian roots, has died at the age of 65. Zephaniah published his first collection of reggae-inspired dub poetry after he moved to London in 1979, tackling topics like racism and poverty. He was also one of the first poets to address the climate crisis. In 2003, Zephaniah refused the prestigious OBE award, which stands for Order of the British Empire. In an op-ed, he wrote, “no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.” In 2010, Zephaniah spoke to Democracy Now! just after he joined the British production of “The People Speak,” a people’s history of Britain inspired by the work of the late historian Howard Zinn.
Benjamin Zephaniah: “I didn’t know big words like 'democracy.' I didn’t know the difference between left or right or anything like that. I just knew I was suffering racism, I was suffering police brutality, our schools were run down, our houses were run down, and I wanted to speak about it. It was political, but I couldn’t spell the word 'politics.' I just wanted to talk about the conditions we lived in.”