A half-caste is a person whose parents are from different races or ethnic backgrounds. It is word that used to be commonly used, but now it is regarded as insulting. John Agard’s poem examines the word, what it is supposed to mean and why people use it. The poem is really a performance poem. This means that it is a poem that is intended to be performed in front of an audience. Anyone who has seen John Agard perform his poem will remember that when he starts his performance he is actually standing on one leg. This, of course, creates a strange and confusing picture for the audience, but that is exactly what Agard wants to say about the word “half-caste”: it is a strange and confusing word.
Excuse me Standing on one leg I’m half-caste In this unusual way, it is almost as if the poet wants to draw attention to himself and the word at the same time in order to force us to re-consider what “half-caste” means. In lines 4-6, Agard begins an aggressive assault on what the reader may think he or she may mean when using the word “half-caste.” The tone of “Explain yuself” shows annoyance, even exasperation with people who use this word. He goes on, in the reminder of this verse, to explore three examples of where the word “half-caste” would be an inappropriate word to use to describe a mixture of things. He says that it is silly to use the word “half-caste” to describe the mix of colours that the Spanish painter Picasso used in his paintings or the mix of colours in the sky on a cloudy day. Also, the mixture of sounds in a symphony by the Russian composer Tchaikovsky would not, he says, be called “half-caste.”
The aggressive tone continues in the third verse (lines 31-37) with now a hint of sarcasm. Because the word “half-caste” suggests half a “human being” (line45) Agard says he waiting to listen to our answer to his request with “half of mih ear” and looking at us explaining ourselves with “half of mih eye.” Should he ever be introduced to us he would “offer yu half-a-hand” and so on: sleeping with “half-a-eye,” dreaming “half-a-dream” and throwing “half-a-shadow” on the wall in the light of the moon.
Agard finishes his poem by suggesting that the reader who uses the word “half-caste” is not really thinking fully about what he or she is doing: but you must come back tomorrow wid the whole of yu eye an de whole of yu ear an de whole of yu mind Agard suggests that we need to open all our senses and put our minds fully to getting rid of this offensive word in our language. People from other cultures and traditions deserve to be respected and understood – our society is enriched by them – and this the “other half/of my story” that Agard refers to at the very end of the poem.