Black in White: packing a powerful punch with poetry

The old saying that ‘words can never hurt me’ isn’t true. They can hurt, especially when used to spew racist abuse. But words can also inform, educate, heal, inspire and transform.

 This month a new book is being launched that will include poems about racism in the workplace and in childhood. It’s a collection of poems that’s been compiled by Charlotte Shyllon, the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Black in White, a company she set up two years ago when she published her first book of poems also called Black in White.


Charlotte is a communications consultant who also provides a range of equality, diversity and inclusion services. Raised as a diplomat’s daughter, she lived in a ‘privilege bubble’, not knowingly impacted by racism until she entered the world of work. She worked in the corporate world for more than 25 years, rising to the rank of Partner in a top 10 global communications consultancy. She was often the only, or the most senior, UK-based black person in the companies where she worked. Over the years, she encountered occasional incidents of racism and unconscious bias, and just accepted these as something that came with the territory.

Speaking up about racism

Then after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, feeling compelled to speak up about her previously ignored incidents of workplace racism, she wrote and published her first book with poems to relate some of her own experiences and those of others she had been told about or observed. “I use poems to narrate some of my experiences of racism in the workplace, in the hope that they provide insight and illumination to some of these issues,” said Charlotte. “Poetry can be an engaging means of sharing powerful content; it can pack a punch. It has been used to great effect by many brilliant poets over the centuries to deliver some difficult but important messages.”

Charlotte’s poems are written in a narrative style that makes them easy to consume and are highly relatable. Excerpts from two of her poems provide a glimpse into how she uses poetry to convey her messages:

Life for me is a daily fight!

I want those around me to see the light.

To see my skin colour is different, yes,

But being different doesn’t make me less.

(From Don’t belittle my battle)

I’m in a meeting at work, the only black attendee.

 It’s par for the course that no one else looks like me.

Then, in the background, behind my client I see

Another black person – the cleaning lady.

(From The cleaner, the security guard and me)

Airing other people’s stories

Black in White received a positive response when it was officially launched during an online event in May 2021. Inspired to continue to air stories about workplace racism, in June 2021 Charlotte launched a poetry competition to elicit poems about other people’s experiences. Black in White Community Collection was borne out of that. This is a compilation of Charlotte’s and other poets’ work that was launched in November 2021. The contributors’ voices can be heard loud and clear through their lived, and often painful, expressed experiences.

The Black in White poetry competition has now become an annual event, and earlier this year was extended to include a second category alongside workplace racism – childhood racism. “As the mother of a teenage daughter, the story of Child P broke my heart,” said Charlotte. “Racism is real and it’s institutionalised – and schools are no exception. Racism is based on ignorant views that are entrenched and persistent. We need to call out racism wherever it occurs.”

In keeping with the theme of childhood racism, Charlotte’s forthcoming book includes a poem she’s written about black history called ‘History is not My Story’. As can be seen in the excerpt below, she makes a heartfelt plea for change:

But black history is more than slavery,

There are lots of stories of our bravery.

There’s much in our past to celebrate.

Black heroes we should venerate.

Teach children how we fought in world wars,

Helped keep the enemies from our doors.

Tell them we didn’t just arrive on a boat;

We were invited to help keep Britain afloat.

Even as far back as Medieval days

We helped to shape the British ways.

Correct the prequel, to secure the sequel.

Let children know that we’re all equal.

* Join Charlotte Shyllon and the Black in White team at the launch of Black in White Community Collection Volume 2 on Saturday, 29th October from 4:30 to 8:30pm at the Conference Room, Barnet Council, 2 Bristol Avenue (opposite Barnet & Southgate College) London NW9 4EW.

Tickets cost £10 and are available from: or (free entry for children aged 12 and under).

All three books are available in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones and other leading online book retailers priced from £9.99 to £14.99.