In summer 2020, as news flooded in about the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in the United States, people across the world voiced their anger and commitment to anti-racism. Large corporations ran advertising campaigns, museums posted anti-racism statements, sports players took the knee and individuals posted black squares on their Instagram feeds as a way of supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement. 6 months on, conversations may have quietened down but the fact still remains: racism against black people is still a major global issue. It is often easy to point fingers at other countries and dissect their racist structures, but we also need to reflect on Britain’s past and learn about our history to inform our present. These books look at British experiences, histories and the changes we need to make going forward to become an anti-racist society.
Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch
One of my favourite books by one of my favourite writers, Brit(ish) covers personal experiences of growing up as a brown girl living in Britain. The blurb reads “You’re British. Your parents are British. Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British. So why do people keep asking where you’re from?” As someone who has been asked this question on innumerable occasions, I was instantly drawn in. Like the author, I am mixed race; one set of grandparents are Caribbean, the others’ Irish but both my parents were brought up in Britain. Hirsch talks about the complexities of being half black, half white and people’s associations with both of these. I feel such an affiliation with this concept and the difficulties associated with manoeuvring the two ‘identities’. Afua also introduces events and issues that are often left out of British history lessons for example Britain’s active role in the creation of the slave trade. Similarly, how the British Empire was founded is rarely discussed in history lessons or museums, warping people’s understanding of how Britain became so powerful. This book has been both affirming and eye-opening as I could relate to so many of Hirsch’s experiences but I also learnt so much about black history in the process. I think everyone could take valuable lessons from this.
The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla
Published in 2016, The Good Immigrant brings together 21 British BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) journalists, writers, artists and poets to discuss being BAME in Britain. Through these poignant, thought-provoking and often humorous essays, contributors give their perspective on what it’s like to be a first – third generation immigrant living in 21st Century Britain. With writers covering topics such as otherness, immigration, culture, discrimination and the concept of ‘home’, the book brings up lots of stories that I’m sure many people of colour can relate to. One of my favourite essays is contributed by Darren Chetty, a former primary school teacher who now teaches on the BA Education Studies course at UCL Institute of Education. In his essay he looks at the importance of having POC in books so that young people can see themselves reflected from early years. As a young girl, all of my favourite book characters were white: Lola Rose, Alice in Wonderland, My Naughty Little Sister. Chetty writes about how meaningful it is when children can read about people like themselves in books. They can imagine their own heritage, culture and lifestyles. And in turn, learn to write about themselves in the same powerful and descriptive ways in Literacy lessons.
Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
I genuinely cannot remember learning about any Black British people in school. Not in history lessons, or science or English or anywhere. I remember learning about Martin Luther-King and Rosa Parks in Black History Month at primary school but never about black people closer to home. This year, after lots of people asked me how they could become better educated on black history, I realised that I have very little knowledge about the role, treatment and successes of black people in British history. I bought this book as a way to educate myself mainly as a museum worker but also as a mixed-race person who knows very little about black history. The book explores the relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa and the Caribbean looking at the lives of black Briton’s from the Roman Empire to the present day; exploring history that is never taught in schools. From the role of black people in the World Wars and the Industrial Revolution to the Battle of Trafalgar and modern-day Britain we live in today. This year has really highlighted to many how white-washed the curriculum is and how as teachers, mentors, parents and communities, we need to start telling a more broad, transparent and diverse history. Having a better insight into those that helped to build Britain will hopefully lessen racism and heighten open-mindedness.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
When I worked at The British Museum, I attended a Black History Month event with Reni Eddo-Lodge as she spoke about this book. As a mixed-race person whose upbringing was defined more by my white family, teachers and school friends, I was both intrigued and confused about the book title. At the event, I remember Reni speaking heartily about white privilege, intersectional feminism, the eradication of black history and what it’s like to being a person of colour in Britain today. I left the lecture feeling mostly empowered but still slightly conflicted (mainly due to some of the remarks made by other attendees in response to my statement about the complexities I feel as a mixed-race woman). Skip to summer 2020 when ‘Black Lives Matter’ was the statement hitting headlines around the world. After weeks of reading articles, hearing influencers denounce racism on social media and seeing organisations passively announce that they’re ‘anti-racist’, I was emotionally drained. My DM’s were filled with colleagues, friends and social media followers asking for my advice about how they could educate themselves and do better. At first, I was glad people were trying to help but then I remembered what I took from Reni’s event. As a person of colour, it’s not my job to teach others about racism. It’s not my job to explain how the British justice system (and those who enforce it) is institutionally racist. It’s not my job to break down all the reasons why the National Curriculum should teach more black history. It’s not my job to divulge my experiences to prove that racism exists in this country. We need to flip the responsibility onto those who don’t experience racial discrimination, those who want to do better and even those who deny racism even exists. Being called on for these answers, because I’m brown, is emotionally exhausting. And this book summarises all of this in a way that is accessible, reasonable and powerful. Explaining my thoughts exactly but in words that I could never articulate.
Happy reading and growing!