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SHORTLISTED FOR THE JAMES TAIT BLACK PRIZE | THE JHALAK PRIZE | THE BREAD AND ROSES AWARD & LONGLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL WRITING From the first time he was stopped and searched as a child, to the day he realised his mum was white, to his first encounters with racist teachers - race and class have shaped Akala's life and outlook. In this unique book he takes SHORTLISTED FOR THE JAMES TAIT BLACK PRIZE | THE JHALAK PRIZE | THE BREAD AND ROSES AWARD & LONGLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL WRITING From the first time he was stopped and searched as a child, to the day he realised his mum was white, to his first encounters with racist teachers - race and class have shaped Akala's life and outlook. In this unique book he takes his own experiences and widens them out to look at the social, historical and political factors that have left us where we are today. Covering everything from the police, education and identity to politics, sexual objectification and the far right, Natives speaks directly to British denial and squeamishness when it comes to confronting issues of race and class that are at the heart of the legacy of Britain's racialised empire. Natives is the searing modern polemic and Sunday Times bestseller from the BAFTA and MOBO award-winning musician and political commentator, Akala.


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SHORTLISTED FOR THE JAMES TAIT BLACK PRIZE | THE JHALAK PRIZE | THE BREAD AND ROSES AWARD & LONGLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL WRITING From the first time he was stopped and searched as a child, to the day he realised his mum was white, to his first encounters with racist teachers - race and class have shaped Akala's life and outlook. In this unique book he takes SHORTLISTED FOR THE JAMES TAIT BLACK PRIZE | THE JHALAK PRIZE | THE BREAD AND ROSES AWARD & LONGLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL WRITING From the first time he was stopped and searched as a child, to the day he realised his mum was white, to his first encounters with racist teachers - race and class have shaped Akala's life and outlook. In this unique book he takes his own experiences and widens them out to look at the social, historical and political factors that have left us where we are today. Covering everything from the police, education and identity to politics, sexual objectification and the far right, Natives speaks directly to British denial and squeamishness when it comes to confronting issues of race and class that are at the heart of the legacy of Britain's racialised empire. Natives is the searing modern polemic and Sunday Times bestseller from the BAFTA and MOBO award-winning musician and political commentator, Akala.

30 review for Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    First things first, I didn’t know anything about this guy before the book was recommended to me by Mimi. I got most of the way through before it even occurred to me he might be somebody. Today, after writing most of this, I thought I had better listen to some of his music. I can’t help it, I find rap just too repetitive and it all sounds too angry to me. One of the songs I listened to I literally couldn’t understand what was being said at all. I’m not the audience for his music, I accept that. An First things first, I didn’t know anything about this guy before the book was recommended to me by Mimi. I got most of the way through before it even occurred to me he might be somebody. Today, after writing most of this, I thought I had better listen to some of his music. I can’t help it, I find rap just too repetitive and it all sounds too angry to me. One of the songs I listened to I literally couldn’t understand what was being said at all. I’m not the audience for his music, I accept that. Anyway, I’m definitely the audience for his book. This was excellent and similar to a lot of other books I’ve been reading lately about the hidden injuries of class. Perhaps the benefit of the injuries of race, taking a pretty negative view of the world, is that they are rarely hidden – they are constantly all too obvious and learnt far too young. What I liked most about this book was the highly personal way everything is discussed. This is not a detached look at the role played by race in British society, rather this is lived experience told in clean, clear sentences with the power of the experience itself leaving the reader reeling. I think it would be hard to come away from this book unaffected by the power of the glimpse it gives into a life of the ‘racial other’ in Britain today. This also provides a history of racism, a history beyond the personal history of the author – but even better than this is that it also provides a debunking of the myths white Britain tells about itself, and all of the terribly nice white people who get praised for freeing black and brown people (you know, for example Wilberforce for ending the slave trade) and the ignoring and even vilifying black protest movements actually responsible for the change. Bob Geldof gets a well-deserved kicking at this point of the story too, and that can’t be a bad thing. I found the part of the book on the ANC and the betrayal that was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission a fascinating read, and something I’m going to have to read more about. As I will also have to read more about the Haitian revolution and how the nation has been forced to pay (in all senses) for that revolution ever since. One of the things I go on and on about to people is the idea that our beliefs about how people will behave often work in two ways to undermine them and to turn them into the types of people our stereotypes themselves predict. Firstly, our low expectations mean that we do nothing that encourages them to surpass those low expectations – rather we find ways to ensure they will live down to our expectations. That is, in terms of education, for example, we only ever give them the easiest possible questions to answer and that means they are stopped from achieving before they have really started. The second part to this is that people themselves who we stereotype often assimilate our low expectations and then hold themselves to these same low expectations. So that there is research that has been conducted on very young children in working class schools that shows these children, again, at the very start of their ‘educational journeys’, already have decided that they are not smart enough to do well. That is, they have been crushed before they even start. In this book the author gives a telling example about having been placed in a remedial class, despite him actually having the educational abilities to be at the top of his class – his dark skin the only thing his teacher could see and use to decide his ‘abilities’. This isn’t an isolated example – rather, it is nearly universal. The impact of stereotype threat has been documented for years. To me, it’s most tragic aspect is not merely the negative and almost invariably wrong view a white teacher will have of the black or brown child, but also the negative view the child will almost invariably develop of themselves based on this stereotype. We create the monsters who haunt our nightmares only for them to then haunt our lives. Read this.

  2. 4 out of 5

    K.J. Charles

    Absolutely outstanding, essential reading for anyone British or who wants to understand Britain. One of the most enlightening books I've ever read in its treatment of how race, class, colonialism and empire intersect, mainly in Britain but also across the world. It's in part a personal memoir, some of which is blood-boiling about the injustice and casual cruelty of teachers and the institutional bigotry that continues to underestimate black kids. (Akala was put in a special needs class basically Absolutely outstanding, essential reading for anyone British or who wants to understand Britain. One of the most enlightening books I've ever read in its treatment of how race, class, colonialism and empire intersect, mainly in Britain but also across the world. It's in part a personal memoir, some of which is blood-boiling about the injustice and casual cruelty of teachers and the institutional bigotry that continues to underestimate black kids. (Akala was put in a special needs class basically because of his skin. On the evidence of this book he has a brain the size of your actual planet.) This aspect is really well done, the personal testimony and anger anchoring the more general history, politics, and historiography. I keep seeing this called a polemic but I'm not sure that's fair. There is nothing controversial about what he's saying, unless you're a white supremacist or you don't want to confront the flagrant evidence of racism and specifically anti-blackness. And it's written with measure, calm, and understanding. It's not a war cry, it's a dissection (even if it leaves the reader wanting to burn everything down and start again). Probably the most readable political book I've ever read, and with so much to think about that I'm going to have to read it again to get it all in. I highlighted so many quotes my ereader crashed. If I had a criticism, it's that there's basically no reference to black women. It's about either black boys/young men, or general treatment. Maybe he felt that wasn't his to write, and no book can do everything, but I did notice the absence given that it wasn't specified as being about masculinity. So there's that. Still an amazing book, but not the only one you need, as if that were possible.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Asim Qureshi

    It is incredible how much knowledge Akala draws on to develop a very personal and compelling argument about race in the world today. It is not just about the story he tells, but the way he tells it. His humour, wit and sardonic tone throughout make this a very easy and engaging book to go through, even making me laugh out loud at times despite its dark subject matter. A must read for all.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I first came across Akala via this awesome track: Comedy, Tragedy, History, a wonderful twist on Shakespeare. Then I came across a review of ‘Natives’ in the Guardian (of course) and was immediately intrigued. This book is a moving account of growing up mixed-race in Britain and an incisive account of racism’s history in America and Europe which also asks wider questions about class, historiography, and politics. I learned a lot from it, notably about Cuba’s role in the fall of South African apa I first came across Akala via this awesome track: Comedy, Tragedy, History, a wonderful twist on Shakespeare. Then I came across a review of ‘Natives’ in the Guardian (of course) and was immediately intrigued. This book is a moving account of growing up mixed-race in Britain and an incisive account of racism’s history in America and Europe which also asks wider questions about class, historiography, and politics. I learned a lot from it, notably about Cuba’s role in the fall of South African apartheid which I’d had no idea about. Akala’s writing is erudite and clear, impassioned yet analytical, and his perspective is sadly an unusual one in contemporary non-fiction. He grew up poor in London and was treated shockingly badly at school by many of his teachers. That part of the book is especially horrifying in a very visceral way – a young child becoming aware that his teacher hates him just for the colour of his skin. Akala carefully explains how his life could easily have gone down a different, more violent path and invites the reader to empathise with young black boys who the media too often presents as violent threats: Accra in Ghana is obviously much poorer than London and the city faces many issues, yet teenagers stabbing each other over iPhones and postcodes is not one of them. I know for much of Britain it is easier to believe that there is a certain kind of boy that gets involved in that sort of stuff, that someone like me, an open exponent of education, could not possibly fall prey to such a mentality – if only things were so simple. The sense of hopelessness and fear felt during those formative years is so intense it is hard to even remember the sensation properly. The pressure to accumulate, the understanding that poverty is shameful, the double shame of being black and poor, the constant refrain of materialism coming from every facet of popular culture, the empty fridge, the disconnected electricity, the insecurity of being a tenant with eviction always just a few missed paycheques away, the stress and anger of your parents that trickles down far better than any capital accumulation, the naked injustices that you now know to be reality and the growing belief that one is indeed all of the negative stereotypes that the people in power say you are. The whole book is a systematic, brilliant unpicking of racism and white supremacy from a British perspective. Most (if not all) of the writing on race I’d previously read was by Americans (e.g. Ta-Nehisi Coates) and ‘Natives’ provides a thoughtful response to American claims about the UK being much less racist than the US. Akala points out that, apart from anything else, it is much harder to gauge racial tensions in a country you are visiting as an honoured guest than one you grew up in. The experiences of his family demonstrate that racism in Britain is different to that of the US and how it has evolved over time. The commentary on the British empire’s racist legacy is especially valuable, given how thoroughly Akala dismantles lazy and comfortable assumptions about that pervade popular culture. For example: The threat posed to some people’s entire sense of identity by and exhibition of human excellence inside a black body is an amount of fear, sideways admiration and contempt for another group of humans that I can’t even imagine being constantly burdened by. These seemingly odd responses to black excellence did not pop out of a vacuum, but rather stem from centuries of anti-black marketing in European literature, thought, philosophy and historiography. Take the ‘historians’ that claimed that Africans, unlike the rest of humanity, had no history, and thus when they found evidence of this supposedly absent history from ‘pre-colonial’ Africa – from the ruins of great Zimbabwe, to the manuscripts of Timbuktu, to the sublime metal art of Ife Ife and Benin – set about trying to look for a non-African source for these works. In some cases, scholars were more willing to entertain the idea that aliens were responsible for African history than Africans! This ‘intellectual’ trend was pioneered by those who took the conditions of enslaved people - that is people physically prevented from attaining an education – and decided that their perceptions of the intellectual aptitude of slaves represented the permanent and genetically pre-determined state of all black people. To smarter and more humane European thinkers, even during the nineteenth century, it was obvious that an enslaved person had very good and obvious motivations for hiding and/or playing down their intelligence, and that any technological gaps between Europe and West Africa were no more likely to be due to skin colour than the technological gaps that existed for centuries between olive-skinned Romans and the ‘white’ people to the north and west of them, or indeed between Song China and tenth-century Britain. And this on white saviour mythology around how slavery was made illegal in Britain: What does it say about this society that, after two centuries of being of the most successful human traffickers in history, the only historical figure to emerge from this entire episode as a household name is a parliamentary abolitionist? Even though the names of many of these human traffickers surround us on the streets and buildings bearing their names, stare back at us through the opulence of their country estates still standing as monuments to king sugar, and live on in the institutions and infrastructure built partly from their profits – insurance, modern banking, railways – none of their names have entered the national memory to anything like the degree that Wilberforce has. In fact, I sincerely doubt that most Brits could name a single soul involved with transatlantic slavery other than Wilberforce himself. The ability for collective, selective amnesia in the service of easing a nation’s cognitive dissonance is nowhere better exemplified than in the manner that most of Britain has chosen to remember transatlantic slavery in particular, and the British empire more generally. This is extremely true. I personally could not name any major figures in slave trading; everything I’ve read about Georgian and Victorian Britain carefully elided it or treated it as an impersonal abstraction. I learned vastly more about Britain’s role in the slave trade from The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, a history of the Haitian revolution. ‘Natives’ has inspired me to read more about the British empire’s destructiveness and hidden legacy. From the helpful bibliography at the end, Gott’s Britain's Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt looks very promising. This book also reminded me how few non-white faces I’ve seen in privileged spaces I’ve spent time in, like the University of Cambridge. If you’re white and want to think more deeply about how racism persists in the UK, this book is a very useful source. It's extremely readable and involving, giving you a great deal to consider. I highly recommend it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Elizabeth

    I wish I had a pocket-sized Akala to whip out whenever I hear someone talking ignorant ****, so that he can drop some knowledge on them!

  6. 5 out of 5

    ↠Ameerah↞

    "What happens once money no longer whitens? When whiteness is no longer a metaphor for power? When whiteness is no longer default? When Chinese or Indian actors can be ‘universal’ sex symbols in the way that Brad Pitt and George Clooney are thought to be? When the world’s leading economies are decidedly in Asia? Whiteness will have to find a totally new meaning." In short, read this book. "What happens once money no longer whitens? When whiteness is no longer a metaphor for power? When whiteness is no longer default? When Chinese or Indian actors can be ‘universal’ sex symbols in the way that Brad Pitt and George Clooney are thought to be? When the world’s leading economies are decidedly in Asia? Whiteness will have to find a totally new meaning." In short, read this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bellish

    Superb. This should be required reading for at least every white person in the UK in 2018. Akala dissects British culture and puts it firmly in its place in the world and in history. He mixes this in with accounts of his own life growing up in Camden in the 80s, from the moment he realised his mother was white, to "Linford's lunchbox". He shows us how thoroughly British society disadvantages black people, how it is does it, and why it does it. I couldn't help but be constantly impressed by his r Superb. This should be required reading for at least every white person in the UK in 2018. Akala dissects British culture and puts it firmly in its place in the world and in history. He mixes this in with accounts of his own life growing up in Camden in the 80s, from the moment he realised his mother was white, to "Linford's lunchbox". He shows us how thoroughly British society disadvantages black people, how it is does it, and why it does it. I couldn't help but be constantly impressed by his reasoning and depth of research. I learnt a lot about my country and about the world in general. (Sadly I have left it too long to write this review to include much detail, so just go and read it yourself.) I particularly enjoyed listening to this on audiobook as the author has fantastic compelling delivery. It is particularly effective when he is recounting something inexcusable abomination in the same level tones as he describes everything else: for him this is a fact of life as obvious as the sun in the sky, for some readers it is a shocking revelation. Nevertheless, I am going to grab the paperback when it comes out so that I can dip in for facts and read some of the references. I can see this being a go-to gift for friends in future also. Read it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard

    This book is about how the British class system interacts with and feeds off a long and complex relationship with empire and white supremacy, and how these social forces can manifest in and shape the life experience of a random child, born to a father radicalised as black and a mother radicalised as white, in early 1980s England. The above quote (at the end of the first chapter) summarises nicely the central premise of this book, which (as a number of reviewers here have commented) should be This book is about how the British class system interacts with and feeds off a long and complex relationship with empire and white supremacy, and how these social forces can manifest in and shape the life experience of a random child, born to a father radicalised as black and a mother radicalised as white, in early 1980s England. The above quote (at the end of the first chapter) summarises nicely the central premise of this book, which (as a number of reviewers here have commented) should be high on the TBR pile of any white British Goodreaders member. I am sure some people will find reasons not to read this book, or will object to its comments and interestingly and appropriately, before the rest of the book gets under way there is an “Interlude; A Guide to Denial” – a list of common counter arguments raised “when we attempt to discuss Britain’s racist history and reality with many people radicaised as white” and the author’s response. What I particularly enjoyed (if that is the correct word for a book which makes at times very uncomfortable reading) was the way in which the author interleaves two separate strands: a socio-economic examination of the origins, development and above all intersections of class, race and empire) and his own experiences growing up in the 1980 in North West London as the child of a British-Caribbean father and a Scottish/English mother. The mixing seemed particularly well judged to me – just when I was finding the research a little too theoretical; the author would bring it to life with his own experiences (for example of being repeatedly marginalised at school, or of years of police discrimination). And similarly when I found some of the biographical detail starting to lose my engagement (for example when it strays heavily into music or when, as a father of three daughters, I could not entirely relate to the 100% focus on the raising of boys) I appreciated the switch back to politics (for example on the full story of the abolition of slavery or a subtle and provocative section contrasting British views on Mandela both to views pre the “fall” of apartheid and to the treatment of Castro, despite the latter’s crucial role in opposing the South African regime). Some quotes: Class affects everything, even racism, but in complex ways, and a phrase like “white privilege” is not an absolute but a trend, a verifiable factor in human history produced by the philosophy and practice of institutionalised white supremacy. If we want to fix the racial and economic disparities in the criminal justice system or at least reduce them, combat teenage gang violence, produce better educated children and create a generally better society, then the work starts in the primary school, not the prison. I have been, or at least felt, desperate and desperate people do desperate things. I’d rather live in a city and a society and a world where less desperation exists: this is as much common-sense self-preservation to me as it is “altruism’. Despite all the pretence about serving the people, and some of the genuinely good and difficult work police have to do ….. the police are primarily enforcers or the state and the state of things as they are.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Carlos Martinez

    ‘Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’ is at once a memoir, a detailed sociological investigation of racism, and a whistle-stop tour of global politics from London to Beijing, with stops at Johannesburg, Kingston, Havana, Glasgow, New York, Hanoi, Bahia and Harare. We get an engaging and nuanced analysis of several themes, including the state of British culture, the historical function of racial superiority theories, the legacy of colonialism, the pernicious racism that can be found th ‘Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’ is at once a memoir, a detailed sociological investigation of racism, and a whistle-stop tour of global politics from London to Beijing, with stops at Johannesburg, Kingston, Havana, Glasgow, New York, Hanoi, Bahia and Harare. We get an engaging and nuanced analysis of several themes, including the state of British culture, the historical function of racial superiority theories, the legacy of colonialism, the pernicious racism that can be found throughout our media and education system, and the complex interplay between race and class. It constitutes a vital contribution to our understanding of modern society, and poses a challenge for us all to participate in interpreting the past and moulding the future. It deserves to be very widely read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kaitlin

    * I audiobooked this and I highly recommend that as the author read it and was excellent at getting his points across succinctly and in a super engaging way * This book is challenging, fantastic and thought-provoking. I went into reading this one straight after another book Black and British: A Forgotten History which was a long history of Britain's slave past. I found that one harrowing, but also a little disconnected from 'me' as it covers a long course of history and although it's a brilliant * I audiobooked this and I highly recommend that as the author read it and was excellent at getting his points across succinctly and in a super engaging way * This book is challenging, fantastic and thought-provoking. I went into reading this one straight after another book Black and British: A Forgotten History which was a long history of Britain's slave past. I found that one harrowing, but also a little disconnected from 'me' as it covers a long course of history and although it's a brilliant introduction, this book was a much more personal look at what it is to be 'native' and how 'race' is a construct built on the ideas of claiming power for yourself. The two books work very well read back-to-back as I had a much firmer knowledge on Black history in Britain after reading Black and British: A Forgotten History than I otherwise got taught in school, and I think this book was a wonderful continuation to explore those themes further and particularly with a modern outlook as the author is from London, and not much older than me. Akala is not a person I had heard of before buying this book, but I am now convinced he's doing some brilliant work across the UK and abroad to educate people on issues affecting minorities and especially Black minorities. His music is why he's well-known by many, but this book shows his passion for succeeding in a world which didn't help him, and his resilience in the face of some truly horrific moments, abuse, and racism he experienced in the UK. He's a 'success story' being a poor mixed child, and yet going on to become recognised and be able to afford things he couldn't have as a child, but he's an exception to a rule and many aren't anywhere near as fortunate as him. This book explored so many things I didn't know about, to my shame. I am 25 and have always lived in the UK, not too far from London, and yet NONE of this has every affected me. The moments that Akala raises are shocking to me, a white young woman, and also completely eye-opening. Not having lived in London, but rather a home county outside of it, I haven't had as much multi-cultural experience as a Londoner would have, but I know that there's an awful lot more I SHOULD have heard about or known about mentioned here that completely bypassed me either because the news is skewed, or because of my own obliviousness. Akala explores many of the roots of British Colonialism and the effects it still has today, but he also explores other parts of the world and talks about their dominance or sufferance under British rule. His points are excellently recounted, and really challenge you as a reader who never thought about it before, but he weaves his own personal story in too which adds credence and depth to everything. If you want to learn about British culture (both good and bad) and face up to your own obliviousness about issues of race in the UK, then I highly recommend this. It's a 5-star read and definitely a must read for anyone in the UK but even beyond I believe you will get a lot from this book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bridget

    This made me sad, it made me angry, it changed the way I think about things and I may have to go back and listen to parts of it again. Akala is coming to Dunedin as part of the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival, I'm a trustee and try to read the books prior to the writers arriving. This was an unexpected read for me. I didn't really know much about Akala prior to him being booked for our festival but I'm so pleased that I have learned some more about this interesting person. He is articulate, This made me sad, it made me angry, it changed the way I think about things and I may have to go back and listen to parts of it again. Akala is coming to Dunedin as part of the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival, I'm a trustee and try to read the books prior to the writers arriving. This was an unexpected read for me. I didn't really know much about Akala prior to him being booked for our festival but I'm so pleased that I have learned some more about this interesting person. He is articulate, clever and outraged. Some of my favourite characteristics in a person. Read this book to find out about the shocking education disparities in the English education system, to find out about how it wasn't really Wilberforce who stopped slavery in England. Find out about the role of Cuba in the end of apartheid in South Africa. Find out why children of those born in the 1980s to black parents are more likely to have lives full of struggle in their future. You will be outraged, frightened for the future, angry that some of this stuff also applies in your own country. I'm very much looking forward to hearing Akala speak when he is here. I heartily recommend this book to anybody interested in race relations, education of poor black kids, injustice which is all pervading, all this through the eyes of the author and his stories of life growing up poor in London in the 1980s. Very very good.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    A rapper’s journey to adulthood, armed with emancipatory histories… Preamble: --Diaspora: coming from an educated immigrant family, my awareness of this personal perspective varies. The reason the global division of labor (and thus global capitalism, or just capitalism) is such a compelling subject for me should be obvious; it has completely changed my life’s path on a visceral level. For parents to migrate in search of a better standard of living, and sacrifice their own social roots as well as A rapper’s journey to adulthood, armed with emancipatory histories… Preamble: --Diaspora: coming from an educated immigrant family, my awareness of this personal perspective varies. The reason the global division of labor (and thus global capitalism, or just capitalism) is such a compelling subject for me should be obvious; it has completely changed my life’s path on a visceral level. For parents to migrate in search of a better standard of living, and sacrifice their own social roots as well as their cultural connection with their future generations (who will mostly be educated by a new society) conjures many questions… --My main social researcher inspiration Vijay Prashad has written an academic analysis of the contradictions experienced by immigrants accepted for their education (The Karma Of Brown Folk). However, I’ve avoid this academic work because to me this is one of those topics that an autobiography format by a talented writer can bring to life. Enter Akala. --Music: I got into Akala’s rap very late, when my general understanding of capitalism and its relations with global labor/imperialism have already taken shape. Prior to this, my teenage music was submerged in rock/metal. Vampiric long-haired dudes composing dissonant wails and percussive clashes. While this soundscape remains a comfort, I grew out of the lyrical content. There’s only so much you can fit into the lyricism of the verse/chorus/verse format, and I peaked quite early with Nirvana’s poetry. Tool’s Freudian musings were an enjoyable progression, but this still remained quite individualistic. It was System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine that opened up critiques on social issues, and it is not a coincidence that both relied on rap/rap-inspired verses to communicate their message. A bonus DVD in a Rage Against the Machine live performance package had an interview with Noam Chomsky. And while I had made little understanding of Chomsky’s mumblings in high school, I was later compelled to pick out Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance due to this name recognition; that book was in a sense the end of my childhood. …Musically, rap is repetitive; my interest is in rap's lyrical content. The initial barriers of best-selling consumerism/violence/bigotry slowed my explorations, and even my first go-to rapper (Immortal Technique) was plagued by the latter (at least in his delivery). Lowkey was the breakthrough, and through Lowkey I heard Akala’s “Fire in the Booth” performances: -Lowkey playlist: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLS... -Akala playlist: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLS... Highlights: --I avoid autobiographies that are strictly descriptive of an individual’s life events; I’m much more interested in how an individual builds their world views through the synthesis of their personal experiences with their intellectual explorations. --Akala does just this, giving himself plenty of time to elaborate on this process and his continued explorations with contradictions as he weaves in emancipatory histories and critical research with reflections of his childhood journey (interracial family in the 1980’s British working poor). ...I'm stingy with giving 5-star ratings (and diluting those truly life-changing reads), but this has to be the best autobiography I've read yet. Had I discovered Akala and read this earlier, this may have indeed been life-changing... --“Intellectual” is a good place to start. Here, I am referring to critical thinking. It so happens that much of the “intellectual classes” are incentivized to use their critical faculties to perpetuate status quo power. Mainstream history is predominantly written and re-written by the winners with all their intended and subconscious biases. And of course mainstream “opinion” is heavily constructed and limited by state/corporate propaganda, and only needs to be loosely based on “histories” to begin with. --Akala uses radical histories and social theories to reveal the contradictions of race and class, and how these social constructs have been used by power structures in varying scenarios throughout history. This includes the British empire, British working classes, US slavery, settler colonialism, the Caribbean, global South anti-colonialism (in particular South Africa and Cuba), and Trump/Brexit. Next Steps: --Akala makes great use of radical histories (some of which I still need to catch up on). --My main interest is to synthesize (a) radical histories with (b) radical theories (esp. political economy): 1) I started with a Western-centric approach to the former (“Western-centric” in that even critiques of Western imperialism often focuses on the actions and perspectives of the West) with Noam Chomsky/Howard Zinn/Chris Hedges. 2) I moved to a Western-centric approach to the latter (Yanis Varoufakis/Michael Hudson/David Harvey). 3) Now, I’m trying to bridge the two, with particular attention on adding more radical global South perspectives on histories (ex. Vijay Prashad) and economic theories (ex. Utsa Patnaik, Prabhat Patnaik, Amiya Kumar Bagchi).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    this was not an easy read, but an important one. I admire most about this book the tangents and the systematic unpicking of all sorts of arguments one hears about the conversations about race, privilege and “equal society”. And not just about Britain but about the reaches of empire and impact of Empire way past its expiry. I found this super interesting, instructing and it taught me a great deal. and I am left with this feeling of hope that this sudden surge of these types of books is not just a this was not an easy read, but an important one. I admire most about this book the tangents and the systematic unpicking of all sorts of arguments one hears about the conversations about race, privilege and “equal society”. And not just about Britain but about the reaches of empire and impact of Empire way past its expiry. I found this super interesting, instructing and it taught me a great deal. and I am left with this feeling of hope that this sudden surge of these types of books is not just a publishing trend but hopefully will lead to tons of change. Ask your librarians to stock these books. They are important.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kunal Thakker

    Akala seems to think that people who oppose his views either deny racism exists or that they don’t care about minorities (I’m ethnically Indian myself). This couldn’t be further from the truth. Of course racism still and, to a certain degree, will always exist. Black communities in the West do indeed have problems that need to be addressed but there is no evidence to suggest that in the 21st century these problems are due to rampant racism. In fact the Left’s solution of tearing down Western cul Akala seems to think that people who oppose his views either deny racism exists or that they don’t care about minorities (I’m ethnically Indian myself). This couldn’t be further from the truth. Of course racism still and, to a certain degree, will always exist. Black communities in the West do indeed have problems that need to be addressed but there is no evidence to suggest that in the 21st century these problems are due to rampant racism. In fact the Left’s solution of tearing down Western culture and enacting socialist policies does more harm than good. Black American conservatives such as Larry Elder and Candace Owens have extensively covered how, in the West, the dependency on welfare combined with the role of feminism in glorifying single motherhood has created a condition where the majority of black children grow up without any disciplinary father figure making them statistically more likely to commit crime, drop out of school, and have unprotected sex - which starts the cycle all over. Add in the psychological hurdle created from constantly being told that ‘no matter what you do a white man will always hold you back’, it paints a much more realistic picture of the problems that need to be addressed. I’ll give a hats off to Akala for his financial success. One of the defining features of capitalism, the system that facilitated his wealth yet he ironically rallies against in his praise of communist China, is that with a stellar work ethic and a market to sell to, anybody can rise from poverty to make something of themselves… even if what you’re selling is subjectively awful music or objectively weak arguments. Yes, of course, capitalism is not totally fair in that some may have to work harder than others but no other system provides equality of opportunity quite like capitalism - especially not socialism as proven by every example of it in action (Nordic countries are NOT socialist). It’s impossible for me to cover every criticism of this book so here are my main points. Akala Frequently Uses Political Terms He Does Not Understand Example: Political Correctness He claims that when a nurse said she’d give his mother ‘n***** blood’ that was an instance of being ‘politically incorrect’, implying that to be ‘politically correct’ is synonymous with being ‘not racist’ - in a way he views being ‘politically correct’ as simply having good manners. What the nurse said was indeed racist, but ‘political correctness’ is a sugar coated term to describe a narcissistic intolerance of opinions considered to be ‘incorrect’. The concept of ‘political correctness’ is a defining feature of every oppressive regime that has ever existed. Stalin and Mao would often send people who they deemed to be counter-revolutionary thinkers to camps in order to ‘correct’ their thinking. In free societies we may not agree with certain ideas but we show tolerance to even the most disgusting ones because it is better to defeat them with words than through bloodshed. It’s ironic then that Akala, who claims to be writing a book to highlight oppression in the West, displays an appetite for it himself when he later applauds the fact that ‘’political correctness’ has made it far more difficult for bigots to just say as they please without consequence.’ Example: Multiculturalism Akala implies at several points that multiculturalism simply means different races living in close proximity together. This is not what ‘multiculturalism’ is because it conflates the concept of ‘culture’ with ‘race’ - which are two very different things. One is to do with biology and the other with ideas. You can’t be white unless you’re white, but you can adhere to British values without being white. ‘Multiculturalism’ is the idea that immigrants should not be expected to assimilate to British cultural standards and values but instead retain their own value systems. The reason why most Brexiteers are opposed to this is because although ‘people’ can co-exist - certain values cannot as they contradict each other and can lead to conflict. For example, Western culture values ‘freedom of speech’, the right to speak your mind regardless of how deplorable your opinion may be considered to others, however, traditional Islamic cultures do not. Muhammad is regarded as most sacred in these cultures therefore criticism is not tolerated and violence is supposedly justified (of course, not all Muslims think like this!). When these two values collide, however, there is undoubtedly conflict as both sets of people seek to defend their values. To be against multiculturalism is to be in favour of having every individual on the same page on the most fundamental values of society, rather than having a society whereby different groups are entitled to different rights and held to different standards of morality. Where was this nuanced discussion from Akala? Akala NEVER Provides a Balanced Argument In the ‘Interlude’ section Akala tries to provide witty counter arguments to supposed criticisms from people who oppose his views, however he reduces all their arguments into one liners while countering with lengthy responses. Strangely he, himself, even mocks this approach in one of his points? “I can think of no better testament to the difficulties people have discussing race than this silly but often quoted one-liner.” I had to wonder if he is deliberately taking advantage of the fact that this book is aimed at people who already support his views and are therefore more likely to fall susceptible to confirmation bias and not notice the act of deception. In the interest of giving him the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume it’s more to do with the fact that his understanding of opposing viewpoints fail to go much further than clickbait headlines written by left-wing journalists. This is clear from all of the rhetorical questions scattered through the book that supposedly serve as a literary ‘mic drop’. In a balanced argument you would actually address these questions, first of all just out of curiosity for truth, but also that if you want to persuade others to change their opinion it’s generally a sign of respect to indicate you understand their point of view. To me it seems that Akala has written this book for people who already share his opinion in an attempt to stroke his own ego. Akala mocks: ‘You should be grateful that you have free speech’ Akala claims that being ‘grateful that your government does not kill, torture or imprison you for your criticisms is an extremely low bar for expectation.’ The fact that he thinks free speech is a ‘low bar’ is the clearest indicator that Akala has little understanding of history outside of the few convenient bits he’s pulled together for this book. For most of history, and even today, free speech serves as the exception not the norm because the ‘pen’ is, correctly, ‘mightier than the sword’. The reason why the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, the Kim Dynasty, Mao and today’s China under Jinping have not tolerated free speech is because every ruler, since the invention of language itself, has known that ‘ideas’ can recruit more members than any army, and therefore serve as the most dangerous threat to their power. Those in favour of censorship do so because they know that the truth will always trump the lie. The fact that Western societies, more or less (although increasingly less due to political correctness), are societies that value free speech is something that we indeed SHOULD be extremely grateful for as it is the product of centuries of sacrifice, and we should show gratitude for those sacrifices by fiercely protecting this fundamental principle of equality. An additional point on this is that Akala correctly points out that there are certain limitations to free speech such as copyright laws and incitement to violence. This is not a form of hypocrisy, as he suggests, but more that freedom of speech must still submit to the golden rule of Classical Liberalism which is that every individual is free to commit any action so long as it does not impede the freedom of another individual. Limiting free speech, therefore, is only justified in this context and this is why peaceful protests are lawful while rioting is not. Akala mocks: ‘You’re obsessed with identity politics’ and ‘You are trying to blame me for what my ancestors did.’ Again, Akala’s lack knowledge of political theory because he does not know what ‘identity politics’ is. He includes questions in the book like, ‘please explain to me how all politics is not in part ‘identity’ politics. Are ‘working class’ ‘Irish’, ‘Christian’, ‘Jewish’ and ‘Japanese’ not all identities?’ Leaving this as an open ended question implies that he has never heard nor bothered to research the answer to this question - because there is one. Identity politics is a term used to describe the notion that people should be treated differently based on the identity of the group they belong to rather than their character as an individual. It is essentially THE definition of racism and it is precisely what Martin Luther King Jr was campaigning against when he dreamt that his children, ‘will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.’ People who are opposed to identity politics are the people who care about individual liberty and equal rights to all citizens regardless of their group identity. Having pride in past national events (his example include the World Cup and the World Wars) do not restrict somebody else’s freedom. The golden rule of Western society is that you are free to do more or less whatever you please as long as it does not restrict the freedom of another. Akala doesn’t understand that it is within his right to have a negative opinion about the descendants of slave owners, but the line gets drawn when you want policies that affect them because of this past. The best example of this would be the call for reparations to the black community in the US. This would be deeply immoral because the descendants of slave owners have never owned slaves therefore would have never committed the crime they would be required to pay for. Akala mocks: ‘You just hate Britain, you are anti-British’ Akala once again dumb’s down a very complex argument. The complex criticism is three-fold. First, it relates to the concept of ‘moral relativism’, that supposedly all cultures are equal in their worth to civilisation. It is an objective truth that in a list of merits and failures of every culture known to man there is no culture that comes close to the advancement and flourishing of civilisation than Western culture. Other cultures indeed have contributed, notably Chinese, Japanese and the brief golden age of Islam, but Western culture overwhelmingly runs away with the list of accomplishments. Of course, the West has been accused of many horrendous crimes that Akala has compiled throughout the book, but these are not inherent features of Western culture and is more a reflection of what occurs when we deviate from the things that define our culture such as Greek philosophy, Roman rule of law, Enlightenment values such as freedom of speech, and when we move towards the traditions of other cultures. Overall the West has been a net-positive for mankind, more than any other culture. This doesn’t mean Western people should consider themselves superior to other people, but it does mean that its moral and legal framework is. There is reason why only countries with Western traditions have serious demands for immigration while countries that follow other traditions do not. The people in these other cultures dream of, and work their whole lives towards, moving to a culture that provides the level of freedom and prosperity available in the West. The idea of moral relativism is merely a silly, though brilliant, tool used by Marxists to divert people away from objective reality by claiming that the value of a culture is merely subjective. They make it so that culture is valued like art or music, rather than its utility for human flourishing. It takes a serious level of self-persuasion and disregard of reality to claim that Western culture is no better than a culture that practices the stoning of rape victims or the punishing of homosexuals by throwing them off rooftops. Third, the issue related to nationalism, which again, Akala proves to have no awareness of and does his best to turn the nationalist argument into a straw man. This is clear when he assumes that to be a nationalist you must the echo ‘the ‘‘blood and soil’ logic of the Nazis.’ This exact exaggeration is pointed out in a book called ‘A Gift for Treason’ by Daniel Jupp, where he laments about how he ‘came to realise that there are millions of people who consider the love of place, people and nation… as akin to the ‘blood and soil’ rhetoric of an actual Nazi.’ To be a nationalist comes down to two things. One is a sense of pride in your culture and the other is wanting your nation to succeed. When taken to the extremes, as with the fascism, it turns into arrogance and expansionism. This is more characteristic of EU internationalism than British or US nationalism (especially under Trump). Akala admits he has no pride in this nation, nor does he want it to succeed so when people ask him why he doesn’t leave, they’re not demanding he leaves and it’s not a racist question. They are simply wondering if somebody hates their country so much, surely it would make logical sense for them to find another country that they deem more suitable? Conclusion These are only my criticisms of the first two chapters but they effectively cover the general themes and ideas that Akala is presenting in the book. If I were to write a critique of every single misunderstanding, sign of manipulation or outright lie in this book - I would end up writing a book far longer that ‘Natives’ itself. I could have written a thousand words on how immoral it is to defend the Chinese government. Many on right accuse people like Akala of being a Marxist because of their tendencies towards identity politics and cultural revolution. This would be a mistake because it implies that Akala understands what Marxism actually is. To me, Akala seems more like what Vladimir Lenin would describe as a ‘useful idiot’. This is essentially somebody who doesn’t quite have a logical understanding of the cause but is emotionally charged enough to advance the cause. Akala’s greatest strength is his ability to perform as he’s made a living through convincing people he is an intellectual rather than by actually being an intellectual. To anybody who can think critically this book is nothing more than a rant that, were Akala not a B-list celebrity, would likely be assumed to have been written by a 15 year old on Facebook with access to Wikipedia, The Guardian and a thesaurus.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    This is a difficult book to read, if you are white. It forces you to confront with your own prejudices and to dig deep under expressions such as "black-on-black violence" that you most probably have somewhere in your mind as a category to (not) understand the news. Have you aver tried to frame the conflict in Northern Ireland, or the Mafia wars, as "white on white violence"? Of course, slavery is the beginning of the problems. And of course we all reject slavery (and have celebrated the end of a This is a difficult book to read, if you are white. It forces you to confront with your own prejudices and to dig deep under expressions such as "black-on-black violence" that you most probably have somewhere in your mind as a category to (not) understand the news. Have you aver tried to frame the conflict in Northern Ireland, or the Mafia wars, as "white on white violence"? Of course, slavery is the beginning of the problems. And of course we all reject slavery (and have celebrated the end of apartheid in South Africa). But do we know, and do we celebrate the many episodes of resistance against slavery? Do we know, that one out of ten ships full of human beings, was sabotaged by the victims who preferred death to slavery? One out of ten. Big commercial risk for the investors. That is, by the way, the beginning of the insurance industry, something we benefit today. So deep are the ramifications of racism, that we (white readers) are hardly aware and for this reason this book is a healthy reading. The liberal reader which is me cringes when confronted with structural racism in the judicial system (how many black judges there are in the UK? and how many black prisoners?). Akala constructs his book in form of autobiography, and opens each chapter with formational moments of his own education. At primary school he realises that black students are assumed to be lazy. And then he gives a chilling account of when and how the stereotype of black laziness was invented (yes, that is related to slavery). Thirteen years old, he is searched by the police for the first time. And then you read about the judicial system. Obviously, the structure of the book forces white reader, and white parents, to confront Akala's story with our own and to think with regret ands frustration of how many talents we are wasting because our racism does not allow minds and energies to contribute to our society. There are questionable parts in this book, and in the author's pan African ideology. I do not share his admiration for Fidel Castro. I do no salute with enthusiasm the triumph of Chinese capitalism over Europe. It is infuriating to be confronted with Akala's furore against Obama, or more generally those liberals who believe in the possibility of a non racist liberal democracy. But you do not have to agree with everything. Being exposed is what we need. And there is in evert single page an admirable honesty, e.g. in the account of the complex relations between Afro American and Afro British communities, which makes this book a necessary, if difficult, reading.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    I have had to leave this for a little while before writing any kind of review... so here goes. Akala is an intelligent, thoughtful and impassioned man who writes brilliantly of his experiences of race and poverty in the UK. As someone who grew up in a poor single parent family in the 1980s, I could certainly recognise many of the elements of this side to his stories. Many of the insights into race relations however were a depressing eye opener to how little we have moved on, his experiences at s I have had to leave this for a little while before writing any kind of review... so here goes. Akala is an intelligent, thoughtful and impassioned man who writes brilliantly of his experiences of race and poverty in the UK. As someone who grew up in a poor single parent family in the 1980s, I could certainly recognise many of the elements of this side to his stories. Many of the insights into race relations however were a depressing eye opener to how little we have moved on, his experiences at school were especially saddening. I hope more than anything, that 30 years on this situation has improved, although I worry that at times it has not. The portions about racial constructs as a learned behaviour were fascinating, as were the sections looking at anti-apartheid movements in the UK and Caribbean. In fact the vast majority of this book was both fascinating and very important. This is evidently a deeply personal book for the author, and this comes through the writing throughout the book. This is certainly something that I would encourage everyone wanting to understand British society to read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nawid Adelyar

    Akala gives a nice overview of his life growing up as a mixed race child and clearly outlines his difficulties in every day life and how that sculpted and shaped his worldview. It is clear that race in the UK does have an impact on our lives and those around us, though many may not realise this. This book gives a good account of problems concerning race in the UK and mentions some clear historical moments where racism was very evident in society yet nothing was done about it. This continues to ha Akala gives a nice overview of his life growing up as a mixed race child and clearly outlines his difficulties in every day life and how that sculpted and shaped his worldview. It is clear that race in the UK does have an impact on our lives and those around us, though many may not realise this. This book gives a good account of problems concerning race in the UK and mentions some clear historical moments where racism was very evident in society yet nothing was done about it. This continues to happen in today’s world and life is still unjust for many non-whites in the UK and across the world. An interesting book, but I did get bored halfway through and was looking forward to completing since it felt quite repetitive.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Inderjit Sanghera

    'Natives' mainly explores the history of Commonwealth citizens in modern Britain, with the primary focus being on those of a African of Afro-Caribbean origin as Akala slowly, patiently, yet quite thoroughly debunks the myths and misconceptions perpetuated by the various institutions, from the police to the education system, which perpetrate the insidious, yet pervasive, form of racism which has dominated the West. The crux of Akala's argument is that the concept of white supremacy is embedded wit 'Natives' mainly explores the history of Commonwealth citizens in modern Britain, with the primary focus being on those of a African of Afro-Caribbean origin as Akala slowly, patiently, yet quite thoroughly debunks the myths and misconceptions perpetuated by the various institutions, from the police to the education system, which perpetrate the insidious, yet pervasive, form of racism which has dominated the West. The crux of Akala's argument is that the concept of white supremacy is embedded within the psyche of not just the West, but the whole world. It may not be as ubiquitous or as visceral as it was in the past, but it is still there, lingering within the sub-conscious of both the oppressors and the oppressed.  This statement doesn't mean that all white people are, consciously or not, racist, it just that the institutions, systems and values which shape the world are geared towards white people, from the English school system which has in-built systemic racism against young black boys, to our media which all too portrays ethnic minorities in the most cloying or cliched ways. However, even more fundamental than this is their ownership of history and therefore the truth, with the horrors of imperialism being either hidden away (literally and figuratively) or ignored . So called proponents of humanism and liberty such as Kant and J.S Mill in fact only believed in equal rights for white men, with other races being classed as backwards savages, with the enlightenment used as an excuse for subjugation rather than benevolence, with altruism  masquerading as blithe self-interest, culminating in the spread of imperialism and the horrors of the Second World War. Nazi Germany was the inevitable conclusion of hundreds of years of Western imperialism. Akala's primary purpose, I think, is one of acknowledgement. Only by fully acknowledging their past and the racial inequality embedded within Western societies will we be able to take the first steps in trying to dismantle the system and institutional biases which deny so many people their most fundamental right: their sense of humanity. 

  19. 5 out of 5

    Peter Dray

    This was a sadly enlightening read, which makes sense of much of what we see in the areas of racism and ethnicity in the UK. I'm around the same age as Akala. Like Akala, I grew up in a multicultural part of London - I was the only white British person in my class at school, and the church that my Dad pastored was black-majority in its attendance. I am familiar with the kind of poverty Akala describes (my family too was below the poverty line). Today my family is relatively wealthy, and I am univ This was a sadly enlightening read, which makes sense of much of what we see in the areas of racism and ethnicity in the UK. I'm around the same age as Akala. Like Akala, I grew up in a multicultural part of London - I was the only white British person in my class at school, and the church that my Dad pastored was black-majority in its attendance. I am familiar with the kind of poverty Akala describes (my family too was below the poverty line). Today my family is relatively wealthy, and I am university educated. Sadly I doubt this is true of my others of my old classmates who had many hurdles to overcome that were never placed in my path. Akala skillfully shows that this unfair playing field has deep roots, going back to the time of trans-Atlantic slavery and the age of empire. And, by weaving his own story with broader theory, he shows the patterns of pain and injustice that many of us prefer not to see. So many things we take for granted and even celebrate today within British culture are built on these murky foundations, and reinforce patterns of injustice. Akala's story of his own education - and the state of schooling today - was especially eye-opening to me. I don't agree with everything in this book, especially Akala's broader geo-politics. I think his criticisms of Nelson Mandela are unwarranted. Mandela surely prevented a bloody civil war in the way he dealt with the leaders of apartheid in South Africa, and surely was playing a long game in reforming the nation more widely (more broadly, forgiveness and justice do not need to be seen as diametrically opposed). I don't share Akala's admiration for some of the world's most left-wing political administrations, whose record he describes very selectively. Nevertheless, understanding the deep roots to Britain's ethnic relations is essential if we are to experience true empathy for one another, and if we are to propose ways of proceding that are radical enough in scope. Akala points us in the right direction.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mark Hebden

    Knife crime is in the news a lot at the moment, understandably since the victims are all around us in every major city of the UK, the families mourn, the perpetrators get locked up, revenge must be gained and the cycle repeats. Also less mentioned in the news is the story of a teenager called Joy who has been missing since Boxing Day. The former, when such things are reported are portrayed as “black on black” violence while the latter was barely reported and the missing girl happens to be black; Knife crime is in the news a lot at the moment, understandably since the victims are all around us in every major city of the UK, the families mourn, the perpetrators get locked up, revenge must be gained and the cycle repeats. Also less mentioned in the news is the story of a teenager called Joy who has been missing since Boxing Day. The former, when such things are reported are portrayed as “black on black” violence while the latter was barely reported and the missing girl happens to be black; I found out about her when a grassroots campaign organised a Twitter storm to raise awareness about her status, and at the same time that Scotland Yard are talking about increasing funding yet again to the tragic case of Madeleine McCann. Both of these are examples of the racism that permeate our systems of power in this country, from the authorities to the media and then filtered down to the people below. Knife crime is not “black on black” as a universal and nor is a black person more likely to commit knife crime than a white person; the key indicators for knife crime are poverty, social exclusion, school expulsion and poor parenting. London, a very ethnically diverse city has plenty of examples of black people committing crime, as well as white people and we see black faces when the knife crime problem is being discussed, because our news outlets are London-focussed. In Glasgow, knife crime until recently was an even bigger problem than in London, and the vast majority of those carrying it out were white people but this was never racialised as “white on white” crime, nor are the overwhelming amounts of football hooliganism that occur every Saturday up and down the land. Glasgow addressed knife crime relatively successfully by treating it as a public health issue first and a criminal one second. Now, I haven’t had some epiphany and awakening recently on this, aside from reading this book which has made me think more deeply, particularly about the stories around us which concern race, even as a secondary subject. Akala for those that don’t know is a musician, in his first incarnation at any rate, but he is also a teacher, an academic, a writer and seemingly set to become one of our most important public intellectuals. His voice is special and almost unique in having made it through the societal filter since he can see important contemporary subjects from both sides, having had personal experience of the poverty-stricken side, and the scholarly, moneyed side in recent years. With this, his first major work, he takes us on a tour of racism in our apparently post-colonial society and how our history of conquest and conflict, often carved along racial lines, is at the heart of our current inability to place where we are in the modern world and what it means to be English, or British. Alongside this there is a partial biographical element which almost seems apologetic, as though it is somehow self-indulgent to discuss ones-self in conjunction with great themes of Empire, race and class, but these vignettes are vital as to why Akala is able to communicate to us the truth of our current condition. For instance we see how his racist high-school teacher who claimed that the “Ku Klux Klan stopped crime by killing black people” correlates with domestic policies in both the UK and the US, not through that becoming the modern way of doing things but how structuralised racism allowed that teacher to face no sanction just as global leaders who murder brown and black people on a massive scale overseas can also evade justice. There is naturally a critique of Trump and of Brexit as outliers of a far-right resurgence, in the US in response to Barack Obama’s election in 2008; some right wing groups cheered that victory knowing there would be a white supremacist backlash. Akala is at his most effective though when he holds up those subtle mirrors to the reader, even one who considers himself to be a left wing progressive like myself, and shows us the things we may have done before that we should really have questioned at the time. Now, I never read the Hunger Games (possible spoiler ahead) so this wasn’t aimed at me thankfully, but there is a character in the books who readers adore, they laughed with her, loved her and cried when she died and a significant number of the fans of that series were outraged when the character was cast as black in the film (despite the book early on mentioning her dark skin apparently); they loved this character so much that they could not conceive of having the same care, and the same level of mourning in death, for a black fictional character as they could for a white one and while subtle, that’s about as racist as you can be. Throughout the book we pay several visits to the US as well as Southern Africa, China, the Caribbean, Australia and Latin America to see how colonial attitudes persist but are also being constantly challenged and the book builds in to a question of how the Anglo-centric world is going to cope when it realises that its time as leader of the pack is over (Akala’s answer is not hopeful of avoiding serious conflict). While everything is pulled back to race and class there are other themes here that are tied into the legacies of colonial enterprise; why is it not common knowledge that the only significant military assistance the ANC received in their struggle against the evil of apartheid was from Cuba? Many people seem to think a few concerts were held in London and South African racism disappeared. Much of the work on Latin America here should be read through the prism of the ongoing coup in Venezuela, and how it is being cheer-led by every arm of the British media; but we’re all supposed to believe we’re post-colonial now. Throughout Akala is articulate, as he always is when he speaks and if he is coming to a town near you, go and see him and you’ll agree. His level of research and scholarship detailed in the select bibliography is deep and varied; he maintains a good sense of humour throughout, often breaking the literary equivalent of the fourth wall to address the reader directly. He knows when to throw in the stats to back the argument up and linguistically, for the most part, keeps things at a level that people can read which is important because for too long politics books have been written by and for the academic elite, as much as this is a worthy academic study of 21st Century British race relations, it is also a call to other working class people to get armed; not with knives or guns but with knowledge and to finally start challenging our structures of exploitation; so for a council estate lad like me who left school without any qualifications (although a confessed autodidact) it was easy to read and should be for anyone while it holds an academic rigour that many professional historians do not (I’m looking at you Niall Ferguson). If you want to be something don’t pick up a knife, pick up a book, preferably this one and to quote Akala from Fire in the Booth “read read read”.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anna Stephens

    Thoughtful, incredible well-researched and politically astute, this is an exemplary analysis of the state of Britain in the 21st century. I'm a few years older than Akala, and grew up white working class on the outskirts of Birmingham, while he grew up racialised black working-class in the heart of London. To say our experiences are dissimilar is an understatement despite the diversity of my home city. Seeing the same cultural events I grew up with recollected from his experience is more than ey Thoughtful, incredible well-researched and politically astute, this is an exemplary analysis of the state of Britain in the 21st century. I'm a few years older than Akala, and grew up white working class on the outskirts of Birmingham, while he grew up racialised black working-class in the heart of London. To say our experiences are dissimilar is an understatement despite the diversity of my home city. Seeing the same cultural events I grew up with recollected from his experience is more than eye-opening. To say my education about British history and colonialism is poor is an understatement. I learnt so much from this book and my non-fiction reading list is exploding. My previous non-fiction book on a similar subject was White Fragility, which is written from an American perspective, so to read something from a UK standpoint was incredibly informative and relatable. I honestly can't speak highly enough about the book or the author. The out and out lies that British historians and state-sanctioned media have told us about our own history - from abolishing slavery to Operation Legacy - are horrific and the fact Akala can write about them, debunk them, show us what actually happened with as little resignation or bitterness as he does is that mark of a truly objective author. I said with White Fragility that every white person should read that book. Well, you should read this book too, and particularly - especially - if you're British.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jonida

    A much needed filler for my ww2 and tudor-focussed history curriculum education.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eoin McGrath

    Akala draws on an impressive amount of knowledge and uses personal experience to create this outstanding book. It's clever, accessible, enlightening, and manages to be quite funny at times. Akala draws on an impressive amount of knowledge and uses personal experience to create this outstanding book. It's clever, accessible, enlightening, and manages to be quite funny at times.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nikki Mcgee

    There is so much to love about this book. It is on one level a “rags to riches” story in which Akala is very clear about his success but he manages to do this with some humility and a lot of self awareness. At first I found his self confidence a little jarring but I think that says more about me than him, it is actually refreshing. When recalling memories with key figures from his childhood he writes with a moving sense of nostalgia. Any parent who has battled to give their child the best start w There is so much to love about this book. It is on one level a “rags to riches” story in which Akala is very clear about his success but he manages to do this with some humility and a lot of self awareness. At first I found his self confidence a little jarring but I think that says more about me than him, it is actually refreshing. When recalling memories with key figures from his childhood he writes with a moving sense of nostalgia. Any parent who has battled to give their child the best start will be moved by the affection and pride he shows when writing about his mother. But this is mostly a polemic that challenges us. Whilst in some ways there was much about Akala’s life that felt familiar I was also struck by how we saw the same events In completely different ways. For example I can remember the Frank Bruno fight and the 2012 200m final but I actually missed so much. As a teacher I found the education sections hard to read and I was shocked that teachers would say or do such things. He challenges the assumptions widely held about black boys and education and tells some painful truths that need to be heard. There is also some humour is here, often when Akala is dealing with the myths people tell themselves so they can overlook racism. For example we did some awful stuff but we are not as bad as the Nazis - to which Akala replies “It’s true, but it’s a shit boast,” A definite must read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Annabelle

    Absolute must read for any person currently living in the Western world! We don’t deserve Akala, he is so on point In articulating some incredibly complex points here in a way no one else could, it manages to be both a personal memoir and a well written thesis, densely packed with (backed up!) information about class and race in Britain (& by extension Australia, USA, and South Africa). As a white passing person living in Australia, this has provided me with a strong start into gaining a truly n Absolute must read for any person currently living in the Western world! We don’t deserve Akala, he is so on point In articulating some incredibly complex points here in a way no one else could, it manages to be both a personal memoir and a well written thesis, densely packed with (backed up!) information about class and race in Britain (& by extension Australia, USA, and South Africa). As a white passing person living in Australia, this has provided me with a strong start into gaining a truly non-white centric understanding of modern western history, power and politics. I would recommend it to literally everyone as this couldn’t come at a more important time in Australia. THANK YOU AKALA BIG UP XXXX

  26. 4 out of 5

    Aisha

    I really enjoyed this and have recommended it to so many people. There isn't much written from a Caribbean black British perspective, and there was much to identify with, from the pan- African Saturday school to rememberings of events from the 80s and 90s. Akaka was a lot more woke than me, things he reflected on, like Linford's Lunchbox, I remember, but don't remember giving them anywhere close to his depth of thought. The mixture of history and systemic analysis with his personal reflections a I really enjoyed this and have recommended it to so many people. There isn't much written from a Caribbean black British perspective, and there was much to identify with, from the pan- African Saturday school to rememberings of events from the 80s and 90s. Akaka was a lot more woke than me, things he reflected on, like Linford's Lunchbox, I remember, but don't remember giving them anywhere close to his depth of thought. The mixture of history and systemic analysis with his personal reflections and history makes it particularly punchy. A great analysis of Britain and the currents of race, class and empire that still shape society today and yet are often left unexplored.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Incisive, nuanced and well-researched. Its point that the British are taught very little about this aspect of our history was demonstrated pretty starkly to me by how much I learned in just 350 pages. This book thoroughly dismantles the sanitised story about the Empire that Britain still clings to, as well as offering some very thought-provoking analysis on Brexit, Trump, and the West's attitude towards China. This is a fascinating read which I'll be thinking about for a long time after finishin Incisive, nuanced and well-researched. Its point that the British are taught very little about this aspect of our history was demonstrated pretty starkly to me by how much I learned in just 350 pages. This book thoroughly dismantles the sanitised story about the Empire that Britain still clings to, as well as offering some very thought-provoking analysis on Brexit, Trump, and the West's attitude towards China. This is a fascinating read which I'll be thinking about for a long time after finishing it; it's one of those books you know will lead you to reading a chain of others.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jack Greenwood

    There are some books that are just so readable its silly. I think simplicity when writing about race and class is essential to bettering our understanding of it. People often switch off when the language becomes too academic, and rightly so. Akala has one of those writing styles that draws on academic literature in abundance yet maintains a straight-talking Orwellian manner that makes his writing accessible to all. He draws on a wealth of personal experience to accurately detail a story that simp There are some books that are just so readable its silly. I think simplicity when writing about race and class is essential to bettering our understanding of it. People often switch off when the language becomes too academic, and rightly so. Akala has one of those writing styles that draws on academic literature in abundance yet maintains a straight-talking Orwellian manner that makes his writing accessible to all. He draws on a wealth of personal experience to accurately detail a story that simply could not be told by a white British person. He provides useful scripts for dispelling the myths that surround race, exposing the hypocrisy of those who make generalisations about one race yet accept no comment of similar implication about their own. The prevalence of black sprinters and the absurdity of the phrase ‘black-on-black crime’ are two that spring to mind. He poses some painful questions about the British schooling system with horrific tales of bullying or downright ignorant teachers obstructing his academic path. He also challenges the purpose of school itself, labelling the Birtish system a Victorian era paradigm guided by notions of discipline, obedience, and deference to ones betters. His respect for family, identity and cultural roots shine through and strengthen the authenticity of the message. I think the joy I get in reading this is from the promise of what Britain could be if it was a united population and the ruling elite were respectful of its inhabitants. He brings so much to the conversation on empire, race, class, repression and latent racism, and he exposes a national system marauding as something it is not; fair and equitable. It would be far easier to change these things if we could accept the deficiencies in our system as a nation. This is a sizzling synthesis of a culture that finds itself wandering in, and trying to make sense of, the ruins of empire.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Much is covered in this book, including an extensive history and analysis of the Black experience in Britain (as well as her colonies). Akala uses his own life experiences to show how 'race' and 'class' has been and continues to shape, even in the 21st Century, British society. This is one of those books I found hard to put down, and I would recommend it to others. Much is covered in this book, including an extensive history and analysis of the Black experience in Britain (as well as her colonies). Akala uses his own life experiences to show how 'race' and 'class' has been and continues to shape, even in the 21st Century, British society. This is one of those books I found hard to put down, and I would recommend it to others.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Immy Lucas

    Must read!!! If you studied British history at school it is most likely from a ver bias colonial perspective. This book offers you a different insight and is essential reading.

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