I’ve added a couple of books to my reading list recently. One is Black and British: A Forgotten History by award-winning historian and broadcaster David Olusoga, looks at Black British history and reveals the story of the long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa and the Caribbean. Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch – a writer, journalist, and author – explores the racism we see in Britain today.
While I’m not usually one for non-fiction – especially when it comes to serious topics such as race divides and racism – I decided to read these books (and potentially other similar books in the future) shortly after watching a clip of British Labour MP David Lammy on Question Time1.
The clip was from an episode that was filmed and aired not long after the death of George Floyd, a black American man who was killed by US police officers during an arrest. Lammy discussed Floyd’s death and the BlackLivesMatter (BLM) protests that were taking place at the time, as well as systemic racism and discrimination in the UK. Speaking about how to address racism, Lammy said that “the first thing is, all of us have to stop expecting black people to make the case for structural racism. Educate yourself”.
I really took Lammy’s words to heart, because I may be black, British, and living in Britain, but my understanding of issues of race and racism in this country is limited in some respects.
I have my direct experiences to reflect upon when considering how race and racism can affect people in Britain, and I know how people around me and people I see depicted in the media are affected. Additionally, I have a vague understanding of the institutionalised racism that exists in Britain.
The majority of the knowledge I have regarding race, racism, and the history of related issues pertains to the US. At school, I remember learning about slavery, the civil right movement, and people that were prominent in the movement. Excluding the brief mention of the slave trade triangle and Britain’s general role within it, I don’t remember learning much at all about the history of black people in this country, or about issues of race and racism as they exist in the country presently. And where current incidents are concerned, most of the racist or racially motivated incidents I hear about – like Floyd’s killing – occur in the US.
Listening to Lammy, I decided that I wanted to learn more about race, racism, and black history where Britain is concerned. (And though I don’t think watching that clip was the entire reason for my decision, I do think it served as a final push towards it.)
Lammy helped me start in this endeavour by mentioning a few authors who have written books that he thought could serve as a way to get the education he was referring to: “Afua Hirsch, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Akala, and others”.
After doing a brief bit of research into the authors and their works (some days or weeks after watching the Question Time clip), I ended up buying Hirsch’s Brit(ish) and Olusoga’s Black and British – which I stumbled upon whilst doing that research – based on what I was looking to learn and understand. The other works I discovered also seemed great, and relevant, but the two books I brought just happen to be where I decided to start.
I’ve already started reading Black and British and, even in the first couple of chapters, it has been pretty enlightening. Though it’s also been quite depressing – which is likely unavoidable given the topics at hand – I’m motivated to read on and learn more because I think another reason Lammy’s words hit home so hard because I easily recognised the truth of them.
Racism continues to be a fact of the world, and it’s going to keep being an issue if we don’t properly address it. And, to properly address it, we first have to recognise and understand it.
For me, issues as big as racism can intimidating and dejecting – it can make me feel quite powerless to consider a problem that is so persistent and prevalent – but I reckon reading these books is a good first step that will help me to expand my knowledge and better understand the bigger picture of the matter. And hopefully, as I learn more about the problem, I’ll feel better equipped to help combat it.
 The “clip” I was referring to can be found within a YouTube video at the following address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbWlgOtjLSs. The portion of the full video that I watched (on Facebook) and refer to in this post starts at about 00:40 and ends at about 03:49.