Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire
This is a cross between a memoir and a history of black people in the UK. Akala is a hip-hop artist and a lecturer, who I must admit I only became aware of in recent months. He wrote this book a couple of years ago but it reads as though custom designed to speak to this current moment.
Akala begins with his own beginnings, including his mother’s efforts to ensure he was educated on race in the British Empire, and the history of Jamaica (where two of his grandparents moved to the UK from, as part of Windrush). He uses pop culture and news items from his own lifetime (which, as he’s only two years younger than me, were all familiar) to point out everyday racism and injustice.
In some ways his story sounds like a cliché. Despite early inclinations for academia, in his teens he looked to a career in football and then rap music. He was repeatedly harassed by police (and still is). He had friends and relatives who went to prison. Akala lays out the statistics at every juncture – how often black men (and boys) are stopped by police versus white men; how much more income a black family has to have to live in a “nice” neighbourhood than the white families around them. But by making it personal he can also include how it felt that first time he was stopped by the police for no reason other than being a young black man; how it felt to have a teacher so racist that they put him in the learning-difficulties group to stop him being “a smartypants”; what it was like the first time he witnessed street violence up close.