In the wake of protests in the U.K., America, and many other countries after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police, demand for books and online resources outlining systemic racism has skyrocketed. And while police brutality and racism in the U.S. has been at the centre of these protests, the U.K. is not innocent in the oppression Black people face, and more of us than ever want to learn about Britain’s uncomfortable past.
As recommended by Black creatives, book clubs, and writers, we’ve compiled the following list of books on Black British history. From books dissecting the British Empire and colonialism, to an essay collection about the Windrush generation, these books provide context to the conversations surrounding racism and white privilege happening today. We’ve also covered the best anti-racist books, the best books about race for kids, and the best books for budding Black feminists. If you’re interested in supporting some U.K.-based, Black-owned businesses, we’ve compiled a list here.
Stemming from an article of the same name Eddo-Lodge wrote for the Guardian in 2017, Why I’m … looks at the history of Black Britons, from the U.K.’s role in colonialism and slavery to the myth of a meritocracy in modern-day Britain. Using her own experiences, alongside digestible historical context, Eddo-Lodge explores the problems with white feminism, the arguments surrounding affirmative action, and why Black British history is so often missing from school curricula. In the wake of a recent spike in sales for her book — which saw the writer become the first black British author to top the U.K. book charts — Eddo-Lodge has asked those buying her book to match the price they paid with a donation to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.
Rapper, writer, and public speaker Akala’s work has long been a driving force in challenging racist attitudes in the U.K. — from his lyrics to his many widely viewed videos, such as his Oxford Union address — but perhaps never more so than in his debut book, Natives. Partly a biography, Akala discusses his experience growing up in a mixed-race family and the education he received from a pan-African Saturday school as a child. The writer also dissects structural racism in Britain through institutions like the education system, the police, and politics.
Following the toppling of Edward Colston’s Bristol statue, conversations are currently flowing around the problems with memorialising racist figures from Britain’s past. So journalist Afua Hirsch’s debut book, Brit(ish), feels particularly topical. Born in Nigeria to a Ghanaian mother and a British father, before being raised in London, here Hirsch confronts Britain’s lesser-known violent history. She asks what it means for BAME people to constantly be questioned about their identity (“But where are you really from?”) through her own lived experiences. Through interviewing different groups of people, including members of the English Defence League, Hirsch encourages her readers to confront the ugliness of everything from the British Empire to the ways in which structural racism is still alive and well in the U.K.
Another book which takes a confrontational look at Britain’s past, Insurgent Empire — from academic and reader at Cambridge University, Priyamvada Gopal — charts a lesser-known historical timeline that explores those who radically opposed the British Empire. By introducing readers to anti-imperialists from the past, Gopal traces a history of decolonisation, the insurgents who spearheaded it, and how their legacies will live on.
Recommended by: @ThatNikkiBi.
Tracing an alternative map of Europe, Afropean takes Johny Pitts around the continent to explore what it means to be of African descent for people in different European countries. From a Cape Verdean shantytown on the outskirts of Lisbon to an area of Stockholm that’s 80 percent Muslim, Pitts aims to give a new voice to what he deems “Afropeans” like himself. Exploring the cultures that make up his own heritage, Pitts interviews a variety of people who make up “Afropea,” making for a wide-ranging, unique account of identity in Europe. Afropean was the winner of this year’s Jhalak prize, the literary award for BAME writers, which Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race has also been the recipient of.
Following a series of programmes with the BBC, historian and broadcaster David Olusoga published Black and British: A Forgotten History. The book was met with immediate acclaim, being longlisted for the Orwell Prize and shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize. By reexamining Britain’s history through a new lens, Olusoga draws on a range of research to explain Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, the Black Britons who fought for their country in World War II, and more. This is an essential read for anyone dissatisfied with the whitewashed history they may have learned in conventional education; Olusoga traces a direct and inextricable relationship between the British isles and the people of Africa and the Caribbean.
Beginning as a hashtag and Instagram challenge, Me and White Supremacy is a 28-day guide that encourages white people to confront structural racism and how they’ve benefited from it. Delving into subjects like tone policing, white fragility, colour blindness, and cultural appropriation, Saad incorporates historical context of systemic racism with her own experiences growing up in the U.K. as well as offering individual and collective ways in which white people can improve their allyship.
Recommended by: Maja Antoine-Onikoyi.
In 1948, a ship called HMT Empire Windrush brought 802 migrants from Caribbean countries to the U.K., after being encouraged by the British government to come to the country. In 2018, at least 83 of those known as the Windrush generation were betrayed by the same country that seemingly promised to welcome them with open arms; many of them were deported to countries where they had never set foot and did not know the language. In this collection of stories edited by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff — head of editorial at gal-dem — readers hear from members of the Windrush generation, their children, and grandchildren about their experiences in Britain. Contributors include David Lammy, Corinne Bailey-Rae, and Lenny Henry.
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