Over the past year, I’ve prioritised educating myself on race, racism, and anti-racism. Up until now, I’ve felt it’s been more important for me to listen, learn and read, rather than project my voice. Today though, I finally feel in a position to amplify the voices of the authors who have helped me and to share some of the books that have educated me.
This post took me a lot longer than planned as I had never intended for it to be just UK based. But upon googling books dedicated to sharing solely the UK experience of racism, I was shocked to find no blog posts compiling lists of these books which people could easily access. So I wanted to help fill that gap with this blog post and seek out UK only books to help understand my own country's role in racism - past and present - and hear stories from people in my country.
Unlike my previous blog post, “My Top 10 Favourite Black Lives Matter Books”, in this blog post I’ve included and delved further into Asian and Ethnic Minority groups too as I think it’s important to not leave any oppressed groups out of the discussion.
(Note: For those who struggle to read due to an illness such as M.E, I have added the number of pages each book contains, the audiobook length, and I have rated all the books on how hard they are to read – from “Easy”, to “Moderate”, to “Hard”. The ones which I have labeled “Easy” are generally the shorter books that are concise and to the point, while those I have labeled “hard” are the longer books with often some research in them. If you do not suffer from ill health or have no problems reading, you can ignore this! This is simply for those who struggle to read so they can know which books are easiest.)
*Please also note that some of my reviews of the books use extracts and sentences from the book's synopsis on Goodreads*
Bringing together 21 Black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – however many generations you’ve been here – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms. I loved the layers and complexity and intersectionality in this book. I listened to it via audiobook where each person read their own story which I always love. It was such a potent book for Britain and I wish this book had been compulsory for me to read in school. (Pages – 272. Audiobook length - 7 hours. Reading difficulty – Easy.)
2. “Brit(ish): Getting Under the Skin of Britain's Race Problems” by Afua Hirsch
Afua Hirsch is British. Her parents are British. She was raised, educated and socialised in Britain. Her partner, daughter, sister and the vast majority of her friends are British. So why is her identity and sense of belonging a subject of debate? The reason is simply because of the colour of her skin. I listened to this book via audio, which I nearly always recommend doing when the author themselves read it as it just adds another layer of connection and power when you get to hear the story from their own voice. I really loved this book and found the story-telling so powerful and read. It was such a good, every-day example of how, even middle-class Black women who attend Oxford University, experience racism in every form on a daily basis. (Pages – 465. Audiobook length - 12 hours. Reading difficulty – Medium.)
3. “Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire” by Akala
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. An absolutely brilliant book and the perfect balance of personal, zoomed in stories and broader facts. (Pages – 411. Audiobook length - 10 hours. Reading difficulty – Medium.)
4. “A Search for Belonging” by Michael Fuller (Originally published as "Kill the Black One First")
Similar to Lemn Sissay, Michael Fuller also grew up in care, and yet their experiences couldn't have been more polarised. However, that didn't, of course, mean racism wasn't a fundamental part of Michael's childhood, and it only seemed to exasperate as he got older. Michael would go on to become Britain's first ever black Chief Constable. Hoping to tackle injustice and create change from within, he joined the police force, but experienced racism and inequality. From colleagues shouting racist insults into his office, to the Brixton Riots where 'Kill the black one first!' was yelled from the crowds. I think this book is such an example of how much racism is rife within the police force, and how we cannot hope to tackle it through a colour-blind approach. (Pages – 320. Audiobook length - 9 hours. Reading difficulty – Easy.)
5. “It's Not About the Burqa” edited by Mariam Khan
I LOVED this book, and I do not say that lightly. It taught me so much, more than I had anticipated, and was a deep reminder of how much more learning I still have to do. Without realising what I had absorbed, I had ingrained stereotypes of Muslim Women - especially regarding the fashion industry - and this book woke me up to the media's and society continual Westernisation of Muslim Women. I think the thing I took away the most from this book was how many companies and agencies pride themselves on sticking Muslim women with a Hijab on the front cover, and yet don't involve Muslim women in the process of this portrayal, and instead project their own view as to what the modern Muslim woman should look like. It was a stark reminder that while the world acts like its become accepting of Muslim women, the actuality is, we've become accepting of an extreme and reflective of whiteness Muslim Women, rather than realising Muslim Women cannot be lumped together under one image, nor can we define the terms for what is acceptable and what isn't. I could go on about this book - maybe just go read it for yourself!! On a side note, I listened to the audiobook of this, and while not every author read their own chapter amazingly, it was a powerful thing to hear each women's voice telling her own story. (Pages – 272. Audiobook length - 7 hours. Reading difficulty – Easy.)
6. “Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India” by Shashi Tharoor
In this bold and incisive reassessment of colonialism, Tharoor exposes to devastating effect the inglorious reality of Britain's stained Indian legacy. The one thing I would say about this book is it's about bringing down the arguments made in defence by Britain for what they did to India, rather than a chronological unfolding of events. I was definitely hoping to read a book like the latter - going into the details of the India partition, so I'm on the look out for a book to fulfil this for me! But this book was still amazing and such an important read. It still baffles and shames me how Britain have managed to worm their way out of this humungous crime that happened in living memory. (Pages – 336. Audiobook length - 11 hours. Reading difficulty – Hard.)
7. “Black and British: A Forgotten History” by David Olusoga
I listened to this beautifully read 25 hour audiobook and loved it (in the way that you can “love” reading a heartbreaking book like this). It felt like a mirror of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, but of course, examining the British Black history instead of the American one. Just like stamped from the beginning, it felt like a huge “this is what really happened”. No glossing over facts, no covering up events or letters, just the pure, raw facts of Black history. And goodness, it completely opens your eyes and throws everything into perspective. It honestly makes you question everything you learnt in school and the image - especially us, the British - give out regarding our attitude to racism, but most especially to our relationship to slavery. We love to be the first to shout loud and proud we abolished it, and yet cover up the fact we started it. We feel we washed our hands of blood by signing a piece a paper when they had already been stained to begin with.
So much of this book makes me ashamed to be British, and not because of our history, but our attitude to our history. The covering of the things we did (and are still doing) to Black people, and the facading of facts to polish up our image instead of owning up to our major involvement and addressing how it is our duty to keep reversing the damage we have done to so many countries, lives, and people.
Reading this book, and educating yourself on the facts, is at least a start. Here’s to hoping this book is what kids will be reading at school for history.
Huge credit to David Olusoga for the massive undertaking of research and thought into this book! (Pages – 741. Audiobook length - 25 hours. Reading difficulty – Hard.)
8. “The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment” by Amelia Gentleman
I'm always conscious of when I include white authors in lists of anti-racism, as I feel non-white voices are the ones we should be amplifying. But at the same time, Amelia used - and uses - her voice to uncover and shed light and attention to the Windrush Betrayal, and so she is one of the best people to give us inside scope into how this happened and why it's been covered up for so long. This book almost reads like a dystopian novel, it's heartbreaking, infuriating, and damn right abusive that this happened within recent decades. While I haven't watched any of the documentaries that were released in honour of the Windrush Generation recent anniversary, there are many further resources which you can explore here. (Pages – 384. Audiobook length - 10 hours. Reading difficulty – Medium.)
9. “My Name is Why” by Lemn Sissay
At the age of seventeen, after a childhood in an adopted family followed by six years in care homes, Norman Greenwood was given his birth certificate. He learned that his real name was not Norman. It was Lemn Sissay. He was British and Ethiopian. And he learned that his mother had been pleading for his safe return to her since his birth. Here Sissay recounts his life story. It is a story of neglect and determination. Misfortune and hope. Cruelty and beauty. This story - especially of how young children of colour - were (and are) treated through social services is truly shocking, but so important to see in order to learn how best to improve the system. (Pages – 200. Audiobook length - 5 hours. Reading difficulty – Easy.)
10. “Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo
Girl Woman Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through the UK and the last hundred years. While the only fiction book in this blog post, it definitely feels worth mentioning here given it's focus on race, racism and identity throughout, as well as simply exploring multiple perspectives from Black people. It has huge intersectionality in it which I always love seeing too. I will say though that I struggled with the writing style of this book, and so I gave up on the paperback and switched to the audiobook which I enjoyed much more. (Pages – 453. Audiobook length - 11 hours. Reading difficulty – Medium.)
You might wonder why I haven't included "“Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge", but that's simply because I think that's the UK book everyone has heard of and I've already included it in my blog post, "My Top 10 Favourite Black Lives Matter Books – Education Series 1/4".
Extra Resources: The School That Tried to End Racism (Channel 4)
This brilliant and informative two part documentary channel 4 made was truly insightful and eye-opening. The school took part in the first trial in the UK of a three-week programme developed in the US to educate children about the existence and effects of unconscious racial bias towards and against different communities. It’s a sobering and instructive way of introducing the notion that white privilege.
The only thing I would say about the show is they should have made more emphasis on how it’s ongoing work, and because there’s so much institutional racism we need to therefore keep challenging our unconscious bias too otherwise we’ll fall back to where we were. Although it was great to see how it doesn’t take much to change and challenge our thoughts, because racism is everywhere we need to keep doing that to keep being anti-racist, it’s not just a 3 week exercise and they should have made that clearer at the end of the show.
Another documentary which is on my list to watch - recommended by my parents - is BBC's Panorama "Let's Talk About Race". BBC presenter Naga Munchetty discovers what race and racism mean in the UK today as she travels across the country.
2 thoughts on “My Top 10 Favourite UK Anti-Racism Books”
Hi Evie! Have you seen a documentary Medical Racism: The New Apartheid? I’ve come across it recently but haven’t seen it yet.
Hi Jana, no I haven’t! Thanks so much for the recommendation, I’ll check it out x