The one sentence summary
Britain is a nation in denial about its imperial past and the racism that plagues the present.
WHAT THE BOOK SAYS
- This is written by a journalist and broadcaster whose (white) father is Jewish German and her (black) mother is from Ghana. She was brought up in Wimbledon and went to Oxford, before training to be a lawyer. She is married to black man called Sam, whose lineage coincidentally also goes back to Ghana. However his UK upbringing was much tougher in Tottenham, so they have regular discussions about race and privilege.
- The author struggles with race, identity and belonging, feeling strung between two worlds. In the UK people describe her as black and ask her The Question: where are you from? In Ghana, where she moved in an attempt to find her true place, she is described as white (obruni, literally “person across the cornfields”), or not really black. So she feels she doesn’t really belong anywhere – something often described as otherness.
- The exact meaning of identity has always been difficult to define. The author believes it encompasses two concepts: a personal set of characteristics that make up the individual, and a social set shared with others in a group creating a sense of belonging. Truths about her identity usually dawn on the author in a negative way – moving countries and places only to discover once again that she doesn’t belong.
- In theory, living with multiple heritage should be an asset, but at worst having multiple identities can feel like being helplessly adrift.
- In Britain, we are taught not to see race, and told that race does not matter, when in fact it should be openly discussed. We want to be post-racial, without ever having admitted how racial a society we have been.
- “The trouble with the British is that they don’t know their history because so much of it happened overseas.” Salman Rushdie
- Britain’s long term exploitation of foreign resources and its major part in the slave trade are often ignored or glossed over in education, instead focusing on British achievements and its role in the abolition of slavery – essentially leading to a nation in denial that lacks integrity. Ironically, the author discovers that she is descended from a slave trader.
- The English far right has found a new bogeyman in the Muslim community: religion has become the new race. Muslim is the new black. Triple oppression is being black, African and Muslim.
- When it comes to descriptions, the author is happy to be called black, or mixed race. She does not expect to be called coloured, half-caste or ‘bayme’.
POINTS TO CONSIDER AND DISCUSS
- The author says it’s not good enough to launch projects on ‘diversity’. We need to address the root causes.
- “I really hate the word diversity. It suggests something other… I have a different word: normalizing. I’m normalizing TV.” Shonda Rhimes, American screenwriter and producer.
- “There is a difference between diversity and integration. Diversity is where you have different people from different backgrounds living in an area. Integration is the extent to which different groups have a relationship with each other.” Chuka Umunna
- BAME is Black, Asian and minority ethnic. BME is black minority ethnic.
- POC is People Of Colour.
- MLE is Multicultural London English – a mixture with strong African and Caribbean influences.
- Microaggressions are small, often seemingly innocuous interactions that have a cumulative effect in unnerving black or mixed race people. A classic example is white people thinking that all blacks look the same.
- BMWW is Black Man White Woman, a particular sub genre in pornography, one of many stereotypes that reinforce images of black men as sexually dominating, aggressive and violent. This hyper-sexuality myth leads to more arrests, rape convictions and harassment for black men. Meanwhile black women are degraded by being regarded as hyper-sexual, but not beautiful.
- Corporate negro calculus is the manner in which companies carefully tend the number of non-white employees, never having too many or too few, and keeping them in predictable roles. Broadcasting has been a persistent offender.
- Anti-miscegenation Laws enforced racial segregation in marriages and sexual relations, making it illegal for blacks and whites to conjoin. Some remained in US states even up until 1967.
- Ideas of who is alien are constructed. Threatened identities don’t disappear – they fight back. This explains the rise in nationalist thinking in many countries where immigration is high, or even perceived to be high.
WHAT YOU HAVE TO WATCH
- Having posed the question: what’s the solution? the author doesn’t answer it. Described as an urgent call for change, the book is more of a complaint about the state of the nation. It is well written, but this makes it a dense read, often punctuated by long sections in which the author is so dismayed by events that it can be hard for the reader to follow the thread.