During my undergraduate and master’s studies, I specialised in social movements looking closely at British Black Power and the Black Feminist Movement. I read a lot around the Black British experience, the legacy of colonialism, and the history of racism in the UK. I wanted to share a list of books that I used whilst researching so that anyone who wants to educate themselves on this topic has some recommendations. I know that I need to read more, both fiction and non-fiction, so that I can be a better ally so if you have any suggestions feel free to pop them in the comments below.
Quick disclaimer- The majority of these books focus heavily on Britain as this was the subject of my research and where I live. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the books I have read on this topic are either out of print, really hard to find in bookstores/ non-academic libraries, or are very expensive as they are academic texts. I have tried really hard to ensure the books listed are as accessible as possible so I have only included books that are widely available and less academic.
Peter Fryer- Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain and David Olusoga – Black and British.
I have lumped these two books together as they are both similar in that they provide the history of Black settlement in Britain from the Roman period to the present day covering medieval England, the Tudor court, the Black soldiers who fought at Trafalgar and in the trenches during WWI.
Staying Power was first published in 1984 and was a seminal work revealing Black British history did not start with the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush as most accounts prior to Fryer’s stated. In fact, Staying Power charted nearly two thousand years of Black British history which had been erased and overlooked.
I think David Olusoga’s Black and British is more accessible in terms of the writing style and it is more recent so draws on material not available to Fryer. I loved the way Olusoga zooms in on certain individuals which really brings the history to life.
Black Britain Chris Mullard
In this Black Britain, Chris Mullard draws upon his own personal experiences to document police brutality, institutional racism, the inadequacy of the school curriculum, and realities of the Black immigrant experience.
Although the book was published in 1973, it still resonates today. As seen in the US and UK police brutality is still evident, we (in Britain) still do not teach the history and legacy of colonialism, and racism is still an everyday reality in society.
Within the book, Mullard documents his first experiences of racism and how he comes to the realisation that he is not the same as his white classmates. The first few chapters detail Mullard’s own internal struggle to accept his identity as he comes to the realisation that he is not accepted as English due to his Black skin but equally he has also been shunned by the African community in London as he was born and raised in the UK.
The second half of the book gives more of a historical overview of racism, the Black immigrant experience, and Black political activism. However, as the book is very narrative the sources Mullard draws from are not always explicitly detailed.
The Heart of the Race, Black Women’s Lives in Britain.
In addition to documenting the day to day struggles of Black women in Britain including childcare, inadequate housing, poor working conditions, and healthcare provision, and hostile immigration policies, The Heart of the Race also documents the dual struggle faced by Black women- that of sexism and racism.
The book details how Black women took inspiration from Black Power movements and initially tried to organise themselves within these movements forming women’s groups to talk about the above issues. Yet, they were often accused of splitting the movement and had to contend with extremely sexist behaviour from the men in the wider movement. However, attempting to join the women’s liberation movement didn’t work out either.
Although first published in the 1980s, the book is extremely pertinent to discussions we are still having today i.e. the feminist movement not being intersectional enough.
Darcus Howe: A Political Biography by Robin Bunce and Paul Field.
Darcus Howe was a writer, campaigner and a leading figure in the British Black Power movement.
The book does give a lot of context and delves into the wider socio-political issues surrounding the events of Howe’s life. This biography uses the events of Howe’s life to open up the discussion into racism in the UK and explores the struggle for racial justice. The book charts Howe’s childhood in Trinidad, his first experiences of racism, and the development of Black Power in Britain and his role in the Black Eagles and British Black Panthers.
One of the main flashpoints of the book is the Mangrove Nine Trial. After the police targeted the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, Howe, and eight others were arrested for inciting a riot at a protest, Howe defended himself and the acquittal of the Mangrove nine exposed the racism within the Met police for all to see.
Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge.
I think this is the most digestible of the books in this post in that it is written for a very wide audience. You don’t need any prior knowledge as Reni Eddo-Lodge gives an overview of the history of racism in Britain. Although this history is not as comprehensive as Staying Power or Black and British the point of this book is not to provide the reader with an in-depth history lesson but to provide the context to the contemporary situation.
Reni Eddo-Lodge explores white privilege and how it plays out in everyday life, the issues with feminism obscuring issues pertaining to BAME women and the intersection of race and class. I think this is a really important starting point, especially if you are white and wondering what you can do to be a better ally as Eddo-Lodge has some suggestions.