Reviews

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, by Akala

lukerik's review

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funny informative reflective fast-paced

4.0

If Zack de la Rocha were British and wrote a book. 

It’s a hard piece of writing to categorise. Political and personal and polemical. It’s almost like a personal work of sociology, properly referenced and with an interesting bibliography. Akala is obviously a very intelligent man with a finely tuned bullshit detector and a laser-like intellect that he turns on some very confusing issues. Thorough, precise, and sensible arguments and he never takes rhetorical shortcuts even when he’s angry. I didn’t agree with all his conclusions, but if we’re all going to agree we may as well give up and stop thinking now. A very thought-provoking book. I often found it sending my mind off at tangents so that reading it is almost like engaging in a dialogue. Also very funny at times. 

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stephanieg1992's review against another edition

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challenging informative reflective medium-paced

5.0

anja1's review against another edition

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challenging dark medium-paced

3.0

Some great discussion around class and race, especially useful for those just beginning to understand the complex relationship between them. 

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neelamds's review

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dark emotional informative reflective slow-paced

4.0

fixated_on_fiction's review

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5.0

I don’t really know where to start with this review, there’s just so much going on in my little head. One thing that I am sure of is that this book should be mandatory reading for every student across the nation.

Part auto biography and part (a much needed) black history lesson, this book really opened my eyes to the injustices and sever institutional racism that black people face in this world. I thought I was well educated in this topic (since the murder of George Floyd I’ve done a lot of research on the topic of racism in the uk), but I’m ashamed to say that many of the incidences discussed in this book, such as the New cross fire, I’d never even heard of. That’s partly my fault for not researching the topic as thoroughly as I could have, but also the education system’s fault for never even mentioning them to me. This needs to change.

Akala’s story really inspired me to do as much as I can to combat racial stereotypes and call out any act of racism, no matter how small it may seem, that i witness, and has helped me to truly understand my position in society as a white person, and how I can use that position to try and make a positive change.

I found that to really digest the information in this book I could only read it in small sections , but I think that allowed me to enjoy it more and gain more from it, as I was able to really understand what I was being told , without jumping onto the next section.

I’m so thankful to my teacher for lending me this inspiring and view changing book. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to diversify their reading habits and learn more about black history both in the uk and across the rest of the world, which quite frankly should be everyone.

lochanreads's review against another edition

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5.0

Natives is a non-fiction cum memoir book that looks critically at the state of lingering racism and racial inequality that continues to persist in the U.K despite the general attitude of ambivalence and denialism to these crippling issues that disproportionately affect the black British population.

This book is so necessary and valid! Akala speaks passionately but with just as much eloquence and authority on matters concerning anti-black sentiment in this country. This book particularly analyses the adverse implications of race and class, true to the title of the book, but personally, as a reader affected by not only race and class but gender as well, I would've loved a critical discussion on that last point, because he discuses everything else so seamlessly, it would've made me feel even more represented but I feel like I can't really critique the book on its absence of any concrete discussions about the ways in which black women have to navigate life in Britain because, this book does specify in the title what the general focus will be. But ultimately, Natives is a crucial book that anyone who claims to care about human rights should read.

danielsnipe's review against another edition

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informative

3.5

p_priya's review against another edition

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5.0

“Where we do discuss race in public, we have been trained to see racism – if we see it at all – as an issue of interpersonal morality. Good people are not racist, only bad people are. This neat binary is a great way of avoiding any real discussion at all.”

“we are trained to recognise the kinds of racism that tend to be engaged in by poorer people.”

“I was born into these currents, I did not create or invent them and I make no claims to objectivity. I find the whole idea that we can transcend our experiences; and take a totally unbiased look at the world to be totally ridiculous, yet that’s what many historians and academics claim to do. We are all influenced by what we are exposed to and experience; the best we can hope for is to try and be as fair as possible from within the bias inherent in existence.”

“The ‘stop making excuses’ clause is there to suggest that black people are not permitted to make use of the very same tools available to the rest of humanity to understand the shape of their communities today because their black skin and inferior culture are a sufficient explanation for any issues they might be having.”

“First, Britain never practised open white supremacy on domestic soil as it did in the colonies, so those of us who hail from the colonies have a different understanding of British racial governance, even if we were born here.”

“The teacher’s response was a characteristic mix of sarcasm, total dismissal and feigned concern. She declared to the whole class that we were having an official ‘be nice to Kingslee day’ or ‘BNTK day’ – yes, she did abbreviate it and even wrote it on the board in big capital letters – and that Kingslee would today be able to do and say anything he wanted without anyone speaking back in response. Of course, I understood what was happening and tried to stay silent that day, but she directed every question at me, insisting to the class that Kingslee had to be given the chance to answer first, as it was BNTK day today after all. I was ten years old.”

“In some cases, scholars were more willing to entertain the idea that aliens were responsible for African history than Africans!”

“despite Britain spending almost two centuries as the dominant transatlantic slave trader, with all the torture, rape and mass murder ... , despite Britain refusing to back abolition when other European powers had paved the way, despite Britain spending the 1790s warring to keep slavery intact all over the Caribbean, despite Britain trying to crush the only successful slave revolution in human history and then helping their French enemies attempt to do the same, despite Britain refusing to even recognise the first Caribbean state to abolish slavery, despite all of this, some ‘historians’, teachers and assorted nationalists are asking us all to believe the self-serving fairy tale that suddenly, in 1807 – just three years after Haitian independence – guided by William Wilberforce alone, Britain abolished slavery because it was ‘the right thing to do’.”

“To make the simple bald claim that Africans were docile or that they generally ‘sold their own people’, knowing that most West Africans of the time were not involved in slave trading at all, is like saying the English killed their own people when they invaded Ireland or fought the French, because today we see them all as white and European, and of course it’s not as if the English ruling class were treating their own people wonderfully during the period in question.”

“we identified with an idealised version of the island over and above the country that we had been born into – in fact, we identified with blackness over and above being British.”

“Britain, France and the USA had consistently blocked calls from the international community to impose an arms embargo on South Africa, even after the murder of schoolchildren and the banning of opposition political parties and groups; this is usually what the great powers call ‘supporting democracy abroad’.”

“It is one of history’s great ironies that the most extreme incarnation of white supremacy, the Nazis, did more to undermine white dominance, damage Western prestige and make space for ‘third world’ freedom struggles than any other force in the previous three centuries.”

“While black America’s particular racial history has produced a political tradition that cannot ... avoid centring the black–white dichotomy, it’s understandably hard to convince our Igbo homies that fled Biafra or those that fled the civil war in Sierra Leone that mighty whitey is the sole – or even in many cases the primary – issue. It’s notable that while black-American political scholarship has been grounded in critiquing race and white supremacy, continental African scholars and activists ... understand the legacies of colonialism and white supremacy ... have chosen ... to also focus their critiques on the failures, greed, corruption and murder of Africa’s own ruling elites.”

“Can we, the Caribbean and black-American descendants of racist chattel slavery who have been made ‘black’, tell the Yoruba people, of whom there are almost fifty million, that they must simply forgo their specific ethnic history of over 2000 years in favour of simplified black solidarity, simply because racism exists? Should Jamaican Rastas ignore the history of religious persecution, police brutality and class snobbery they have suffered in Jamaica, simply because ‘we are all black’?”

“Before we look at Brexit, I would like to make some obvious observations. By analysing the role that xenophobia and racism played in Brexit – a role much more ambiguous than in the election of Trump – I am not suggesting that everyone that voted leave is akin to the Grand Wizard of the KKK, nor that remain voters are a homogeneous group of revolutionary anti-racists. This should be so obvious it should hardly need stating, but given our national immaturity around discussions of race it perhaps does.”

“On 21 January 2017 the far-right parties of several major European countries met for the first time in the German city of Koblenz to outline their ‘vision for a Europe of freedom’ – I am entirely unsure who it is Europe is colonised by and needs to be free of, but again we see a clear articulation of a sense of victimhood.”

red_dog's review

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informative slow-paced

3.0

First of all, I should say "read this book". There is so much in it that is important both to how race has shaped the UK, and to how we should see ourselves as a post-imperial country, that everyone should engage with it (you're also sure to learn something: I, for one, knew nothing about Cuba's role in ending apartheid through its role in Angola). 

I do, however, have caveats (hence the 3 start review). On a personal level, and I don't know why this is the case, the extended biographical details left me a little cold. But that is just me (I felt the same with Mark Cocker's Crow Country - information about corvids? Bring it on! Details of your move to Norfolk? Hmm...), so feel free to ignore this criticism. But more generally, I found at times that despite the obvious passion and wide-ranging research that went into the book, it was quite a slog to get through some sections, with some judicious editing perhaps being needed to help enhance the conciseness of some of the arguments (I still have no idea what point chapter 4 was trying to make). But if you can get over that, it is a powerful book that will live in your consciousness for a long time. 

jawjarrr's review against another edition

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informative inspiring reflective medium-paced

4.0