Article published on January 24, 2018.
Afua Hirsche’s book provides an eye-opening insight into the complex issues surrounding national identity and race in Britain today.
Hirsche’s book is engaging and thought-provoking: it is filled with stories from her own family history and upbringing. Hirsch grew up in the white, wealthy area of Wimbledon, went to Oxford University, before becoming a Guardian Journalist. Her experiences of racism in her everyday life are quite shocking- I would strongly encourage anyone to read this book who believes Britain is no longer a racist nation.
Hirsch skilfully demonstrates how racism is so intrinsically embedded in our culture and the way in which we reflect upon our history. What is needed, is a more honest and truthful reflection of our own past. For example, whilst being taught about the slave trade is widespread, school children in the UK are not taught a fair and honest account of the abolition movement. Whilst William Wilberforce is celebrated as the figurehead of the abolition movement, many other black campaigners are forgotten in our national historical narrative. Additionally, Hirsch critically examines many things which we assume to be inherently good, such as ‘Black History Month’ in schools- why is it only one month? Surely ‘black history’ is everyone’s history, and should be taught throughout the entire year?
Also, in Brit(ish), Hirsch reflects upon the way in which black culture has influenced mainstream British culture, without being acknowledged. As well as exploring her own sense of ‘Britishness’, and the influences of her Ghanaian and Jewish grandparents, Hirsch also examines the treatment of immigrants in the post-Brexit context. She examines the way in which black bodies are sexualised and exploited, drawing shocking parallels with other historical periods. The picture she paints is not pretty, and certainly provides some food for thought.
If anything, I wish she had gone into more depth in some sections of the book. For example, an entire book could be dedicated to some of the individual chapters; I would love to hear more about her travels in Ghana, and the experiences of her friends growing up in and around Britain. Her writing is strongest when she is telling personal stories.
Overall, I found the book to be engaging and eye-opening. Rather than providing solid answers and solutions, Hirsch raises a lot of questions. Importantly, she makes the reader very aware of the ways in which racism, and the ‘othering’ of societal groups is dominant in 21st century Britain. We have a long way to go before we can achieve genuine equality.
EDWARD STANFORD SHORTLIST: RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR by Philip Hoare