Your parents are British.
Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British.
So why do people keep asking where you’re from?
We are a nation in denial about our imperial past and the racism that plagues our present. Brit(ish) is Afua Hirsch’s personal and provocative exploration of how this came to be – and an urgent call for change.
Yes! This is the book I’ve been longing to read. The American experience of race and identity seems to dominate both literature and the general discussion of such issues. Afua Hirsch captures the quintessentially British experience of our mangled approach to race.
It’s a deeply personal book – expertly straying between emotional autobiography and dispassionate statistics. That works brilliantly and drags the reader through some uncomfortable territory.
With books like this, I always find it hard to separate the experiences I think everyone has, with the racist experiences the author has. She recalls being nicknamed “Shaggy” after the only other black person her peers knew. I was called “Trent Darby” for a spell – after the only other “Terence” known to kids in my class. I don’t say this to make the experiences sound equivalent – but to point out that kids are equal opportunity bastards and will pick on anyone and anything. Her schoolmates were being racist – but they would have taken any cheap shot.
The quest for identity isn’t something I can relate to. I don’t know if that’s because I’m suffused in it or because I find it a suspicious concept. The book points out the brutality of the English culture being defined only in opposition to the change unfolding around it.
The book also skewers some of the self-serving myths around the UK’s tolerant past – and present. Overall, a compelling and timely read.