Natives Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire

Review From User :

First things first, I didn't know anything about this guy before the book was recommended to me by Mimi. I got most of the way through before it even occurred to me he might be somebody. Today, after writing most of this, I thought I had better listen to some of his music. I can't help it, I find rap just too repetitive and it all sounds too angry to me. One of the songs I listened to I literally couldn't understand what was being said at all. I'm not the audience for his music, I accept that.

Anyway, I'm definitely the audience for his book. This was excellent and similar to a lot of other books I've been reading lately about the hidden injuries of class. Perhaps the benefit of the injuries of race, taking a pretty negative view of the world, is that they are rarely hidden - they are constantly all too obvious and learnt far too young. What I liked most about this book was the highly personal way everything is discussed. This is not a detached look at the role played by race in British society, rather this is lived experience told in clean, clear sentences with the power of the experience itself leaving the reader reeling. I think it would be hard to come away from this book unaffected by the power of the glimpse it gives into a life of the 'racial other' in Britain today.

This also provides a history of racism, a history beyond the personal history of the author - but even better than this is that it also provides a debunking of the myths white Britain tells about itself, and all of the terribly nice white people who get praised for freeing black and brown people (you know, for example Wilberforce for ending the slave trade) and the ignoring and even vilifying black protest movements actually responsible for the change. Bob Geldof gets a well-deserved kicking at this point of the story too, and that can't be a bad thing.

I found the part of the book on the ANC and the betrayal that was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission a fascinating read, and something I'm going to have to read more about. As I will also have to read more about the Haitian revolution and how the nation has been forced to pay (in all senses) for that revolution ever since.

One of the things I go on and on about to people is the idea that our beliefs about how people will behave often work in two ways to undermine them and to turn them into the types of people our stereotypes themselves predict. Firstly, our low expectations mean that we do nothing that encourages them to surpass those low expectations - rather we find ways to ensure they will live down to our expectations. That is, in terms of education, for example, we only ever give them the easiest possible questions to answer and that means they are stopped from achieving before they have really started. The second part to this is that people themselves who we stereotype often assimilate our low expectations and then hold themselves to these same low expectations. So that there is research that has been conducted on very young children in working class schools that shows these children, again, at the very start of their 'educational journeys', already have decided that they are not smart enough to do well. That is, they have been crushed before they even start.

In this book the author gives a telling example about having been placed in a remedial class, despite him actually having the educational abilities to be at the top of his class - his dark skin the only thing his teacher could see and use to decide his 'abilities'. This isn't an isolated example - rather, it is nearly universal. The impact of stereotype threat has been documented for years. To me, it's most tragic aspect is not merely the negative and almost invariably wrong view a white teacher will have of the black or brown child, but also the negative view the child will almost invariably develop of themselves based on this stereotype. We create the monsters who haunt our nightmares only for them to then haunt our lives.

Read this.

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