12 Books White People Should Read in Preparation for Becoming a Minority in Britain
by Adam Elliott-Cooper & Ashok Kumar
14 May 2014
The demographics of Britain are changing. Research suggests that by 2025 a quarter of the British population will be from minoritised ethnic or racial groups, by the year 2040 that proportion will have risen to a third, and by 2066 white people will be a numerical minority. If the ‘white left’ wants to shake off its current label and move towards being simply known as ‘the left’, it first needs to do some reading. The white left often forgets that black and brown people are fully literate and able to impart a sophisticated analysis of capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy, complete with well thought-out and practical forms of resistance and alternatives to the current socio-political system. Here are 12 books that are relevant for the experience of black and brown people in the west.
1. A. Sivanandan – Catching History on the Wing.
As the co-founder of the renewed Institute of Race Relations, Sivanandan’s approach to anti-racism provides one of the most comprehensive overviews of Britain’s anti-racist struggle from the 1950s up until the 1980s. Sivanandan’s Marxism characterises class and race as inextricably bound, offering a clear departure from white economic reductionism – useful for when your white comrades squeal, “but.. but..what about claaaaassss?”
2. bell hooks – Ain’t I A Woman?
Don’t let all of bell hooks’ white fans make you think she’s not the real deal. Possibly the most well-known black feminist theorist, bell hooks’ intersectional black feminist thought critiques both the black freedom struggle in the US, and the white feminist movement. Hooks’ ‘loving critique’ interrogates imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy using carefully crafted analyses which artfully strike hard and fast without terrifying white people.
3. Kwame Ture and Charles V Hamilton – Black Power.
This book combines the practical experiences of organisers during the early stages of the US civil rights movement, with a thorough analysis of how modern state racism operates. A seminal text, it is the first to coin the term “institutional racism” and lays the praxical foundation for black thought and self-determination. The authors have no problem with terrifying white people.
4. Frantz Fanon – The Wretched of the Earth.
Considered the father of post-colonial thought, Fanon is a Caribbean writer who became heavily involved in the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria. Employing the intersections of psychoanalysis, political economy, anthropology and philosophy in addition to the practicalities of violent resistance to colonisation, Fanon remains an intellectual powerhouse who laid the foundations of the Black Panther Party, South Africa’s Abahlali baseMjondolo and liberation struggles as disparate as Palestine to Tamil Eelam, with continued relevance today. Useful to respond to common white comments like: “But what would Gandhi do?” or “Martin Luther King’s non-violence is so inspiring.”
5. C.L.R. James – The Black Jacobins.
If you enjoyed 12 Years a Slave or Django Unchained you probably won’t like C.L.R. James. Unlike these two Hollywood blockbusters, this is a book about collective resistance, international solidarity and the reshaping of the global intellectual landscape. Useful for anyone who thinks black people owe William Wilberforce a damn thing.
6. Patricia Hill Collins – From Black Power to Hip-Hop: Racism, Nationalism and Feminism.
Drawing the links between activism and popular culture, Hill Collins is an academic who provides some of the most detailed and thorough theoretical analyses of the intersections of power in the West. Check it out if you use the terms “sexism” and “rap music” interchangeably.
7. Arun Kundnani – The End of Tolerance: Racism in 21st Century Britain.
Another Institute of Race Relations veteran, Kundnani’s book provides a post 9/11 overview of British racism, marked by the rise of anti-Muslim racism and xenoracism. Useful for white people who say things like “But Islam isn’t a race.”
8. Carole Boyce Davies – Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones.
Claudia Jones is one of black Britain’s most celebrated activists. Although she never penned a book herself, she co-founded and edited a number of Black newspapers, in addition to co-founding the Notting Hill Carnival. Scholars believe she turns in her grave every August Bank Holiday weekend as the gentrified, corporatised and over-policed abomination of the same name takes place.
9. Eric Williams – Capitalism and Slavery.
Eric Williams flips the Marxist script on the emergence and development of capitalism and the role of enslaved Africans. Regarded as the seminal text on the creation of modern capitalism, Williams argues that enslavement and colonisation (rather than industrialisation) must be understood as the key driver in the establishment of modern capitalism.
10. Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow.
Global neoliberalism has created an economic environment in which labour in the West is now more surplus than ever– especially where black populations are concerned. But the prison industrial complex means these populations can be utilised for neoliberal capital, even if they are not directly productive. Alexander draws out exactly how this is taking place, and although somewhat US-centric, it is still hugely relevant this side of the Atlantic given the rise of private prisons in Britain and the fact that racialised minorities are 2.2% of the UK’s population but form 15% of the prison population: a disproportionality that is greater than in the United States. This book is useful for anyone who thinks the only “political prisoners” are the ones listed on the Amnesty International website.
11. Audre Lorde – Sister Outsider.
Poet, essayist, author and activist, Lorde’s bold and ground-breaking work interrogates the politics of the female body, sexuality and race in America. Lorde has a more critical approach to the fetishisation of the black female body which pollutes MTV et al. Employing a range of media, Lorde never shies away from expressing rage at the multiple oppressions at play in modern societies. Useful for white feminists who think Gloria Steinem and Victoria Coren have got it covered.
12. Edward Said – Orientalism.
Deconstructing how Europeans understand “the orient” (the world outside of Europe), Said’s analysis can be used to understand everything from Halal hysteria to Bono. More importantly, it tasks European thinkers with delving more deeply into the civil conflicts and socio-political violence in the Global South – often framed as being down to religious fundamentalism, the resource curse or worse still, “deep seated ethnic hatreds”. Useful if you want to understand why you’ve never bothered to read a book by a black person.
This list is by no means exhaustive, or even true to the realities of many black and brown people living in Britain today. See also the works of Arundhati Roy, Anandi Ramamurthy, W.E.B. Du Bois, Angela Davis, Kwame Nkrumah, Joy Degruy, Elaine Brown, Amilcar Cabral, Huey P Newton in addition to the many other black activist leaders who never got an opportunity to pen their thoughts and experiences.