The ability for collective, selective amnesia in the service of easing a nation’s cognitive dissonance is nowhere better exemplified than in the manner that much of Britain has chosen to remember transatlantic slavery…and the British Empire
I have a lot of respect for Akala. He is a hip hop artist who has won at the MOBOs and BAFTAs, an educator, social entrepreneur, activist, and a public speaker. I’m surprised that he hadn’t already been published. But at 35 years old and growing every day as a respected intellectual, this book is right on time.
Natives is a part non-fiction exploration, part autobiography of the cultural impact of the British empire. He explores the historical erasure of what it did then and how through cultural trauma, it continues to wreak havoc today. He speaks in layman’s terms about the destruction the empire caused, how it played a part in the establishment of white supremacy and racial hierarchies, how class interacts with all this.
It is a mix of critical thinking, historical events, case studies and stories from his own formative years. Some of the historical events he includes you either didn’t know, forgot about or you are too young to remember e.g. the story of Linford’s Lunchbox – the hypersexualisation of the black man and ‘Operation Legacy’ which left me in shock.
With chapters such as ‘The Day I Realised My Mum Was White’, it is not a book that glosses over issues. In the space of a page, you can go from pure fury to chuckling out loud. He does this seamlessly. After all, racism, classism, and imperialism can be so ridiculous and so illogical that at the best of times, all you can do is laugh. However, Akalas not trying to be endearing or polite- why should he be? It’s just a brutally honest, unapologetic and witty take on the state of things as Black Brits see it.
This book is a call for Britain to wake up: to shake the cobwebs off our history, to understand that culture doesn’t happen in a vacuum, that events can’t be ignored because reverberations are often felt through time. It is a reminder that only those in privileged positions can get away with ignoring the past because those who are less so will always be haunted by it.