Diary of a Lockdown, day 78: reading about race

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Is this a tipping point? After all the moments when people said “never again”: like after the 1981 riots, like after Cherry Groce, like after Stephen Lawrence, like after Grenfell… As the list goes on and on you realise that racism doesn’t sink as easily as a statue of a slave-trader under murky waters.

I’m taking my cue from black friends and commentators on how to support Black Lives Matters. How can we prevent this being just another moment that passes without real change? So we joined a (socially distanced) protest on Tooting Common on Saturday. Everyone wore masks and there was space to stay two metres apart for the 30 minutes we gathered. It was solemn and serious.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about the books that opened my eyes to the reality of racism, including my culture’s part in it. For what it’s worth, here’s my contribution to the reading lists many are now sharing.

Staying Power by Peter Fryer was a game-changer. After reading this history of black people in Britain some time in the late 1980s, I realised my school education had been a sham and history lessons had been a whitewash.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is an epic tale across many generations from slaves to their descendants and how the pain and trauma passes down from parent to child again and again.

Natives by Akala. British hip-hop artist expands from his personal experiences to a wide-ranging critique of British education, society and politics. The shocking fact that stayed with me from this was that even today black students receive better marks in exams when their papers are marked blind; teachers underscore their abilities.

British Poets: Benjamin Zephaniah, Jean Binta Breeze, Lemn Sissay, Patience Agbabi, Jackie Kay are all musical storytellers of their experiences in Britain. Jackie, Lemn and Patience in particular share the special insights of growing up as children of colour adopted into white families.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings or anything by Maya Angelou! I particularly love poems from her anthology And Still I Rise. Plus the classics by other African-American women: Alice Walker ‘s The Color Purple and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

British contemporary classic novels: Andrea LevySmall Island; Hanif KureishiMy Beautiful Laundrette; Monica AliBrick Lane; Alex WheatleyEast of Acre Lane

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie is a book I’ve read more recently – a compelling story about radicalisation in a British Muslim family.

Girl, Woman Other by Bernadine Everisto is a moving and generous telling of multiple interlocking stories of black British women over several generations that was co-winner of last year’s Booker Prize.

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge is the book that grew out of a blog about white people’s blindness to structural racism.

Auto-biographies of Malcolm X and Angela Davis.

I’d love to hear more recommendations…

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