Book review: Natives by Akala

I have lived in Britain for a while, but I am still concerned by the way people born in this country think it is okay to tell me in the most polite way, that if I don’t like it I should leave. It shuts down debate and devalues a person at the same time. Akala’s book ‘Natives’ explores the wider implications of issues such as this.

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Akala uses personal experience to explore the consequences of race and class in Britain. The book uses historical examples of the strategy deployed by colonialists to dehumanise people of colour and those from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds so that exploitation became seamless. Of course the tools of colonialists are still prevalent all over the world and leveraged in ever more efficient ways. Capitalist structures would always pitch different constructed identities against one another (e.g. men vs women, black vs white, heterosexual vs gay) to obscure the real injustice of poverty.

I would say that Akala’s book is much harder reading than ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge, which I feel actually offers more in the way of explanation to White people. Akala’s book is pretty hard-hitting and confronts the myth of exceptional achievements by some black people head on. This is important as it is also a reflection of what capitalist structures do – put simply, if you are poor it is your fault, if you are routinely stopped and searched by the police it must be because you are in the wrong, if you question ‘authority’ just leave, if you have made it it must be because you worked hard. Fact is, most people work hard – but they are rarely lucky. Look at global labour – the majority of people in the poorest occupations who work the longest hours are women in Africa, Asia and so forth.

Akala himself escaped poverty but sees it not as proof of personal exceptionalism but rather as something that happened in the chaotic environment where injustices of race and class prevail. Why him and not someone else? Who knows.

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire is published by Hodder & Stoughton.

 

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