• 5-minute read
  • 1st October 2020

5 Must-Read Books on Black History and Culture

October is Black History Month in the UK, so we’re looking at five books by Black authors that discuss history in a way that can help us understand current discussions about race in the UK and beyond.

1. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race was first published in 2017. It started with a 2014 blog post of the same name, which discussed race and racism in the UK, as well as why the people talking about it were not those affected by it.

In the book, Reni Eddo-Lodge expands on this idea. She looks at the erasure of Black history in the UK, covering the Atlantic slave trade, World War I and the 1981 riots. And by elaborating on history that isn’t taught in school, she sheds light on the systemic racism that exists in Britain today.

Having topped the UK non-fiction bestseller chart (the first book by a Black author to do so), this is a great place to start if you’re looking to learn about issues of race and racism.

2. England’s Other Countrymen: Blackness in Tudor Society

England's Other Countrymen: Blackness in Tudor Society by Onyeka Nubia
England’s Other Countrymen: Blackness in Tudor Society
(Nubia/Zed Books)

Onyeka Nubia specialises in the history of ethnicity and diversity in Britain. And in England’s Other Countrymen: Blackness in Tudor Society, he re-examines a period of British history that is often represented as entirely white.

However, through rigorous research, Nubia shows that there was a significant Black presence in Tudor Britain. We also learn that attitudes towards people of African descent in Tudor Britain were more pragmatic and accepting that you might expect.

Furthermore, by recovering this aspect of British history, the book also provides insight into modern ideas about race and society.

3. Black, Listed

Black, Listed by Jeffrey Boakye
Black, Listed
(Boakye/Dialogue Books)

In Black, Listed, Jeffrey Boakye looks at how Black people have been described throughout history, drawing on his own experiences of racism alongside historical analysis. The focus here is how language, history and popular culture have informed our ideas of Black identity. As part of this, it also challenges the ways in which Blackness has been defined.

In part, then, this book is a serious look at the history of Black British culture. But it is also an entertaining read that will make you laugh as well as think. And this may be why it made the Guardian, Financial Times and New Statesman ‘must-read’ lists in 2019.

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4. Afropean: Notes from Black Europe

Afropean: Notes from Black Europe by Johny Pitts
Afropean: Notes from Black Europe
(Pitts/Allen Lane)

Johny Pitts’ Afropean: Notes from Black Europe looks at Black identity in Europe and tells the story of the continent’s oft-overlooked Black history.

To this end, the author visits Black spaces in Europe and considers how an Afropean identity could be a uniting force. He also looks at European history from a Black perspective, such as Leopold II’s role in the mass murders that Belgian colonialists committed in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A powerful discussion of racial identity in Europe, Afropean was named as a ‘Best Book’ of 2019 by the Guardian, New Statesman and BBC History Magazine. It also won the Jhalak Prize for writers of colour.

5. Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire
(Akala/Two Roads)

Akala is an award-winning hip hop artist and activist whose first book, Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, was published in 2018. Part memoir, part history, it reflects on the author’s experiences of racism and the political history of Britain. In doing so, it confronts issues of institutionalised racism, race, and class in the UK.

Beyond this, Akala looks at racism elsewhere in the world. This takes in Imperial Japan, colonial British Hong Kong, and the Arab slave trade. And, by giving historical context, he shows us how modern social problems are often rooted in the past.

Why Have a Black History Month?

If you’re not ready to leap into the books above yet, try this article as a starting point. Written by Dr Nubia, the author of England’s Other Countrymen, it sets out why events like Black History Month are important.

Black history and the achievements of Black people have often been overlooked. When we forget our history like this, though, we can’t see how it affects modern society. Thus, to create a fairer world, we need to think about history. We need to know how it has shaped our ideas and institutions. And the books on this list all add to that conversation.

However, there are many more voices in this discussion. So, if we’ve missed an author or book you’d like to see listed, let us know in the comments. And if you’re writing anything for Black History Month and need to be sure it is error free, our proofreaders are ready to help.

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