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Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire - By Akala



Natives is an accessible, eye-opening and engaging account of British denial with respect to the racist and classist legacy of empire. The book was published in 2019 and received renewed attention in May 2020 after the murder of an unarmed black man named George Floyd by a police officer in the United States.


Kingslee Daley, more commonly known by the stage name Akala, is a British rapper, scholar and activist, born and raised in London. Born to a Jamaican father and a Scottish mother, Akala recounts his experience growing up mixed-race in the 1980s. Akala’s grandparents were members of the Windrush generation who were invited to Britain by the British government to fill labour shortages in the aftermath of the second world war. His grandparents were British citizens who went to British schools in Jamaica and spoke English. Nevertheless, on arrival in the UK, they were treated as second-class citizens by the British public. Members of the Windrush generation were denied legal status and at least 83 of these individuals were wrongly deported by the British government.


Akala tells the tales of his youth, from difficult teachers to problems with the police. On one occasion, he was placed in a class for children with special educational needs, despite showing strong academic ability, because his teacher was not happy that a “brown boy” was excelling in class. Akala witnessed stabbings and was frequently stopped and searched by the police. I would highly recommend listening to the audiobook to hear Akala himself narrating these events.


But Natives is more than an autobiography. Akala uses his own experiences to illustrate his central argument: Britain is far from a meritocracy. In fact, a culture of racism impacts the educational performance of young black boys. Hence it is not the case that we all start from the same level and that hard work is a sufficient condition for success.


Akala’s writing style is almost poetic. He captures complex arguments in an engaging and enjoyable manner. But he remains sharp and analytical, defending his arguments with detailed research. Akala presents a convincing argument against British reluctance to engage with the realities of empire. Natives is an ideal choice for anyone seeking to gain an awareness of the impact of institutional racism in education and policing.


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