#BHM ‘The different meaning of HMT Empire Windrush’ by Dr Daniel Renshaw

On a rainy June morning in the summer of 1948 a British troopship, itself requisitioned from the German navy during the Second World War, arrived at Tilbury docks in Essex, carrying a number of Polish ex-soldiers, some Jamaican pilots who had fought the RAF returning to duty after a period of rest in their home country, and a number of other passengers. There was nothing remarkable about this in of itself – the war has led to men and women in the various combatant armed forces being scattered across the globe, and ships like the HMT Empire Windrush were busy transporting them from one country to another. But the reception awaiting the Windrush, and the panic it had caused in Whitehall while it was still in the mid-Atlantic, was. Curious crowds were there at Tilbury, along with film crews. Meanwhile, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, and the Ministry of Labour were attempting to pass both blame and responsibility for the passengers disembarking onto the dockside to each other. The interest, and the anxiety, was occasioned by those passengers who were neither Polish volunteers or Jamaican airmen. These were several hundred economic migrants from the Caribbean, there to start a new life in Britain.

‘Windrush’ has come to take on a number of meanings in the discourse on post-war Black British history. Firstly, there is the ship itself, its initial reception, the contemporary media coverage, and what happened to the thousand passengers who arrived in Essex on June 21 1948. But more broadly, ‘Windrush’ has become a shorthand for the Caribbean experience in Britain up to the 1960s, the hopes, the disappointments and the struggles of the men, women and children who made that journey, and the period of time between the British Nationality Act of 1948 and the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962.[1] ‘Windrush’, with its evocation of ocean spray, difficult travel, dangerous tempest and exhilaration, became imbued with positive associations, and it is no surprise that one of the pioneering television documentary series on the history of modern Caribbean settlement in Britain took the name of the transport ship for its title.[2]

But during the last two and a half years, ‘Windrush’ as a term has acquired a new meaning, bound up with suffering, callousness, borderline governmental illegality, exile and dislocation. Here ‘Windrush’ is juxtaposed with the term ‘scandal’. This is the forced removal of large numbers of people of Caribbean heritage from Britain by the State, sometimes acting outside the law, and the prevention of Black people who had made short journeys from Britain to the Caribbean from returning home to the United Kingdom.[3] However, the Windrush scandal of recent times is only the latest manifestation of a belief and a policy that Black people should be removed from Britain, should be forced to ‘go home’, and that that ‘home’ is by definition somewhere else, whether they had been born in Britain, or had spent decades living and working in that country. And this discourse of repatriation has a history stretching back decades, indeed centuries. This discourse is not based around place of birth, but rather the belief that certain groups are inherently ‘foreign’, outsiders, and will always be sojourners.

Black British history does not of course start in 1948, and neither did the discourse of repatriation. At the end of the eighteenth century, London and Bristol both had significant populations of African heritage, at every class strata of society, from aristocracy to underclass. Britain’s Black communities were joined at the end of the American Revolution by several thousand African-American former slaves who had fought on the British side during the war of independence. That Black people in Britain, in particular London, should be relocated to a more ‘suitable’ location was already being suggested at the beginning of the nineteenth century, although the intended destination varied in this polemic.[4]

During the First World War hundreds of thousands of men and women from across the Caribbean, the African continent and South Asia, fought in the British army in multiple theatres of the conflict, sailed on British ships, and took part in the economic war effort. Rather than celebrating this, as soon as the war had concluded campaigns were initiated demanding that all Black and Asian soldiers, sailors and workers in Britain be speedily repatriated. The culmination of this, in the summer of 1919, was some of the worst ethnically-motivated violence witnessed in Britain in the twentieth century, with gangs attacking Caribbean, African, South Asian and Arab communities across the country. This led to hundreds of injuries and a number of deaths. Magistrates notoriously punished those who had been attacked and had resisted this violence with heavier sentences than the attackers themselves. The state responded by deporting or encouraging the repatriation of thousands of Black and Asian British citizens. In response, on June 14 1919, the Society of People of African Origin held a rally in Hyde Park, declaring their solidarity with those who had been removed from Britain, and resistance to the racist policies of the British government.[5]

Repatriation discourse gathered pace after the Windrush disembarked at Tilbury. Indeed, even before the migrants arrived, Whitehall was debating how to get them to return to the Caribbean. From the end of the 1950s demands for forcible removal of Black and Asian people increasingly became associated with the rhetoric of the far-right, but it continued to permeate the consciousness of the political mainstream. This became apparent in the aftermath of the Notting Hill unrest of 1958, when various fascist figures, including Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, descended on the area attempting to make political capital out of the situation. Forced repatriation became one of the key policies of the neo-fascist National Front from the late-1960s onwards, and was carried partially into the centre of British politics by the Conservative politician Enoch Powell, who advocated mass removal of Black and Asian communities over the course of the 1970s and into the 1980s.[6] Post-war governments, both Conservative and Labour, at times attempted to pander to this sentiment, especially when General Elections were looming. As in 1919, minority communities actively resisted both fascist incursions and official prejudice. The language of forced removal did not fade away in the 1990s and 2000s, although the term ‘repatriation’ was not used as much in political discourse as it had been in the 1970s. The Windrush scandal of the twenty-first century has proved, if proof was needed, that the rhetoric and the policy of forced removal have not been consigned to the past, but remain with us today, influencing policy and perceptions.

[1] Kennetta Hammond Perry, London is the Place for Me: Black Britons, Citizenship and the Politics of Race, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

[2] ‘Windrush’ was first broadcast as a four part series on BBC2 on the fiftieth anniversary of the Windrush arriving at Tilbury.

[3] Maya Goodfellow, Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Become Scapegoats, London: Verso, 2019, and Amelia Gentleman, The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment, London: Guardian Faber, 2019.

[4] R.W Hayes, ‘The Black Atlantic and Georgian Britain’ in Mrinalini Rajagopalan and Madhuri Desai (eds.), Colonial Frames, Nationalist Histories: Imperial Legacies, Architecture and Modernity, Farnham, Ashgate, 2012.

[5] Jacqueline Jenkinson, Black 1919: Riots, Racism and Resistance in Imperial Britain, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2009.

[6] Camilla Schofield, Enoch Powell and the Making of Post-Colonial Britain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Email link to my book, The Discourse of Repatriation in Britain 1845-2016, due to be published early spring 2021 here

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#BHM ‘the backbone of Mau Mau’: Women’s Contributions in Conflict, Kenya by Beth Rebisz

(Photograph taken by author)

On 12th September 2015, a memorial in honour of Kenya’s freedom fighters was unveiled in Uhuru Park, Nairobi. The memorial was part of an out-of-court settlement reached between the British government and a group of Kenyans who had fought through the 1950s in an armed conflict against their colonial rulers. This group is now popularly referred to as the Mau Mau. The statue, at the heart of the memorial site, depicts a man and a woman. The woman is passing the man a basket filled with what we can assume to be food from the accounts gathered of those who fought in this war. Both figures are looking away from one another. This was a method used by men and women to avoid recognising each other should they be captured and expected to identify other insurgents. In contrast to previous memorials for the conflict, and unlike many war-focused statues, this structure equally represents men and women who fought in the struggle. The statue signifies a vital feature of this conflict – ‘the backbone of the Mau Mau’, ie. Kenyan women’s contributions to the cause.[i]

The unprecedented High Court hearing in London (2011-2013) signified a huge turning point in this shared history, with Britain finally acknowledging the horrors of this period in Kenya. This group of Kenyans had sued the British government for compensation for the torture and ill-treatment they suffered between 1952-1960 in the detention camps, work camps and fortified villages that made up the colonial government’s punitive counter-insurgency infrastructure. Along with the £19.9 million of compensation paid and the forced release of the colonial records which corroborated the testimonies of the claimants, the British government commissioned a memorial to commemorate the Kenyans who had been tortured or killed during the Mau Mau insurgency.

While it has been all too common in military scholarship to centre men as agents in war, recent research has worked to re-evaluate the key roles women have played in liberation struggles. Kenya is a particularly unique case study for this. As this statue would suggest, Britain recognised women’s contributions in the conflict. They recognised very early on that Kenyan women were quite literally keeping the movement alive. This can be determined by Britain’s response to Kenyan women. Not only did they establish two detention camps – Kamiti and Gitamayu – to specifically house suspected Mau Mau women, they extended the forced resettlement of the remaining population assumed to be supporting the forest fighters. Using this villagisation process to separate the ‘fish from the water’, the British hoped to drain insurgent fighters of key resources.

The statue depicts a Kenyan woman in her role in feeding the male forest fighters. Women were perceived to be the guardians of their local communities: nurturers and mothers. In the testimonies of women who were forcibly resettled, stories are shared of the ways in which they subverted the barriers put in place to separate them from the forest fighters. Women cut the wires of the surrounding village fence to sneak out at night to leave supplies at a designated spot. Women found ways to hide food outside of the village when they were taken out during the day to complete forced labour tasks for the colonial government. For many women in the villages, they continued to risk the extreme punishments to feed their male family members on the other side of the fence.

Women did not, however, provide just a supporting role in this conflict. While the statue does not depict women in this way, women were leaders in this fight too. One example of this is Field Marshal Muthoni. Muthoni wa Kirima was a top-ranking female fighter in the insurgency. She was the only woman to gain the rank of field marshal and fought in the forest for the entire duration of the Emergency Period. Muthoni was never captured, was never detained, and emerged from the forest in 1963 when Kenya attained independence from their colonial oppressors. During her time in the forest, she worked as a spy on the lookout for opposition activity. In her reflections on the contributions women made in this conflict, she said, ‘and let me tell you, women are something of substance indeed! Women! They should be honoured!’[ii]

As we have seen through the events of the last few weeks, statues and memorials are never apolitical. As the debate continues regarding the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, a ruling to remove the Cecil Rhodes statue in Oxford, and for so many more, statues rarely tell us the full story. In ways, the memorial constructed in Uhuru Park has been successful in acknowledging the all-encompassing horrors of the 1950s conflict. There are several large labels of comprehensive text that reflect this in both of Kenya’s national languages, Swahili and English. It does, however, fail to address the generational aspects of the Mau Mau and how the British responded to this. Only recently is scholarship turning to explore the roles children played in the armed struggle, and the measures with which Britain attempted to ‘rehabilitate’ these children. The statue of Robert Baden-Powell in Dorset, founder of the scout movement, has been targeted by campaigners for his ruthless military actions in Africa during the colonial period. While the scout movement is celebrated by many, it was an aspect of the British colonial government’s counter-insurgency in Kenya to reinvigorate British ‘masculinity, militarism, imperial purpose, and racial superiority’.[iii] In comparison to the Boys Scouts re-establishing respect and discipline among young boys, young girls received training in domestic science which readied them for a Christian marriage and as custodians of the community.

[i] Katherine Bruce-Lockhart, ‘Reconsidering Women’s Roles in the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya, 1952-60’, in: Martin Thomas and Gareth Curless (eds). Decolonization and Conflict: Colonial Comparisons and Legacies (London, 2017), 160.

[ii] Interview Bethany Rebisz with Muthoni wa Kirima, Museum of British Colonialism <https://www.museumofbritishcolonialism.org/emergencyexhibition> Accessed 22nd June 2020.

[iii] Paul Ocobock, An Uncertain Age: The Politics of Manhood in Kenya (Ohio, 2017), 37.

For more information and additional reading, Beth would suggest:

@museumofbc – Museum of British Colonialism (Beth is part of a Kenya/UK joint initiative as a volunteer, she conducted an interview with Field Marshal Muthoni (who is discussed in the blog post) for MBC. The full interview and interviews with others are fantastic resources for students/researchers and are available online here

@CurriculumBlack – The Black Curriculum –  social enterprise that delivers Black British history through the arts, in schools and out of schools to all young people in the UK

@BlackInArtsHums – Black in Arts & Humanities – A global community of Black people in the Arts & Humanities

@diversehistory – Diverse Histories – providing research & learning resources

@africanarchives -African and Black History – Black and African History Archives which is an amazing resource for primary sources

First posted on the Reading Gender History Research Cluster blog here

Beth Rebisz is a doctoral research at the University of Reading. You can find her on Twitter @BRebisz

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#BHM ‘A visit to the countryside is always accompanied by a feeling of unease; dread.’ by Lottie Jacob and Jeremy Burchardt

The countryside has long been a place intrinsic to the British national identity, from the Romantic movement through to the present day. And yet, it has remained largely inaccessible to people of colour, both literally in rural landscapes – for example, walking – and in the representation of the countryside. The title of this post comes from artist Ingrid Pollard’s 1988 series ‘Pastoral Interlude’ and demonstrates the crucial need to understand the structures and processes that create and replicate both the underrepresentation of people of colour, and the barriers that prevent their access.

Wild in the City – a London-based non-profit supporting the well-being of people of colour through widening their relationship with nature – highlight some of the key barriers facing people of colour to the countryside, largely stemming from intergenerational trauma due to historic racism, and feeling out of place due to the lack of other people of colour. Fearing racism in the countryside is, unfortunately, not unfounded: Jay Rayner found that, in 2001, the proportion of people of colour who had been the victim of a racist crime was significantly heightened in rural areas, where the populations remained majority white. With the threat of hostility and the alien landscape, for many the countryside shrinks further away from reach.

This raises the challenging and complicated issues of what it means to ‘belong’, alongside what heritage and localism means. The myth of the English rural idyll, the celebrated notion of a peaceful and ‘natural’ countryside, is problematic; it obscures the realities of rural England to create the false image as a place of prosperity and having a lack of conflict, which is particularly troubling when related to the experiences of people of colour. In failing to recognise the hostility faced, and by perpetuating a false image of rural England, the landscape of the countryside is further closed to people of colour.

Landscape should be equally open to all, whether or not they identify with the historic residents and landowners of that area.  But how can this be done in practice? Do we need to free landscape from the ‘dead hand of the past’, so that we can open it up and democratize it for the present and the future?   And how can this be done without jettisoning the many layerings of the past and of memories that do so much to endow landscape with meaning?

So, what is being done? With the vital work of organisations such as Wild in the City and the Sheffield Environment Movement people of colour are guided to explore local green space, learning about wildlife identification and natural history, to become more immersed in the landscape. At an institutional level, the recent release of the ‘Interim Report’ on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties’ by the National Trust, exploring the links between their properties and colonialism, has sparked massive discussion regarding the heritage of England and how it often fails people of colour. The ongoing collaboration of the Colonial Countryside Project between the National Trust, the University of Leicester, Peepal Tree press, and local schools to explore country houses’ Caribbean and East India Company connections works towards incorporating the youth and people of colour in exploring the colonial past of Britain, so often overlooked in the curriculum.

Here at Reading, we have various initiatives working towards a more inclusive understanding of the countryside. The AHRC Network Changing landscapes, changing lives utilises a biographical and narrative approach to improve landscape decision making, which greatly increases the scope of voices able to contribute to the understanding of landscape. A particular focus in the context of the UK is the ways in which landscapes, especially rural landscapes, can be constructed as ‘white spaces’ that exclude ethnic minorities [1], an issue recently highlighted by MK Gallery’s ‘The Lie of the Land’ exhibition and ongoingly by the Wild in the City initiative.  The second symposium, ‘Whose Landscapes?’ – postponed due to COVID-19 – will also explore conflicting landscape identities [2] and the synergies and divergences between personal, local and national landscape identities [3].  In conjunction with the symposium, an exhibition of photographs by Ingrid Pollard, whose work interrogates race and rurality, will be held at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), connecting to MERL’s major initiative attempting to decolonise its collections.

This work merely scratches the surface of the colossal project necessary to opening up the English countryside to a more diverse range of people. Not only must we continue to challenge the myth of the rural idyll and research and educate ourselves to the historic role of people of colour in the countryside, it is also essential to offer our support – whether financial, expertise or time –  to local organisations working to widen participation in the countryside. After all, it can only truly be a Green and Pleasant land when it becomes an equal one.

[1] Sarah Neal and Julian Agyeman (eds), The New Countryside? Ethnicity, nation and exclusion in Contemporary Rural Britain (Bristol, 2006).

[2] Loupa Ramos, 2016

[3] Paul Readman, Storied Ground: Landscape and the Shaping of English National Identity (Cambridge, 2018). 

Lottie Jacob is an MA student at the university of Reading. Find about more about Dr Jeremey Burchardt and his research here

Find out more on ‘Changing Landscapes, Changing Lives: How can Narrative and Biographical Perspectives Improve Landscape Decision Making’ at the University of Reading Changing Landscapes Network here

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#BHM ‘She hits massa with de hoe:’ The Weaponization of Plantation Labour Equipment by Enslaved Women in the Antebellum American South, by Erin Shearer

Three women and one man hoeing in field, (1899), Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91785649/]

This photograph, titled Three women and one man hoeing in a field, depicts the agricultural labour of unidentified African Americans in the late nineteenth century. The image not only offers a glimpse into the lives of Black Southerners before the turn of the century, but also provides an insight into the labour performed by enslaved people during the antebellum era (1815-1861) and the height of ‘King Cotton.’ 

The hoe served as a crucial tool of agricultural development on Southern slaveholding sites during the antebellum era.  Enslaved men and women often hoed crops alongside each other in back breaking conditions from ‘sun-up to sun-down’, cultivating the land of the elite and thus lining the pockets of their enslavers.[1] Consequently, for many African Americans, the hoe not only served as a tool of oppression but also stood as a symbol of their enslavement. 

Paradoxically, enslaved women often utilised tools of slavery such as the hoe as an object of resistance. Enslaved women created various violent strategies to resist victimisation, affirm agency and identity, and to protest against the legalised rape and abuse of their bodies in creative and subversive violent ways. The utilisation of plantation labour equipment ironically provided strategies for survival and allowed women to protest and resist white mechanisms of control. 

Works Progress Administration (WPA) interviews with formerly enslaved people conducted in the 1930s reveal a clear and distinct theme of enslaved women’s violence and illuminate how agricultural implements, such as the hoe, were utilised as an object of women’s resistance. When interviewed in the state of Texas, one formerly enslaved man described how an enslaved woman, Clarinda, violently resisted her slaveholder’s sexual advances, or attempts to ‘[inter]‘fere with her,’  by physically assaulting him with the hoe she was operating in the plantation field: 

‘De worst whippin’ I seed was give to Clarinda. She hits massa with de hoe ‘cause he try ‘fere with her and she try stop him.’[2]

Additionally, a respondent named Richard Crump described how his mother would stand inside her cabin equipped with a hoe and would challenge the residing overseer to enter and beat her. Afraid of trespassing into the armed enslaved woman’s cabin, the overseer let her be.[3] Lucindy Allison reported to a WPA interviewer how her mother, while labouring in the field, violently threatened to ‘chop up’ the plantation overseer ‘into pieces’ with her hoe if he attempted to whip her pregnant daughter. Unwilling to take the risk of potentially combatting two armed women, the overseer relented.[4] These examples demonstrate that women converted agricultural equipment into deadly weapons which could be utilised against slaveholders and overseers at any time to subvert authority. Bondswomen used plantation equipment as their own form of personal protection which extended to their children as women attempted to curb the generational cycle of abuse which operated on slaveholding sites. 

Slaveholders expected women who laboured as field hands to perform the same heavy work as men and little distinction was made between the two sexes, as highlighted by Anne Clark, who informed her interviewer that she ‘ploughed, hoed, split rails. I done the hardest work ever a man did, I was strong.’[5] The enforced labour implemented upon enslaved women inadvertently gave them the skills and experience needed to be able to transition the hoe from an innocent farm implement into a deadly weapon within seconds. 

The weaponization of the agricultural hoe specifically had many practical advantages. The hoe easily transitioned from an everyday farming tool to offensive weapon due to its light weight, long reach and sharp metal blade. Swinging the lightweight hoe required minimal strength and the metal blade edge could easily damage skin or crack bones of the intended target. Additionally, its long reach allowed the user to attack the intended victim and kept them from any immediate short-range counterattacks. Overall, converting equipment into weapons bolstered bondswomen’s violence, provided extra protection for themselves and others, and allowed them to overcome any possible physiological shortcomings due to the practical advantages of the weapon.  Therefore, it is not surprising that enslaved people, most notably women, converted this tool of enslavement into an object of resistance.

The descriptions of these women speak to a celebration and appreciation of the efficacy of women’s violence. They demonstrate how enslaved women rejected contemporary narratives of both white supremacy and inevitable masculine dominance through a resistance tactic still largely unexplored by historians of slavery. The weaponization of equipment by enslaved women forces historians to expand our understandings of those behaviours and actions we constitute as gendered. The testimony provided by the formerly enslaved clearly reveals that violence was not solely a male phenomenon, and it challenges contemporary and historical ideas around resistance, activism and identities forged in slavery. It asks us to reconceptualise the gendered boundaries we have drawn around strategies for survival. 

[1] Henry D. Jenkins, Federal Writers’ Project, Vol. 14, South Carolina, Part 3

[2] Federal Writers’ Project, Vol. 16, Texas, Part 2

[3] Richard Crump, Federal Writers’ Project, Vol. 2, Arkansas, Part 1

[4] Lucindy Allison, Federal Writers’ Project, Vol. 2, Arkansas, Part 1

[5] Anne Clark, Federal Writers’ Project, Vol. 16, Texas, Part 1

Erin Shearer is a PhD researcher at the University of Reading. You can find her on Twitter @erinshearer05

First posted on the Reading Gender History Research Cluster blog here

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Welcome to Black History Month in the Department of History by Professor David Stack #BHM

2020 marks the 33rd anniversary of Black History Month (BHM)  in the UK, and it has never seemed more relevant.

One outstanding feature of the wave of protests, conversations, and questioning that has followed the murder of George Floyd has been the centrality of history. Statues, institutions, language, and curricula have all been scrutinised with an eye to understanding who we are as a nation and, most importantly for historians, how we got here.

For our profession this is an intriguing and hopeful development, but also an implicit rebuke.  The widespread interest in questions of race and black history in the general public is still not well represented in UK higher education. As the 2018 Royal Historical Society report on Race, Ethnicity & Equality in UK History showed, we are an unrepresentative profession, and have done far too little to attract BME undergraduates to study history. Some of the reasons for this, and possible first steps towards solutions, were discussed in a previous blog.

At the start of BHM it is worth restating that we have a duty to address this failing, both for reasons of social justice and because a more inclusive history will be a better history.

Over the next four weeks we will be highlighting some of the work going on in the department that is making our small contribution to building that better history.

Each Tuesday we will retweeting links to relevant recent blogs by our graduate students; and each Friday we will be publishing a new blog by a member of staff which highlights the connections between their individual research and an aspect of black British history.

We will also be using BHM as an opportunity, in consultation with our students, to reflect upon ways in which we might develop and deepen our curriculum.

Our Department, of course, shares many of the more general failings of the sector highlighted in the RHS report, so, as well as enjoying our contributions, interested readers will also want to use the next month as an opportunity to engage with the wider literature on black history and the black British experience.

As a starting point, here are ten (very arbitrary) recommendations.

For a general survey, David Olusoga’s Black and British: a forgotten history (2016) has become the standard text. Also still worth reading is the book which inspired a young Olusoga, Peter Fryer’s groundbreaking Staying Power: the history of black people in Britain (1984).

Sometimes the voices of the disenfranchised can be  better represented in fiction than they are in standard histories, and Bernadine Evaristo’s 2019 Booker winning novel Girl, Woman, Other, has been justly praised for representing a diverse range of black British women’s experiences divided by class, generation, and sexuality.

For a more concentrated novel about the life of a young black woman, Queenie (2019) by Candice Carty-Williams is a light read which illustrates some of the deep inequalities in society.

General histories and novels, however, can only get us so far. Those seeking a more theoretical understanding of issues of race – and its intersections with questions of class, gender, and sexuality – will enjoy two classic works by leading US feminists: Audre Lorde’s short essay The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House and Angela Y. Davis’s Women, Race & Class (1981).

More recently, two books by black British authors that have attracted much attention are Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (2017) and Akala’s Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire (2018). Natives, in particular, will appeal to historians, as Akala explores his own experiences through a deep understanding of history and historical legacies.

One of those legacies, of course, is racism, and Angela Saini’s Superior: the return of race science (2019) is a very readable account of the rise of the concept of race, and the insidious and destructive role played by race science.

My final recommendation is a work of poetry, Jay Bernard’s quite remarkable Surge (2019). Surge excavates and explores the New Cross Fire of 1981, and connects it to the more recent injustice of Grenfell. Although not strictly speaking a work of history, Bernard’s collection, by taking an often forgotten historical event and linking it to the urgent need to address contemporary inequality, perfectly embodies the positive spirit of Black History Month.

These are my recommendations. Tell us yours.

Find our more about Professor Stack and his research at the University of Reading here

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