Review: Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch

To truly be able to eradicate racism in Britain, you have to first learn about British history – and not the white-washed version that has controlled the narrative in education, politics, TV/films and media for centuries. This is becoming possible thanks to the amplification of more voices like Afua Hirsch.

“We want to be post-racial, without having ever admitted how racial a society we have been.”

Afua Hirsch is an award-winning writer, journalist and broadcaster. She is a columnist for the Guardian and appears regularly on the BBC, Sky News and CNN. Brit(ish) is her first book and is a sharp exploration of race and identity in the UK, and what it means to be British.

“Reassessing British history is not about race, it’s about integrity. It’s about the fact that the past is linked to the present in a smooth continuity, from slavery, colonialism and the pillaging of resources to immigration… it is our history as British people.”

As well as an educational and insightful examination on the origin and perpetuation of racism, Brit(ish) is also a memoir of Hirsch’s experience as a mixed-race child living in an overly white Wimbledon, struggling with her identity and the desire to belong. She writes about moving to Senegal and then Ghana in an attempt to feel more at home, only to find she felt an outsider there as well.

Hirsch has a real talent for details, her journalistic prowess shining through with every argument expertly backed up by evidence. So much is covered in 318 pages, and still it doesn’t feel overwhelming or inaccessible. But it is her talent as a storyteller that really raises the book into something truly special. The sounds and smells of Africa come alive with a dazzling vividness, and everyday London life is lovingly described, from nostalgic journeys on the District line to berry-stained rambles on Wimbledon Common.

The true failure of our nation is not the things that have happened in the past, but our failure to acknowledge this past, the prejudices, problems and hypocrisy that have – as a result – become woven into the fabric of everyday British life, everywhere.

It is a shame (and very telling) that Hirsch received negative reviews from parts of the media after the release of this book, depicting her as some kind of over-exaggerating Britain-basher. If they had put aside their own prejudices and actually read Brit(ish), they would see it for what it is – a beautiful and articulate plea for the country she loves to do better for all of its people.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5. Brit(ish) is a thoughtful, beautifully written and well-evidenced book that expertly exposes the white British narrative that plagues our society and halts progress.

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