Over the past few days, demonstrations have taken place in the U.S., UK, and across the world to protest the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25 and demand more is done to end racism and police brutality. One of the first steps non-Black people can take in helping this cause is educating themselves on the issue. Reading about racism here in the UK will not be a comfortable experience, but with so many informative books about the topic, there are no excuses not to be doing it.
This list includes books that will help readers learn about the history of racism and anti-racist activism in the UK, as well as what racism looks like today and how you can actively become a better ally. The books below predominantly focus on Black British experiences and histories, but there are works featured for those looking to read more widely about the issue of UK racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy. I have also included novels and non-fiction books written by people of colour that we think deserve a spotlight.
This list is by no means exhaustive or definitive, it is simply a starting point for those looking to educate themselves.
The history of racism & anti-racist activism in the UK
BAFTA- and MOBO-award-winning political commentator Akala explores Britain's imperialist history. 'Natives' reveals that the UK's reluctance to confront its racist past is one of the key reasons why prejudice attitudes are still being accepted as the norm.
'Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race,’ written by British journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge, analyses the discussions that are had around racism and race, pointing out that white people’s contributions can often do more harm than good. Eddo-Lodge has recently posted on Twitter to ask anyone who is considering buying a copy of the book in the wake of the George Floyd killing to match what they paid with a donation to the Minnesota Freedom Fund if they are able to. She also suggested borrowing a copy from a friend or local library and donating what you would have spent.
Starting in the 1960s, Paul Stephenson OBE dedicated his life to challenging racist practices, advocating for the lack community in Bristol, and working alongside politicians to petition for change. He documents his life's work in 'Memoirs of a Black Englishman.'
In 'Mother Country,' Charlie Brinkhust-Cuff edits together 22 remarkable stories from people of the Windrush generation as well as their children and grandchildren. These are stories span seven decades and includes entires from David Lammy, Lenny Henry, and other famous figures.
Racism as it looks in the UK today
In 'Superior: The Return of Race Science' Angela Saini lifts the lid on one of racism’s most terrifying facets, highlighting the political groups and individuals who are using junk science and debunked genetics and medical theories to perpetuate ideas of racial hierarchies.
In Tessa McWatt's memoir 'Shame On Me,’ ideas of race are interrogated through the lens of the author’s multi-cultural ancestry and through a close examination of her own body. McWatt analyses her nose, lips, hair, skin, and eyes as well as bones and blood to hold up a mirror to the way we read bodies in terms of race.
Books from UK writers on how to be actively anti-racist
'Me & White Supremacy' is a guidebook on how white people can dismantle their privilege without causing more trauma, whether it’s intentional or not. With the use of anecdotes and other resources, Saad highlights how you can show up and educate other white people on how to be a better ally.
'White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-Racial Society' examines how policy-making over the last few decades has further entrenched bias against people from non-white backgrounds. If you don’t understand the link between privilege and politics, Kalwant Bhopal’s book is a must-read.
Racial stereotypes are pushed and perpetuated in almost every aspect of society from politics to entertainment and social media. 'It’s Not About The Burqa' brings together 17 Muslim women to talk openly about the hijab, faith, love, feminism, queer identity, and sex. This book also sheds light on the difficulty of dealing with both a disapproving community and a racist country.
In 'How to Argue with a Racist,’ Adam Rutherford exposes the hypocrisies at the heart of racism and offers ways in which readers can dismantle racist sentiments in themselves and others. Rutherford makes clear that racism isn’t just perpetrated by overt bigots, highlighting the ways in which well-intentioned people submit to racist norms, behaviours, and traditions without questioning the status quo.
Novels to read
Through the stories of 12 protagonists, Booker-prize-winning author Bernadine Evaristo explores what it means to be Black in modern Britain. Discussing their relationships, beliefs, and expectations, the characters in this book move you through time and across countries to outline their personal histories.
It’s impossible not to connect, cry, and laugh with Queenie. Candice Carty-Wiliam’s novel is relatable for all women on some level, but offers specific insight into what Black woman may face when it comes to their relationships at home, work, on dating apps, and with friends and partners.
Nnenna Maloney is a young, mixed race girl trying to learn more about her Igbo heritage but coming up against obstacles, including her own mother, who will not speak about her Nigerian father Maurice or his Nigerian heritage. This poignant narrative is interspersed with moments of comedy. A crucial coming-of-age tale.
'Ordinary People' is set in South London in 2008. Following the lives of two couples with their children, this novel highlights how nothing is ever as it really seems. An onlooker would think Damian and Stephanie were living in marital bliss but their marriage under immense strain after the death of Damian’s father. Meanwhile Michael and Melissa are drifting apart, questioning whether this is really what they wanted. 'Ordinary People’ illustrates how unsettling the notion of settling down can be.
Taking stories from ancient Greece, West Africa, South Asia, among others, Bolu Babalola has rewritten some of the most beautiful love stories, folklore tales, and myths in ways that you’ll never have seen before. This novel will be released on August 20, 2020, but if available to pre-order now.
Non-fiction to read
'Slay In Your Lane' is an unfiltered handbook for Black British women. Packed full of interviews from seriously inspirational individuals as well as anecdotes and practical advice from authors Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke, this book is a joyful tool for young Black women and an educational read for non-Black people.
Cambridge graduates Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi know what it feels like to be the minority in a room. They wrote 'Taking Up Space' to validate and empower Black women at work and at home. Again, although written for a Black female audience, this book is a helpful tool for non-Black folx to educate themselves on being a better ally.
Award-winning online magazine gal-dem has brought together 14 writers who provide pieces of writing from their young years (think diary entires, poems, and chat histories) ands them as a springboard to write letters to their younger selves offering advice on growing up as a person of colour in the UK.
Candice Brathwaite started writing about parenting and motherhood after flicking through parenting magazines only to be confronted with almost exclusively white faces and white experiences. 'I Am Not Your Baby Mother' is a guide to juggling motherhood and raising children while navigating micro-aggressions, systematic racism, and white privilege.