- Audible Audiobook
- Listening Length: 11 hours and 27 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Random House Audiobooks
- Audible.co.uk Release Date: 1 Feb. 2018
- Language: English, English
- ASIN: B079C2PN9C
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
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Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging Audiobook – Unabridged
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Living in Wimbledon Hirsch and her family fitted in on the surface, but Hirsch’s appearance as a ‘brown’ woman also singled her out. She grows up surrounded by a white world, in which her friends believe they’re being reassuring by not ‘seeing’ her as other than them; yet she describes early incidents that made her conscious of 'difference', such as being chased out of a posh boutique by a white shop assistant because, ‘girls who look like her must be thieves’; she doesn’t ‘read’ as black either, her hair doesn’t respond to standard treatments, she has no knowledge of black British culture, she finds it difficult to pronounce her own name. At Oxford, with its tiny percentage of BAME students, she is equally lost, despite finding a small group of like-minded friends.
This sense of being an outsider in her own country informs and undermines her whole sense of self, her identity becomes something she must work to construct. An intense feeling of dislocation leads her to spend time in Africa, Senegal and Ghana, which only serves to further complicate her attempts to work out who she is and where she belongs. And everywhere she goes she is pursued by ‘The Question’ at home in Britain more than anywhere else: ‘Where are you from?’ usually followed by, ‘Where are you really from?’. In other words you don’t fit in, you’re foreign, so now you’re required to explain exactly how foreign you are.
As Hirsch moves through the different stages of her life she links each of these to broader concerns from the history of slavery and its role in the development of Britain; the politics of hair and the particular forms of misogyny aimed at women of colour; the treatment of BAME people by the legal system; stereotypes of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrant; deeply unsettling encounters at a club for white people looking to 'swing' with black men'; the impact of class on the black community and in particular young black men. Alongside discussing specific instances of history and relevant cultural/socio-economic analyses, she presents a detailed consideration of the particular forms that racism takes in British society and how polite forms of denial, colour-blindness, perpetuate systems of inequality and impede meaningful dialogue over how to overcome structural inequalities, prejudice and bias.
This is an important, engrossing piece, lucid, well-researched and deeply thoughtful. I read it just after Akala’s ‘Natives’ and there are some overlapping topics – hard not to be – but these topics are sufficiently distinct, in their treatment and detail, for there not to be a sense of repetition or déjà vu, rather they complement each other; particularly as one is from a male and the other a female perspective. There are some minor structural issues, some minor flaws: sometimes the discussion of her partner’s working-class background comes across as a little naïve, but the problems were more than outweighed by the richness of her writing and the quality of her material.
Hirsch does a particularly good job of blowing open the problems with any discussion around race in Britain. We don't do a good job of talking about - we instead leave it to fester and do our racism in the British way - hidden, subtle, and muted.
I felt that Hirsch did a good job of taking us through her life and framing it within the grander context of race and identity in the societies that she's lived in, both in Europe and in Africa. She also manages to cover a wide range of subjects around race and identity, ranging from expected underachievement right through to stereotypes around sexual behaviour. (The opening section of the chapter about sexual perceptions was particularly eye opening as it was first hand research of nights dedicated to the sexualising of black men at a swingers club)
As a side note, I think the reviews of this book alone could be the subject of a short investigation. Hirsch has become a boogeyman figure for the alt-right (just take a look at the responses to anything she tweets about!). It's unfortunate because those that see her as this boogeyman figure would actually get a lot from this book.
Overall, a good addition to the library of anyone interested in the above.