Well where do I start with this one…
Part autobiography, part history, Natives takes us through glimpses of Akala’s life growing up in Britain, as a mixed raced man. In true Akala form, he so articulately details the long history of racism and classism of which the current system is so heavily built upon and the – what you would think would be – very obvious ways in which it effects those from ethnic and low socioeconomic backgrounds.
For anyone looking to read this book (which I would highly recommend), I’d advise that you have a laptop or notebook nearby. The sheer volume of references Akala makes throughout the book will make you want to (or have to in some cases) go off and do more research on particular events and texts. This impressive list of sources and events from which many of his points are based on may, however, leave you feeling a little guilty about just how little you know about the long standing history of not only the UK but many other parts of the world. Of course we are aware of the fact that racism and classism exists and has done so for many a year, but it’s the actual events that have taken place but all so conveniently aren’t openly taught, or are portrayed very differently to other sources, that I now plan on looking into (that’s if you went through the British education system – I can’t speak for education elsewhere across the globe).
Despite the focus on what can be such a complex topic, I can not express how much of an easy read this was. The words and sentences just flow together so effortlessly, it’s as if you’re listening to him speak rather than reading… if that makes any sense. Maybe it’s just because he’s British so it’s written in a way my brain is use to, but who knows – I’m very interested to know if this was just me?
The only downfall for me was the length of some of the chapters. I don’t know about you but there’s something that urks me about having to put a book down mid chapter which I ended up doing a few times due to the length of them and the time I had set aside to read. But this is clearly just a personal preference…
Akala’s ‘Natives’ gets a big thumbs up from us and a strong 8/10.
If you haven’t already read it, click the image to purchase a copy now!
Now for those of you that want a bit more detail, keep reading!
The book is made up of 11 chapters, each focusing on a mixture of key points in his life or in British history. The one that stood out most for me was chapter 3, ‘Special Needs’, which touched on his experiences in school and the subtle racism & classism that resonated all too well with me – the sad reality that many children had to (and very likely still do) deal with. This chapter touched on specific instances, and behaviours of some of his teachers in particular, throughout he school years. One of which eventually saw him being removed from his normal class and put in a ‘Special Needs’ one, despite his reading and knowledge being well above his age mates (which isn’t surprising at all!).
It brought back memories to my school experience constantly being called a ‘know it all’ or ‘disruptive’. Now I’m not saying I was the most well behaved child or that I wouldn’t find my need to ask questions that would go against the curriculum annoying if I were a teacher, teaching me, but the level of tolerance some teachers in particular had for me compared to my class mates was bizzar and so confusing… from being removed from class for finishing a mock exam early, to being put in the isolation unit (one of those portable classrooms for all the naughty kids, sitting in isolated desks and only allowed to leave to go to the toilet for the whole day) for not having the required £1 for non uniform day, but these are whole other stories (2 of many).
What’s sad about this is that it’s so confusing as a child – imagine experiencing an adult constantly attacking you with no obvious reasons (for a child an adult basically bullying you because you are darker or from a lower class isn’t that obvious!) and in such a passive and subtle way that you yourself even question whether you’re reading into it all wrong, despite knowing you’re not – CONFUSING!
“Real-life racism makes you paranoid, even in children it creates the dilemma of not knowing if someone is just being horrible in the ‘normal’ way… or if you are being ‘blacked off’.”
The thing that is all too clear when reading this, is that you can not deny the link between the subtleties such as the above treatment in schools and the way they can shape someone’s life, let alone the out right obvious and literal discrimination people are frequently faced with. So is there any wonder why it is so easy for teenagers to end up going down the ‘wrong’ path.
“…being treated like and presumed to be a criminal for years before I ever contemplated actually carrying a knife…”
One thing I admire about Akala is his ability to so eloquently put his point across. Despite having every reason to be angry at such a topic – even if looking solely at his experience growing up, let alone what many others have had to (and still do) endure – he has the ability to step back and calmly communicate based on research and evidence, and some how resisting the urge of letting his emotions take over (if any of you have watched Akala in action this won’t be a surprise to you). Something I definitely want to adopt.
An important point that Akala continuously touches on is the close relationship between racism and classism. Yes there is a clear issue with racism now and throughout British history, but you’d be silly not to recognise how much of it is also steeped in, and built on, classism.
“When we look at the prison system we cannot fail to notice the background of the prisoners… in contrast to the judges and lawyers; generally from much better off families.”
There’s so much highlighted in this book and I could go on and on about but I wouldn’t be doing it the justice it deserves, so I’ll stop now! Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below…