Natives | Akala

Summary of: Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire
By: Akala


Welcome to the summary of ‘Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’ by Akala. This thought-provoking exploration of racism and colonialism in Britain will challenge the way you see society and history. You will learn how the legacy of the British Empire persists today, particularly in the hostile treatment of Black Britons who migrated in the postwar period. Throughout this journey, Akala will share his own experiences growing up Black in Britain during the 1980s, shedding light on the persistent link between race, class, and power dynamics. By the end, you’ll have a deeper understanding of how we still grapple with the contradictions and complexities of British race relations today.

Windrush Generation and Racist Backlash

Following WWII, Britain encouraged half a million Caribbeans bearing British passports to migrate to the country for work. Dubbed the “Windrush generation,” they were met with hostility and racism from white Britons who saw them as freeloading job stealers. The immigrants quickly realized that the stories they were told about the “mother country” were untrue and that Britain was full of poor white people. Hostility grew as no one explained to white Britons that the welfare state was supported by revenues raised in colonies like Jamaica and that the people who arrived weren’t “immigrants” but British subjects like anyone else in the country.

Akala’s Early Experiences with Racism in Britain

Akala, born to a mixed-race couple in 1983, faced ubiquitous and unashamed racism in Britain from an early age. His father had come to England from Jamaica, and his mother had lived in the British colony of Hong Kong. Growing up in a society where black meant black and being black made you a target, Akala learned about the hostility towards people who looked like him from an early age. He was called the N-word at just five years old and witnessed racism also being physically violent, such as his father’s scars from beatings at the hands of police and fights with far-right skinheads. Despite his mother’s white skin, which led to her being spat at in the street and his classmate using racial slurs against him, she always supported him and ensured he felt safe reporting incidents of racist abuse. As a young boy, he saw a photo of John Barnes, a Jamaican-born Liverpool winger, kicking away a banana skin thrown at him by fans chanting racist abuse. Although he didn’t yet understand its significance, Akala realized the photo highlighted the pervasive nature of racism in Britain.

Policing London’s Black Boys

Akala recounts his experiences as a Black teenage boy growing up in London’s poorest boroughs. Being stopped and searched by the police became a bi-monthly event for Black boys, though their white friends were never searched. This routine violation of civil rights, justified under the guise of fighting teenage knife crime, treats crime as a racial issue. However, evidence shows that race is not the determining factor in teenage violent crime. Rather, working-class and poor neighborhoods, of all races, are more likely to experience high rates of violent crime.

Racial Bias in Sports

The book highlights the biased perspective towards Black athletes in sports. It compares the treatment of Ajax Amsterdam, a poorer soccer club that outperformed its richer English counterparts, to the Olympic sprint event where almost all the athletes who finished the 100-meter sprint in under ten seconds were Black. The media tried to explain this by citing pseudoscientific genetic advantages, ignoring the investments in athletics made in countries like Jamaica. While white athletic achievements are seen as the norm, Black achievements are often considered a strange anomaly, and hence, an esoteric explanation is attempted. This is evident from the comparison made between German and Italian soccer dominance after the war and fascist regimes, and the absurd genetic theory suggested to explain Black athletes’ superior performance.

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