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5 books about race in the UK

plus 4 more books for luck

· Book Review,Diversity

I think I just became trendy. A few years ago I realised that as a mixed race person in the UK, who very obviously has coloured skin, I was being treated differently. It's true that this was a very belated realisation (I'm 34), but I had allowed myself to be blinded by my privilege.

People would ask me all the time to speak on behalf of people of colour, to weigh in on race conversations and I would balk. As a well-educated, middle-class woman with a very comfortable upbringing, what had I faced that gave me the right to speak for any marginalised groups? But as more and more people asked me, and I moved increasingly in groups where diversity was bandied about as something that was important to tackle but I was the only non-white person in the room, I decided that I should educate myself.

I started to read books on race in the UK and not only did I learn what I wanted to learn, which were the facts and figures I needed to start speaking in an educated way about racism and unconscious bias, I also learnt that I was a fool to think that racism didn't apply to me just because of my upbringing – it runs far deeper than that.

I still find it an uncomfortable subject to tackle and partly this is because I am acutely aware of how complex it is. The colour of your skin may lead to bias and racism, but the people under our spectrum of melalin tones have very different backgrounds, lived experiences and range of privilege. But I'm trying to get better at it. As someone who focused on women in leadership for my masters, I know the importance of role modelling and, whether it is right or not, I am in a position where I have a voice and I can speak out.

So speak out I do. I have written about diversity in the outdoors (you can read it here) and in 2018 I ran a session for Rebel Book Club based around the book Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race. The events of the last week have nudged me towards sharing more about race on this blog but there is so much to cover on this journey. I think we should break it down into small chunks.

So back to why I'm trendy now – I was already on the race reading train, which means I can share some books with you that I've actually read, as well as others that I have been recommended. I am British and I live in the UK, so my choices also reflect that. The US experience is one thing, but our country is different.

If you make it right to the end, you'll also find some books about representation in nature, because that's important too.

If you'd like to see what's on my full UK race reading list, you can see it on Goodreads here.

Below you'll find

- books I've read

- books I've been recommended

- books on people of colour and their relationship to the environment.

Books I've read

by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Aggressive title but a great introduction to race relations in the UK starting with some black British history. You'll see this on pretty much all the 'educate yourself' reading lists. I've heard criticism that she gets too emotional and angry later in the book (the irony of this is not lost on me as black women are often labelled as 'angry'), but hey it's an emotional subject. As the cheesy Instagram posts keep telling you, if you are not uncomfortable you're not listening hard enough... or something like that. If you haven't read anything on race in the UK I'd recommend reading this first. She also has a podcast: About Race.

curated by Nikesh Shukla. This is a collection of essays from black, asian and minority ethnic individuals in Britain. It's a great exploration of 'othering', even of those of us who have never lived anywhere else. I enjoyed this because it was so honest and I also learnt things about the other 'other's – does that make sense? Fun fact: this was published through Unbound, which is basically crowdfunding for books. There is a US version, too. I haven't read that yet.

by Afua Hirsch. Written by a mixed race author who grew up in Wimbledon, this book gives a different perspective again. It particularly focuses on how if you grow up as an 'ethnic' person in the UK, even if you are born here you are always made to feel like you belong from somewhere outside... but then when you go to the other place, you don't fit there either. Plus it gets my award for the smartest book title I've seen in a while.

curated by Derek Owusu. A collection of essays from a wide range of British men on the black British male experience. This book wasn't exactly what I expected from the title – I suppose because I'd been so immersed in 'racism' reading, I had not been thinking about the wider expectations of black men within our society. Adds a layer.

by Karima Bennoune. This is at the end of the list but I read this book before all the others. I've popped it at the end because it's not specifically UK based and it's more about religion than race. This book is incredibly powerful, as it tells the story of ordinary men and women who have stood up to muslim fundamentalism in their own communities all over the world. Real life brave superheroes who literally put their lives on the line to stand up to the individuals who are twisting their religion to their own gain. It's an education on the history of Islam and the rise of fundamentalism, what is actually muslim and what has been twisted, and what some extraordinary muslims are doing about it. I was honestly blown away by this when I read it.

Books I haven't read but have been recommended

by June Sarpong. A book about how we can go beyond our initial responses to 'social packaging' recognise and embrace diversity to create a better world. Sold to me originally as a business book, but I think the aim is broader.

by Bernardine Evaristo. The only novel on the list and it's here because it has been mentioned to me several times as incredible. It tells the stories of 12 characters – mostly women, black and British – and their lives and struggles. Oh and it won the Man Booker Prize in 2019.

UPDATE: I have been reliably informed by my wonderful friend Winnie that this is available at the moment on BBC Sessions here.

by Akala. Written by British rapper Akala, this book has been recommended to me a few times since I posted this blog yesterday, so it's making a late entry. It explores the UK's attitude to race in the context of his own experiences, but also against the social, historical and political background of our former empire. It's a Sunday Times Bestseller, so I probably should have known it was good – bumping it up my reading list.

Books about people of colour and the environment

by James Edward Mills. Starting with the story of the first all-African American expedition of Denali in 2013, this book explores the relationship of minorities with the outdoors. Uses examples of those who have achieved great things in the space and hopes to encourage environmental stewardship. Update: I have now read this – review to follow shortly.

edited by Alison Hawthorne Deming and Lauret Savoy. 17 essays by people of colour describing their relationship to the land. Each piece of writing explores the different connections between the impact on nature and inequality. I have not yet read this.

by Carolyn Finney. An exploration into why African Americans are underrepresented in nature, outdoor recreation and environmentalism in the US. It sounds quite comprehensive with examples from film, literature and popular culture, as well as important historical moments in American history. I have not yet read this.

These books are just a starting point. I will be sharing different content on my blog over the coming weeks alongside my usual content on nature, adventure, book reviews and randomness.

You might also be interested in 9 videos on race and privilege, and also this blog about diversity in the UK outdoors.

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