Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire (Akala)

Okay, a confession: I thought about dropping the book, a couple of times. It’s not that it’s not well-written, because it is (one of the best I’ve read actually). It’s not because it isn’t relevant; it’s been relevant for the past three hundred years. No, the problem is that I’ve been reading a lot (and I do mean A LOT) about race over the past year, so when I started Akala’s book, I think I started with a few preconcieved notions about what I was getting into, and for the most part I wasn’t surprised: it’s a brilliantly-researched, honest, opinionated, and occasionally bitter read from someone who’s elevated himself out of a place where white privileged society told him he belonged. I think the problem was that I was expecting the kind of jaw-dropping revelations that Isabel Wilkerson came up with in Caste, and I’m sure that there would’ve been a few, if I’d read this one first.

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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky, you’ll come across a book that will change your perspective on everything: everything you’ve seen, everything you’ve heard, everything that’s happened before, everything that’s happening now, everything that’ll happen in the future. Once in a lifetime, you’ll come across a book that doesn’t tell you about something you haven’t already seen, or experienced, or at the very least suspected, but puts into a context that’s like a massive strobe light firing off inside your head.

Once in a lifetime, you’ll finish a book that compels you to sit in a dark room for a few hours with a bottle of something strong and NWA playing on a loop, just to make sure you have fully understood what you’ve just read.

For me, Caste is that book.

Being black, I’ve experienced a fair share of overt racism over the years: more than some, certainly a lot less than others, probably an average amount now I think on it; so when a book or article comes along that explores racism, then I’ll take a look (know your enemy and all that). The thing is, Wilkerson isn’t actually talking about racism, she’s talking about caste: a system deliberately created to elevate one group of people while keeping a knee on the neck of another, usually by ascribing an imaginary inferiority of the subordinate group through nothing more than a trait they were born with and cannot change (the colour of their skin, their parentage, their sexual orientation). On the surface, this looks a lot like like common-or-garden racism (or homophobia), so Wilkerson dives straight in and explains the difference:

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Book review: How to Argue with a Racist

To be honest, I don’t do a lot of non-fiction, but this one turned up on Twitter feed because Bernadine Evaristo recommended it. Given the current state of the Western Hemisphere right now, I figured I’m going to need a better position than, ‘You’re being a dick – stop it.’

And that’s what Dr Rutherford has attempted to provide: evidence-based, scientifically-proven reasoning through his extensive knowledge of genetics and race history.

He starts with a fairly deep and fairly dry delve into the science of genetics, covering what genetics is and the thinking behind it, and how are genetic makeup is spread across the world by migrations that occurred thousands of years ago. Now, I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, so I did find a lot it quite … deep, but the important aspect isn’t so much the science, as the history of migration, because this, coupled with environmental adaption, is why this whole race thing is really an artificial construct that has been co-opted by dodgy scientists and white supremacists to justify beliefs that are little more than superstition.

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