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Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  1,930 ratings  ·  206 reviews

Where are you really from?

You’re British. Your parents are British. You were raised in Britain. Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British. So why do people keep asking you where you are from? Afua Hirsch explores a very British crisis of identity. We are a nation in denial about our past and our present. We believe we are the nation of abolition, but

Kindle Edition, 367 pages
Published February 1st 2018 by Vintage Digital
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Dinu U Hi Cath,

I haven't gotten to that bit yet but I would suggest that Hirsch recognises the conventional stereotype evoked in the minds of the other pass…more
Hi Cath,

I haven't gotten to that bit yet but I would suggest that Hirsch recognises the conventional stereotype evoked in the minds of the other passengers (i.e. that those with darker skin are inherently loud and potentially even obnoxious enough to bother other people). This has significant consequences for those of African heritage, as it posits them outside of British culture and, therefore, distinctly 'other'. By judging the Nigerian businessman, Hirsch adopts the dominant white gaze that pervades British society while feeding into stereotypical conceptions of African bodies. As a consequence, she contributes to a judgement that is based on derogatory conceptions of black bodies, perpetuating the system of racism that defines her presence in Britain. Therefore, she becomes part of the problem while only trying to practice her (very British) expectation that one is quiet on a train.

Also, yes, you can ask those of colour- Hirsch herself explains how irritatingly generalising that term is in this text- to be quiet: emphasis on the P in POC (the point is not to treat us differently because of the colour of our skin so to avoid criticising us would just be racism in a different form).

I hope that all makes sense, and of course, do realise that that's only my understanding of the situation- I could be very wrong so please do let me know if you had any other ideas!(less)

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Melanie (Mel's Bookland Adventures)
Afua Hirsch has in opinion written the most important book I ever read on the race divide in Britain, that should be read not just by those that are already singing in the choir but by everyone. If you know me, you may well get this book for your next birthday.

She explores in great detail "The Question" (as in: where are you from), origins of racism, how non-white bodies are seen, heritage, class and what it means to not be white in British society today. It is detailed and personal, but object
Paul Fulcher
Jun 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
From one of the judges of the 2019 Booker Prize

In Britain, we are taught not to see race. We are told that race does not matter. We have convinced ourselves that if we can contort ourselves into a form of blindness, then issues of identity will quietly disappear.
We want to be post-racial, without having ever admitted how racial a society we have been.

Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging is an important and well written contribution to the debate in Britain alongside Why I'm No Longer Ta
K.J. Charles
A strong look at British racism--both the overt manifestations and grotesque history, but also the way many Brits try to pretend racism doesn't exist--summed up well in our national self-congratulation for 'abolishing' the slave trade that we invented, supported, and still profit from in the case of many organisations, families, and big houses.

We want to be post-racial, without having ever admitted how racial a society we have been.

The author is solidly upper middle class, so a lot of the focu
Roman Clodia
Britishness is an identity that is excluding a growing number of people who, like me, should be among its core constituents.

There are serious and important discussions to be had around the topic of race, colour and British identities that Hirsch is dealing with and it's good that she has set out her stall so firmly - however, this is a messy book in lots of ways that seems to suffer from its own identity crisis (is it a personal memoir of an individual's experience? a history of race relati
Apr 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: race, gender
If you are a particularly busy person and only have time to read one book on this subject, then you should read Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala. It is better written and packs in more information per page. This provides more of a look at the genteel version of racism that nice middle class people specialise in. You’ll come away knowing why saying ‘I don’t see race’ or ‘I’m colour-blind’ makes you part of the problem. As the author says somewhere, a particularly horrible l ...more
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Afua Hirsch's memoir/work of cultural analysis, Brit(ish) (can we talk about the genius of that title?), is out on the 1st of February. Hirsch's heritage is mixed: her mother is Ghanaian and her father the child of German Jewish refugees. Both her parents had a strong cultural identity of their own, but for Hirsch and her sister, being mixed-race in Wimbledon in the '90s meant they didn't belong anywhere. Hirsch is never less than willing to cop to her own privilege as a lighter-skinned black pe ...more
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: earc, 2018, research, memoir
I read this book courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I enjoyed most of this book: I found it informative and fascinating when general and interesting and even poignant when occasionally personal (Afua Hirsch's discussion of her own name was particularly great). The subject was not precisely new and fresh for me, but my knowledge of race/racism/anti-racist discourse is, for many reasons, influenced largely by American approaches and sources. I found it interesting to see the si
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
How I wish this book had been around when I was growing up. Afua Hirsch's Brit(ish) is a combination of memoir and cultural criticism, connecting the personal with the political as she explores themes of race, place, and identity. Her research is meticulous, and Hirsch draws on her experience as a journalist to intersperse her own reflections with interviews that give great insight into the realities - for there are multiple realities - of Black British identity.

Hirsch also considers what she de
Chris Chapman
Both a memoir and a history / sociology of diversity in the UK. This is a country which has so much going for it, as Hirsch again and again emphasises; despite the lambasting she gets on social media and in the tabloid press, she is not on a Britain-bashing mission. Instead, this is a beautifully written, humane, and generous plea for the country to do better at accommodating and being proud of its many cultures.

i found the discussion of multiculturalism fascinating. The way she describes it, it
Mary Adeson
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I get really excited when I come across a British author boldly speaking about race and identity, as I've often felt the UK treats the matter as an American issue, or a dirty word.

Hirsch makes an excellent observation by using both Prince Harry's and Colin Firth's experiences to demonstrate that often we are blinded to issues of identity until it affects us personally.

I know first hand that society today is not colour blind. Hirsch's and the experiences of her friends and colleagues are all to
“The problem is, there is still race, and there is still racism. Denying it does not solve the problem, it creates two further problems. First, it assumes that seeing race is something bad, that perhaps to admit to seeing race is to embark on the slippery slope towards racism. Given that most of the prejudice and othering I’ve experienced in my life has come courtesy of polite, smiling people who claimed not to see race, I know that this is not true.”

In her debut book, Brit(ish): On Race, Id
Katia N
Apr 11, 2018 rated it liked it
This book seems to divide the reading audience - many very low and very high ratings. I put a 3 stars because I do not want to add to the division on such a difficult issue as a race. However, I do not think this book is profound enough.

For various reasons, I am interested in the questions of identity and different aspects of it. I thought this book would be good to find out more. It is specifically focused on the race and the black part of her heritage. But I would be more interested to find o
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A perfect mixture between memoir and research, Afua talks about her own experiences of racism and identity within Britian. I found the whole book eye opening and utterly heartbreaking - once I stated couldn't stop! Would highly recommend!
Sep 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
First and foremost, I need to say that this book is extremely relevant to understand contemporaneous British context, especially amid the whole Brexit catastrophe. That being said, I believe there is room for improvement in this book.

Firstly, it tends to feel repetitive. I understand that the whole point of the author is that she *feels* neither British nor Ghananian. I just think that after the first chapter that was clear to me, a person who has been living out of her country for two years now
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely excellent book about the pitfalls of a "postracial" society that "doesn't see color" and the issues of grappling with "The Question" all your life (where are you from?). Hirsch's book is such an important look at what it means to be nonwhite in British society that considers whiteness exclusive to "Englishness" and delves into the intensely problematic histories that are still not acknowledged today.
I learned a lot and got many important insights and facts. Some critical points: Repetitive at times, and took me a long time to get through (I suspect because of the journalistic style of jumping from specific case and personal account/interview to another). Still well worth reading.

The Introduction especially is a great resource for coming into contact with discourse and terms/concepts around 'race' and identity in Britain
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Finished: 04.06.2018
Genre: non-fiction
Rating: A+++++
Ms Afua Hirsch has crossed the boundary between race and status.
She has broken the rules.


Tariq Mahmood
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british, sociology
The book changed my whole perception of racism, as I always use to reject racism as an archaic and defunct idea with no real place in the modern cultures of today. Because for me believing in racism could completely cloud my judgment, forcing me to selfishly only think about my own needs and wants, blocking any other considerations which could have affected the situation. I also knew that racism fuels xenophobia, but xenophobia can also be caused by tribes, nationalities, class, language and cul ...more
Feb 22, 2018 added it
I didn’t anticipate this book to hit me the way it did. Have no idea how I’m going to narrow down the mass highlighting I did to only 5-7 quotes. Maybe, maybe you should just get your own copy and read it.

Edited to add quotes. Please note, many of these are mere slices of the sections I enjoyed, or a snippet of a much large conversation which is backed up by research. Some matters that hit me the hardest - such as on names, the Williams sisters, adoption - I did not quote from at all because to
Jun 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I recently had a white colleague in the UK tell me proudly that she is ‘colour blind.’ I was honestly quite stunned by the comment, coming from American communities that are hyper aware and celebratory of colour and (to varying degrees of success) attempting to build constructive dialogue and change around it.

I read Brit(ish) in an attempt to better understand how colour exists in the UK and have found this book to be anecdotal, well-written, and informative. Would recommend to anyone interested
miss.mesmerized mesmerized
Afua Hirsch, daughter of an Englishman of German-Jewish descent and a Ghanaian mother, grew up in Wimbledon in rather affluent and educated surroundings. Her skin colour did not really matter when she was a kid, but growing up, she became more and more aware of the fact that she does not really belong: she isn’t white as the others and she isn’t black either. Being “mixed” did not double her identity but create a gap. For years she has been searching for her identity, for a place of belonging. “ ...more
Jun 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
Powerful, important and just phenomenal. Not just a factual and fascinating book full of interesting research but a beautifully emotional book around race and identity. This is essential reading.
Odi Shonga
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Afua Hirsch explores the profile of her identity as a Ghanaian-British woman through a series of autobiographical stories and contemplations on various themes ranging from sexuality to Brexit to class and careers.

Unless I haven’t been looking hard enough, you don’t often get such detailed, intelligent explorations of minority identity from British writers. This might be a symptom of our tendency to want to fit in, be a good minority, and transcend race by making it invisible. That tendency is t
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I truly believe this book should be required reading - for everyone. Everyone who’s grown up mixed race in Britain, or knows someone who’s grown up mixed race in Britain. Anyone who wants to talk about race in Britain. Or about immigration or politics in Britain.

Basically everyone.

Afua’s experience and narrative is not unique - this book is about everyone who was born British and brown. Granted, she had a very privileged upbringing, she went to Oxford and her family tree is an unusually intere
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is excellent. A great, in-depth, personal look on race in Britain. I learned a lot from this book, and I particularly loved Afua’s stories of returning to Ghana and living in other parts of Africa, and grappling with her internal struggles and her heritage. It definitely gave me a lot to think about and I am so glad I read this book.
Rebecca Farren
Read this review on my blog here:

Thanks to Vintage and NetGalley for the review copy.

I first heard Afua talk about her book on a Brexit podcast way back at the beginning of 2017. I was immediately excited and then disappointed to hear the release date was so far away. It’s finally here and I can say it was worth the wait!

Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging examines what it means to be black and mixed race in Britain today. It tackles a wide range o
Feb 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
Afua Hirsch invites us into her experience of growing up in the UK and her search for identity as a British person with a Ghanian background. Using her story, Hirsch critiques how we see and treat different races in the UK. I found the book to be immensely challenging, moving and educating. As a white British man, there is so much to learn here. It was a throughly excellent and humbling read that I would recommend to anyone living in the UK.

There are many topics that Hirsch explores as she follo
Helawae Friew
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Ehfwah offers several excellent points regarding what it means to have an identity and to belong in the so-called 'post-racial' Britain.
The book is part autobiography and part factual reporting on how black and second and third generation non-white immigrants navigate the minefield of everyday life entangled with racial and cultural identity in Britain. The author also details the transformation she went through on her quest to find answers regarding her
Aug 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't remember exactly how I learned of Afua Hirsch. It must have been her articles in The Guardian, or possibly it was an appearance on BBC World News that led me to reading her articles. I can no longer recall. What I do know is that she impressed me. When I learned about the publication of this book I eagerly waited for it to come in print (I hardly read a book on Nook; yes, Nook only). As it is for most of us who read much, this book sat around my house for months before a brief visit to L ...more
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