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Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  4,065 ratings  ·  414 reviews
Afua Hirsch is British. Her parents are British. She was raised, educated and socialised in Britain. Her partner, daughter, sister and the vast majority of her friends are British. So why is her identity and sense of belonging a subject of debate? The reason is simply because of the colour of her skin.

Blending history, memoir and individual experiences, Afua Hirsch reveals
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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Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gender, race
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
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
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
Aoife - Bookish_Babbling
Another wonderfully author narrated audiobook addition to the growing and permanently evolving conversation.

Afua shines a light on life in the UK by looking back, around and forward combining history, culture, memoir & current events to educate and probe further questioning of what we are taught.
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
Dannii Elle
Actual rating 4.5/5 stars.

This wonderfully insightful book reads as part-memoir, part historical text. It focuses on the history of British slavery and colonialism as well as the trials faced by different ethnic groups in Britain today. It also focuses on Hirsch's personal experiences as a black woman residing in London and the struggles over her own identity she has continually faced. The book is split into sections that each focus on one topic, although experiences and historical time periods
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: research, memoir, earc, 2018
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
Inderjit Sanghera
Sep 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
In many ways the ideas propagated by Afua Hirsch in ‘Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging’ can be encapsulated in the debate she took part in around the importance of having a more complete view of British icons like Churchill by making people aware of their racist views and policies as well as the things they are venerated for. Hirsch was harangued by the panel members and her views misconstrued, with Nick Ferrari asking her why she chose to remain in the U.K. British history and colonial ...more
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
Jul 24, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible
3.5 stars

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
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
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
Mar 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
A good book that needed to be written, but unfortunately little was new to me. Would hate to think anyone melanated aged over 30 would need to read this.
Floor Flawless
Aug 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2020
This book is important and I actually learned a lot from it. I totally get the anger now because I got angry quite a lot at the white people with their racist comments both from history and really recent... I kept yelling about all those freaking white privilaged rich dumb people to someone I know and we actually had great discussions about it... Oof.. And yes I'm for sure going to read more about this topic. High on my priority list is a book that is about racism in The Netherlands as I live th ...more
Aug 08, 2020 rated it liked it
This is an important book and I think anyone who lives in the UK and who hasn't thought about race should read it. However, I had some major issues with it. As a disclaimer: I am not black, but I'm a non-EU immigrant to the UK. I also am a member of an ethnic minority in my country of birth, I live on a low income in the UK and I'm queer.

As some of the other reviewers pointed out, Afua Hirsch has an enormous amount of privilege. Middle class upbringing, private school, Oxford, working in very c
“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
DNF @ p60

I liked certain parts of this, but it felt a bit too infodump-y for me. I went into this expecting more of an anecdotal tone, but I think this needed better editing as I don’t quite know what the tone was meant to be. It jumped from anecdotal to statistical to a report very often which I just couldn’t get into. A shame, as I love reading Hirsch’s articles!
Eoin McGrath
Oct 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ugh unreal 🌍
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! ...more
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
An interesting book that covers serious historical and sociological issues, which, as a fellow mixed race middle class woman, I resonated with. But this book ties in memoir with critical thinking and it becomes convoluted at points. A lot of her stories about seeking her blackness in Africa trail off into dead ends. An important read, but I feel that there are better books out there to educate yourself on the matters this book touches upon, I didn't feel that the arguments in BRIT(ish) brought m ...more
Laura | What's Hot?
Oct 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Brit(ish) is a brilliant book about race and prejudice in Britain and it should be required reading in the UK.

I found large parts of this incredibly relatable as a mixed race British person with a similar educational background to Afua Hirsch. Whilst Hirsch is now a journalist and writer, she initially trained to be a barrister after she graduated from Oxford. She did a non-law degree there before going on to do the law conversion course, just like I did a few years ago. She describes in great
Jul 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What makes us feel British? Is it drinking tea? Our love of queueing? Perhaps it's how much we complain about the weather? Whatever it is, most of us know it is our home and feel it is our home. 

Now imagine you're constantly asked where you are from, no not London, where are you REALLY from? Like originally? Even though you were born in the UK. Imagine being one of the only people in your school who looked the way you did. And having your friends tell you that it was ok, they don't really see yo
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. ...more
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
Leire Lazurtegui Asmussen
Feb 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uni
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone, especially if you live in the UK! It has taught me so much about being black in Britain. This book is captivating because it doesn't merely state historical and sociological facts; it pairs them with the author's personal experiences and those of people she interviewed. I also plan to read books recommended by the author, like The Good Immigrant and Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire.

I have noticed reviews complaining about her not enga
Theophina Gabriel
Dec 19, 2020 rated it did not like it
The most god-awful trite I’ve ever read. I usually power through books no matter how bad but when she said she ‘fell into blackness’ when getting braids for the first time I simply had to put this book down. Her blatant self-entitlement (telling her dark-skinned boyfriend ‘perhaps’ when he tries to communicate the difference with which he is treated) and lack of any critical analysis or nuance left me dumbfounded. This is a class-A guide in privileged navel gazing and how to romanticise, commodi ...more
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