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Black and British, A Short Essential History, by David Olusoga - Review

Monday, August 23, 2021


I bought this book fairly recently in Waterstones, in April when shops had just opened again. As you can see by the sticker, it was on buy one get one half price and I think the other book was also about being Black and British, I'll have to get to reading that soon. Anyway, I picked this up the day after England lost the Euro 2020 final because I was disgusted by the racism that Black members of the England squad faced. Of course, they have been facing it for ages, and of course, it's not only England and England fans that have a problem with racism, but it seemed like an appropriate time to pick this book up anyway. 

So, this is a shortened version of David's book Black and British, which is over 800 pages long. It's only around 200. I'm not sure if it is specifically aimed at children but I definitely think that it is suitable for children, from the very youngest readers. The information is set out in clear, concise ways, and while it doesn't spare the horrors of, for example, the British slave trade, it also isn't full of horrific details. My friend Leanne said she'd got this for her and her daughter when she's a bit older - I really think you could read parts of it to a small child and there are pictures and illustrations to show them too. 

I already knew that there were Black Britons as long ago as when the Romans were here. I was intrigued to learn that there was a lady who was probably from North Africa whose bones were found in York in a fancy grave. She was buried with jet and ivory bangles - the jet probably came from Whitby, not too far from York, and the ivory probably came from Africa and may have reminded her of home. I really liked this story. 

I also knew that there were Black Britons here during Tudor times, Georgian times, and afterwards too. Henry VIII had a Black trumpeter called John Blanke, who may have come to Britain as one of Catherine of Aragon's attendants, given that she was from Spain which had strong links to Africa, the north especially.

However there's loads in the book I didn't know. I was really interested to read about the slave trade and the colonisation of Africa, which I didn't realise had happened relatively late in the 19th century, and the men who were instrumental in that, like Cecil Rhodes. I didn't realise that so many West Indian and African people fought for the British in both World War One and Two. I also learnt quite a few things about the Windrush crossing and the subsequent scandal. I kept reading things out to my partner! So this taught me, a whole grown adult, quite a few things too.

I really like David - I've seen a bunch of his TV shows and think he's really personable and knowledgeable which make him a pleasure to watch. I'm really happy to have read one of his books and would do so in the future too. I'm giving this five out of five!

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