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Natives summary

Akala

Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire

4.6 (35 ratings)
22 mins

Brief summary

Natives by Akala is a powerful memoir that explores race, class and identity in contemporary Britain. It invites readers to challenge their understanding of race relations and the impact of structural racism on society.

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    Natives
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    Caribbeans arriving in Britain were met with a racist backlash.

    At the end of the Second World War, Britain was exhausted, indebted, and in physical ruins. It also faced a labor shortage. To get back on its feet, it needed workers. 

    Despite its wartime losses, Britain still possessed a vast empire. In 1948, it passed the British Nationality Act. This gave anyone born in a British colony the right to settle in Britain. With the encouragement of the government, Caribbean subjects bearing British passports began landing at Tilbury, a port near London. 

    This was the “Windrush generation,” a reference to the name of the ship that brought many Caribbeans to Britain. They saw themselves as equal citizens who had come to help rebuild the war-shattered “mother country.” But that wasn’t how white Britain saw them. 

    The key message here is: Caribbeans arriving in Britain were met with a racist backlash.

    Between the late 1940s and 1960s, around half a million Caribbeans arrived in Britain, among them Akala’s grandparents. They quickly realized that stories they’d been told about the mother country weren’t true. 

    Britain, for one thing, was full of poor white people. Out in the colonies, whiteness had been a sign of power and wealth. The only white people many Caribbean subjects had seen before coming to England were members of the imperial elite. Imagine their surprise, then, when they first saw a white man sweeping the street. It was absurd. What was this Britain? 

    But this wasn’t the only surprise. Caribbean arrivals had been told that they’d be welcomed as heroes. They were shocked when they were met with hostility instead. Akala’s grandfather, for example, remembers that he was regularly called racial slurs in public within a week of setting foot in the country. As his new neighbors saw it, he wasn’t helping rebuild the country – he was a freeloader who’d come to steal “their” jobs or even “their” women. 

    How had white Britons come to this conclusion? Well, no one had tried to explain to white Britain that the popular welfare state then being built was in large part supported by revenues raised in colonies like Jamaica. Nor were they told that the people who’d produced coffee, tobacco, and gold in those colonies, and who were now coming to Britain, weren’t “immigrants.” They were British subjects like anyone else in the country.

    In the absence of such explanations, hostility to Britain’s Black citizens only continued to grow. 

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    What is Natives about?

    Natives (2018) melds memoir and polemic to explore race and class in contemporary Britain. Drawing on his own experiences while growing up poor and Black in London in the 1980s and 1990s, musician and writer Akala crafts a vivid portrait of a society that systematically robs Black citizens of opportunities. Why, he asks, is Britain like this? As we’ll see in these blinks, answering that question takes us deep into the history of slavery, empire, and racism. 

    Natives Review

    Natives (2018) by Akala is an eye-opening exploration of race, class, and British identity. Here's why you should give it a read:

    • Packed with personal experiences and historical analysis, the book offers a thought-provoking insight into the realities of growing up as a black person in Britain.
    • Akala's keen observations and sharp wit make the book engaging and accessible, allowing readers to easily connect with the author's perspective.
    • By questioning prevailing narratives and exploring the impact of colonialism, Natives challenges readers to reconsider their own biases and deepen their understanding of social issues.

    Best quote from Natives

    I was not born with an opinion of the world but it clearly seemed that the world had an opinion of people like me.

    —Akala
    example alt text

    Who should read Natives?

    • History buffs
    • Radicals and reformers
    • Brits and Anglophiles

    About the Author

    Akala is a hip-hop artist, writer, activist, and entrepreneur. As a musician, he is best known for his award-winning breakthrough album It’s Not a Rumour and his 2010 follow-up DoubleThink. Akala is the founder of the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company, a theatre production company that explores the parallels between contemporary rap and Shakespeare’s writing. Natives is his first book. 

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    Natives FAQs 

    What is the main message of Natives?

    Akala's Natives explores race, class, and identity in contemporary Britain, shedding light on systemic inequalities.

    How long does it take to read Natives?

    The reading time for Natives depends on the reader, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in 15 minutes.

    Is Natives a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Natives is a thought-provoking read that delves into important social issues. It offers valuable insights and is definitely worth the read.

    Who is the author of Natives?

    Akala is the author of Natives.

    What to read after Natives?

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