The best books on racism in Britain

Arun Kundnani Author Of The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror
By Arun Kundnani

Who am I?

Kundnani writes about racial capitalism and Islamophobia, surveillance and political violence, and Black radical movements. He is the author of The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, extremism, and the domestic War on Terror and The End of Tolerance: racism in 21st century Britain, which was selected as a New Statesman book of the year. He has written for the Nation, the Guardian, the Washington Post, Vice, and The Intercept. Born in London, he moved to New York in 2010. A former editor of the journal Race & Class, he was miseducated at Cambridge University, and holds a PhD from London Metropolitan University. He has been an Open Society fellow and a scholar-in-residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

I wrote...

The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror

By Arun Kundnani,

Book cover of The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror

What is my book about?

The Muslims are Coming! is the story of how the United States and British governments developed a sprawling infrastructure of surveillance to counter the threat of domestic terrorism. At least 100,000 Muslims in the US were placed under scrutiny – many were entrapped and wrongfully imprisoned by the FBI and federal prosecutors.

Meanwhile, British police and intelligence officers surveilled children as young as five as potential extremists. These abuses were backed by an industry of freshly minted experts and commentators, who helped propagate a series of racial prejudices about Muslims living in the West. Based on several years of research and reportage, in locations as disperate as Texas, New York, and Yorkshire, this is the first comprehensive critique of the War on Terror at home.

The Books I Picked & Why

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Policing the Crisis

By Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, Brian Roberts

Book cover of Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order

Why this book?

We are brought up to think of racism as a matter of individual attitudes and biases. If only it were that simple. Stuart Hall and his colleagues taught me that understanding how racism worked required much deeper thinking. First published in 1978, Policing the Crisis argued that race is a key constituent of Britain’s social and economic structures. It presented a picture of Britain in the 1970s as caught in a crisis of authority. Society was fracturing, giving rise to new authoritarianism in response. A moral panic about black crime was the surface justification for new “law and order” policies. But in a strange way, the country was using black people to work through its own anxieties. This was Thatcherism in embryo. The same processes continue to shape our lives today. There is no better book on how politics in Britain has functioned in the last fifty years.

Deport, Deprive, Extradite

By Nisha Kapoor,

Book cover of Deport, Deprive, Extradite: 21st Century State Extremism

Why this book?

Over the last two decades, there has been a vast expansion in the legal powers available to government ministers, civil servants, and police, intelligence, and border officers. Directed primarily at those suspected of being involved in Islamic extremism, criminal gangs, unlawful migration, and asylum-seeking, these powers are inseparable from the racist stereotypes that accompany them. Kapoor’s book precisely, relentlessly, and fearlessly reveals an official but unacknowledged pattern of racist policy-making. She highlights how the home secretary can, without judicial authorization, cancel someone’s British citizenship, even if they were born in the UK – a power that is only ever used on those who are not white. This, she says, is “extremism” at the heart of government.

The Heart of the Race

By Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie, Suzanne Scafe

Book cover of The Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain

Why this book?

Heart of the Race is the single most important text of British black feminism. First published in 1985, the book captures the collective experience of black women in Britain and its colonies, highlighting how the long history of slavery and empire, and women’s resistance to them, continues into the present with struggles over healthcare, education, migration, and work. Coming out of the work of the pioneering Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent, the book carefully traces the ways that race, class, and gender are structured together in the lives of African-Caribbean women – what activists would today call “intersectionality.” The power of the book lies in the clarity of its analysis as well as its long extracts from the authors’ interviews with black women.

Communities of Resistance

By A. Sivanandan,

Book cover of Communities of Resistance: Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism

Why this book?

A. Sivanandan was a key intellectual of the Asian and African-Caribbean working-class movements in Britain during their insurgent heyday from the late 1960s to the late 1980s. The essays collected in this volume, written between 1982 and 1990, are about how those movements were disaggregated and undermined – laying the ground for today’s racist Britain. The son of a rural postal clerk from the hinterland of a minor colonial territory, Sivanandan fled Sri Lanka after the anti-Tamil pogroms of 1958 and arrived in London as a refugee. The socialism the book advocates is poetic, loving, joyful, and centered upon the experiences of Third World peoples. Not a single sentence of Communities of Resistance is clunky or lacking in feeling.

New Racism

By Martin Barker,

Book cover of New Racism: Conservatives and the Ideology of the Tribe

Why this book?

I became involved in anti-racist politics as a student. The first campaign I organized was a protest against a lecturer who had written an essay advocating the deportation of everyone in Britain who was not white. The lecturer presented his argument in terms of the need for cultural homogeneity, which meant he did not have to make easily discredited claims of racial superiority. While the racism was obvious to me, I was struck by how many people believed the lecturer’s cultural argument. To respond to it required understanding how racist arguments could change their form, as older racist ideas lost their plausibility. For a while, I struggled to make sense of this. Then I came across Martin Barker’s book and all my confusion was dispelled. Accessible even as it wrestles with complex ideas of culture and biology, The New Racism shows how, from Enoch Powell onwards, conservatism in Britain has been tied to racial ideas of culture.