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

The Books I Picked & Why

Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order

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

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.


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Deport, Deprive, Extradite: 21st Century State Extremism

By Nisha Kapoor

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.


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

By Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie, Suzanne Scafe

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.


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Communities of Resistance: Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism

By A. Sivanandan

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.


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New Racism: Conservatives and the Ideology of the Tribe

By Martin Barker

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.


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