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In Black and British, award-winning historian and broadcaster David Olusoga offers readers a rich and revealing exploration of the extraordinarily long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa. Drawing on new genetic and genealogical research, original records, expert testimony and contemporary interviews, Black and British reaches back to Roman Brit In Black and British, award-winning historian and broadcaster David Olusoga offers readers a rich and revealing exploration of the extraordinarily long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa. Drawing on new genetic and genealogical research, original records, expert testimony and contemporary interviews, Black and British reaches back to Roman Britain, the medieval imagination and Shakespeare's Othello. It reveals that behind the South Sea Bubble was Britain's global slave-trading empire and that much of the great industrial boom of the nineteenth century was built on American slavery. It shows that Black Britons fought at Trafalgar and in the trenches of the First World War. Black British history can be read in stately homes, street names, statues and memorials across Britain and is woven into the cultural and economic histories of the nation.


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In Black and British, award-winning historian and broadcaster David Olusoga offers readers a rich and revealing exploration of the extraordinarily long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa. Drawing on new genetic and genealogical research, original records, expert testimony and contemporary interviews, Black and British reaches back to Roman Brit In Black and British, award-winning historian and broadcaster David Olusoga offers readers a rich and revealing exploration of the extraordinarily long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa. Drawing on new genetic and genealogical research, original records, expert testimony and contemporary interviews, Black and British reaches back to Roman Britain, the medieval imagination and Shakespeare's Othello. It reveals that behind the South Sea Bubble was Britain's global slave-trading empire and that much of the great industrial boom of the nineteenth century was built on American slavery. It shows that Black Britons fought at Trafalgar and in the trenches of the First World War. Black British history can be read in stately homes, street names, statues and memorials across Britain and is woven into the cultural and economic histories of the nation.

30 review for Black and British: A Forgotten History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Udeni

    Growing up in Britain in the 1970s, I was subjected to the same type of racism as this book's author, David Olusoga. The refrain David heard was the same that I heard: "Go back to where you came from." "Black and British" is a detailed rebuttal of the racist lie that black people do not belong in Britain. The book accompanies a superb BBC Two documentary, which is much more crowd-pleasing in tone. In the book, Olusoga pulls no punches. The thesis running throughout the book is that black Britons Growing up in Britain in the 1970s, I was subjected to the same type of racism as this book's author, David Olusoga. The refrain David heard was the same that I heard: "Go back to where you came from." "Black and British" is a detailed rebuttal of the racist lie that black people do not belong in Britain. The book accompanies a superb BBC Two documentary, which is much more crowd-pleasing in tone. In the book, Olusoga pulls no punches. The thesis running throughout the book is that black Britons have been systematically excluded from British history. He argues that "the denial and avowal of black British history, even in the face of mounting documentary and archeological evidence, is not just a consequence of racism but a feature of racism." Starting from Roman times, the book is a compelling chronicle of the lives of black Tudors, Georgians, Victorians, and soldiers in the first and second world wars. The book ends in the present day. Large chronological gaps exist, frustratingly for the reader, because black voices have simply not been systematically recorded throughout history. The book's strengths are in its jaw-dropping true stories. My favourite chapters are on John Blanke who was Henry VIII's trumpet-player; the massacre of black civilians by the British army in Jamaica 1865 (black lives did not matter to the police even then); derring-do on the high seas between British anti-slavery ships and slavers; and the short but eventful history of Windrush which was the ship that brought West Indians to England in 1948. The hardback edition of this book has high-quality colour plates. The Westminster Tournament Scroll of 1511 and the medieval Mappa Mundi look particularly beautiful in colour. The weakness of the book is in the overload of detail and occasional anachronisms e.g. "reached out" instead of "wrote to". Anyone interested in British history, African history and civil rights must read this book. With a wealth of previously unheard stories, a brisk writing style, and comprehensive research, Olusoga has produced what deserves to become a modern classic. It is also a joy to read. Thank you Andrew for your original review (below) and for recommending the book to me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lois

    This book is so detailed and interesting. Much of the history is harrowing, heartbreaking and difficult to read. Still, I learned so much about the UK and the British Empire. 'Black' Britons have existed since Roman times. Longer than the descendants of Danes who are not questioned as belonging in Britain.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    Thoroughly researched and far ranging, David Olusoga's book is topical and necessary, providing an overview of a neglected element of British history, as well as being essential reading for the contemporary debate about the role (or even existence) of black people in Britain throughout the ages. It might seem strange to begin a review for one historian with a story about another, but bear with me... For those that are not clued to all the best history themed Twitter fights, eminent Classicist Ma Thoroughly researched and far ranging, David Olusoga's book is topical and necessary, providing an overview of a neglected element of British history, as well as being essential reading for the contemporary debate about the role (or even existence) of black people in Britain throughout the ages. It might seem strange to begin a review for one historian with a story about another, but bear with me... For those that are not clued to all the best history themed Twitter fights, eminent Classicist Mary Beard recently provoked uproar when she said that Roman Britain was ethnically diverse after a BBC cartoon dared to include a black Roman soldier and his family. It was not supposed to represent the 'typical' but the 'possible' (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2...). Some of the vitriol she received was unfathomable and all because, it seems to me, that there seems to be a whole lot of people who want to see this country as the whitest of white places. Most importantly, the potential for reasoned debate based on evidence was shut down by denial, personal attack, and modern ideological ideas about race. It was a vivid demonstration of the intellectual space into which Olusoga was stepping. Indeed, this is the period with which he begins his chronological history, noting the role of imperialism that brought different peoples to these lands and how much later it would take Britons to Africa [loc 760]. From Roman soldiers to black slaves to WW2 GIs, Olusoga traces the changing role of black men and women in British society, as well as the attitudes towards them. The specific focus is on the international slave trade, with a much smaller section on post 1900, but there are significant holes in the story due to the nature of the evidence. He notes the difficulties in researching a subject with limited primary/autobiographical sources, especially when looking at black women, which is why there is inevitable repetition of the big names such as Olaudah Equiano. This is no surprise as the underlying theme of the book is the deliberate exclusion of black men and women from the historical record, an interpretation which might have seemed extreme had it not been so clearly illustrated in contemporary debates. That the subject has only recently come to the forefront indicates we have a long way to go. With all of the horror contained within, it would be impossible to point to a worst time or greatest act of immorality, yet for me, the story that stopped me in my tracks was that of the slaver ship, the Zong. On a journey in 1781, fears arose that there was not enough water to last the trip, so over a period of days, 133 slaves were thrown overboard and left to drown. Even worse, once in port, the slavers tried to cash in the insurance policy on the slaves they had killed, for the loss of their property. The cruelty and sheer disregard for human life that this evinces sickened me, yet it is one of many stories of inhuman action towards people simply because of the colour of their skin. And the best part of it? The stories that run in the background of the book, often without detail, because they represent the lives of ordinary people, every shade of colour, who lived and loved and married each other despite social conventions, laws, or any other issue that might have stopped them. Real people living as families, producing children, being friends. In a society where race can still affect your opportunities in life, these are the things to hold on to then and now. Highly recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    A truly superb history that traces the 'global story of Britain's interaction with Africans on three continents' from Afro-Romans through to our present. This is detailed and attentive to the complexities of race through history, evidenced thoroughly (the narrative ends at p.564 so there are almost 200 pages of notes, references, sources and bibliography), but never dry and with an eye for story. The concept of 'forgotten' or 'hidden' history is an overused one by publishers but, for once, it's A truly superb history that traces the 'global story of Britain's interaction with Africans on three continents' from Afro-Romans through to our present. This is detailed and attentive to the complexities of race through history, evidenced thoroughly (the narrative ends at p.564 so there are almost 200 pages of notes, references, sources and bibliography), but never dry and with an eye for story. The concept of 'forgotten' or 'hidden' history is an overused one by publishers but, for once, it's completely pertinent here (some of that history being deliberately de-memorialized such as the way the British Government only allowed white soldiers to take part in WW1 victory parades) and I can't stress how much I learned from reading this. The audio book is wonderfully read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith with great clarity and expression. I can't recommend book and audio highly enough - especially to those of us who thought we had a reasonable grasp on history. Illuminating, shocking, shameful in places, harrowing at times, often enraging but also intermittently comforting not least in the excavation of mixed-race marriages that quietly took place throughout British history, this isn't just about understanding our past, but also our present.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Just as a heads up - I've decided not to rate books I'm reading as part of my own educational development in racial history and social policy etc. This was an incredibly well thought out and researched book into an area of British history that has been largely overlooked, forgotten or erased. It follows to lives of Black British individuals chronologically through time from the Roman era, to the Georgian and Victorian, World War and beyond. I found it fascinating to see how the intricacies of sl Just as a heads up - I've decided not to rate books I'm reading as part of my own educational development in racial history and social policy etc. This was an incredibly well thought out and researched book into an area of British history that has been largely overlooked, forgotten or erased. It follows to lives of Black British individuals chronologically through time from the Roman era, to the Georgian and Victorian, World War and beyond. I found it fascinating to see how the intricacies of slavery abolition and emancipation lead to wider repurcussions in the British empire. For example, I had no idea that the cotton industry (built on the back of slaves) was a strong driving factor in the industrial revolution. At school all I learnt about was Spinning Jennie's, not where the cotton came from. It's also important to note that while Britain was arguably the largest player in the slave trade, it wasn't the only European power exploiting the trafficking of Black individuals. Spain. Portugal. The Dutch. All of them helped expand and abuse the Black populations throughout the world. So much of this history is hidden in plain sight, from the paintings of aristocratic Georgians with their black page boys in pearl earrings in the background to the black sailor depicted on Nelson's column. It's just not discussed, and this book really helps open the eyes to the lack of black history discussed in schools and beyond. It's woefully inadequate. To hear the story of Granville Sharp and his life long work fighting slavery, and to hear the lost voices of those subjected to it would have really opened up a lot of discussion into the concept of white superiority and where it originates from and why it seems to still persist in different forms in today's society. At times, like a lot of non fiction history texts, the writing does get a bit dry in places with a lot of information to take in. It wasn't a fast read, but one I'm extremely happy to have read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    K.J. Charles

    Outstanding. Utterly fascinating, bringing together so much research, and quite extraordinarily enlightening. Really well written, too, a history that reads like a novel. It's a whacking great overview of centuries of history and I glommed it in three days. One really amazing thing is how the author brings out the voices that go so often unheard or ignored. My entire education on abolition was basically "William Wilberforce". The section here covers the absolute hero Granville Sharp, who ought t Outstanding. Utterly fascinating, bringing together so much research, and quite extraordinarily enlightening. Really well written, too, a history that reads like a novel. It's a whacking great overview of centuries of history and I glommed it in three days. One really amazing thing is how the author brings out the voices that go so often unheard or ignored. My entire education on abolition was basically "William Wilberforce". The section here covers the absolute hero Granville Sharp, who ought to be on bloody banknotes; the band of black speakers, many ex enslavement, called the Sons of Africa who toured Britain to whip up support for abolition, the massive involvement of women--and also the perspectives of the people who argued strongly and passionately in favour of slavery, and who we're now meant to brush under the carpet because they're a national embarrassment. It's a far richer and more meaningful story than the one white male Tory politician we're supposed to believe did abolition single-handedly. This book is rich, humane, thoughtful, fascinating, and full of glimpses of individual lives. My ereader is awash with notes. I can't recommend it enough for anyone with an interest in British history (and of course American or colonial history too, because Sierra Leone and the American Civil War etc etc are all huge parts of this story). Absolutely cracking.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlin

    This book is one of the ones I picked up recently to educate myself more on the history of slavery and black people in the UK, my home. I have to say, it's a real shame none of this was taught in school, as this was both horrific and fascinating to read about, and as it's the real history of the country it should be told to children so the mistakes of the past aren't then repeated again. The author of the book does a fantastic job of moving through history and recounting the important events, mo This book is one of the ones I picked up recently to educate myself more on the history of slavery and black people in the UK, my home. I have to say, it's a real shame none of this was taught in school, as this was both horrific and fascinating to read about, and as it's the real history of the country it should be told to children so the mistakes of the past aren't then repeated again. The author of the book does a fantastic job of moving through history and recounting the important events, moves, and laws that made our history as fraught with slavery as it is. He has a way with words which made it very easy to listen to (I have the audio) and I really enjoyed seeing the way that the UK went through their various phases of slave trade to abolition, to current day issues. There's a lot of information so I read this slowly and only when I was awake and alert to take it in well, but it's not 'difficult' to read for the writing is clear, it's just a harsh reality to face that the UK is one of the leading reasons for racism today. Overall, I loved the personal stories the author was able to weave in, along with the big overarching historical moments and events. The world was a very different place back in the slave trading times, and it's ever so evident from reading this, but the ideas which were fostered by the elite in those times still trickle through today in some parts of our modern societies. This made me want to learn more and question more about why this isn't the history we learn at a young age, Britain has done an amazing job of erasing black lives from our narrative and pointing the finger at the US and other countries for the racism and divisions we see, but actually if you dig deeper and make the effort to learn the reality, you can see that black people who came to the UK as slaves were discriminated against from the start and set up as 'aliens' in the country which purported to 'own' and 'support' them, the motherland. The UK isn't blameless in anything racism-based, and we need to own our history and learn from it, not continue to bury it and hope it goes away. 5/5*s and a must-read for anyone in the UK and beyond.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Black British History that uncovers the lost connections and unwritten chapters! What we often think of as Black British History, should not just be seen from just the perspective of events that began in the middle of the twentieth century with the arrival to these shores of communities of people from the Caribbean. But as part of a much wider narrative, linking Africa, Britain, and the Americas, that has been ongoing for centuries and continues right into the present. "Black and British: A Forgot Black British History that uncovers the lost connections and unwritten chapters! What we often think of as Black British History, should not just be seen from just the perspective of events that began in the middle of the twentieth century with the arrival to these shores of communities of people from the Caribbean. But as part of a much wider narrative, linking Africa, Britain, and the Americas, that has been ongoing for centuries and continues right into the present. "Black and British: A Forgotten History", which accompanies the BBC Two Television series is very extensive, uncovering many of the lost connections and unwritten chapters of British society that can be traced back to at least the Roman times. Recommended reading and very well presented, a reminder that to make sense of the present, it is necessary to look back at the past.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Essential reading. It is quite impossible to overstate the importance of this work, and the skill with which it marshals a huge amount of detail. In an ideal world it would be read by every British citizen. At the very least go check out the accompanying BBC documentary series which is on iPlayer.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    This is a thick brick of a book, but it reads like a page-turning novel. Studying American racism from both its parallels to and its contrasts with British racism is soberingly instructive. Olusoga charts the historical evolution of each. Whereas New World racism emerged as a means of creating and upholding laws that categorized people of African descent as property on American soil, British racism evolved largely to justify the fortunes this triangular trade brought into Britain through a pract This is a thick brick of a book, but it reads like a page-turning novel. Studying American racism from both its parallels to and its contrasts with British racism is soberingly instructive. Olusoga charts the historical evolution of each. Whereas New World racism emerged as a means of creating and upholding laws that categorized people of African descent as property on American soil, British racism evolved largely to justify the fortunes this triangular trade brought into Britain through a practice kept mostly far removed from, and out of sight to, most Britons. Yet, as Olusoga meticulously documents, contrary to popular misconception, black Britons have always been there, from Roman times onward. Their story is permanently entwined in English/British history, and not a later injection into it. It was fascinating as an American reader to observe the history of the Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans from a non-American perspective that could report on American involvement dispassionately. BLACK AND BRITISH feels no obligation to sanitize America's participation in the obscenely lucrative traffic in forced African labor, nor to mythologize America's origin story. Thus it shines a clear light on the role the trade in enslaved Africans played in America's break with Great Britain, especially in response to the colonial uproar over a 1772 British court ruling in the famous Somerset case which declared that slavery could not be recognized on English soil. This meant American or West Indian slaveholders who could not bring their domestic enslaved laborers with them to Britain as personal servants, because as soon as they set foot on British soil, they were legally free. It was against this despoiling of America's "property rights" that without Parliamentary representation that American patriots north and south of the Mason-Dixon line protested so vehemently, ultimately agitating for independence from such British tyranny. (Of course this wasn't the only point of protest.) Notable founding fathers weren't simply gentlemen of their historical moment who participated in a common labor practice, they were strident defenders of their "right" to profit thereby, who went to great pains to hunt down their escaped "property" that had fought for Britain during the Revolutionary War in (mostly betrayed) hopes of subsequent freedom. The story of Britain's abolition movement includes inspiring accounts of resilience, courage, and remarkable moral resolve. No ground gained could be considered secure, however; the empire struck back, so to speak. The general mood on questions of race in Britain wobbled erratically between fervent abolitionism and open hostility toward black Britons, thanks to reactionary surges in virulent racist-rhetoric, intended to justify: first, British trade in enslaved people, then Britain's trade with the cotton-growing American South which fueled the cotton mills of Britain's industrial revolution, then Britain's involvement in 19th & 20th Century imperialism. None of the mega-fortunes these endeavors produced for white Britain could have been realized without a relentless and deliberate campaign of racial hostility propagandized for decades in Britain to drown out the abolitionist and moralist voices of Britain's better angels. In some ways, it's historical and cultural gazing into a Union Jack-tinted mirror. Necessary reading; skillfully rendered; highly recommended.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Izzie

    Essential reading if you're British (or even if you're not). The fact that I barely learned about any of the events in this book is, in a word, scandalous. Britain has downplayed its role in the slave trade (in history books etc) to the extent that the vast majority of people here have no idea that Britain was once the biggest slave-trading nation in the world. And despite its length, this book was well-written and clearly presented, and while I usually find books that are tie-ins with documenta Essential reading if you're British (or even if you're not). The fact that I barely learned about any of the events in this book is, in a word, scandalous. Britain has downplayed its role in the slave trade (in history books etc) to the extent that the vast majority of people here have no idea that Britain was once the biggest slave-trading nation in the world. And despite its length, this book was well-written and clearly presented, and while I usually find books that are tie-ins with documentaries a little gimmicky, this was anything but, and I would be interested in watching the tie-in.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jenn Morgans

    In some ways, this is a difficult book to read. For one thing, even discounting the bibliography and notes, it’s 526 pages of quite small print. I made a project of reading a chapter a day, more or less - the heatwave threw me off a little - and even broken down like that, it’s a lot of information to take in. What really makes this a difficult book, though, is the subject matter. Olusoga is a sympathetic, meticulous and accessible writer - no part of this tome was too dull or too densely worded In some ways, this is a difficult book to read. For one thing, even discounting the bibliography and notes, it’s 526 pages of quite small print. I made a project of reading a chapter a day, more or less - the heatwave threw me off a little - and even broken down like that, it’s a lot of information to take in. What really makes this a difficult book, though, is the subject matter. Olusoga is a sympathetic, meticulous and accessible writer - no part of this tome was too dull or too densely worded to make me want to stop reading - who takes pains to write about the best and worst of any time period. There is no bias or “agenda” here except to prove that Black people are and have always been a part of Britain, dating back to the Roman Empire. But the treatment of them has most frequently been truly horrific. Olusoga is unflinching about the harmful beliefs and actions of white Britons throughout this long history, and it’s probably just as well I chose only to read this book at home, because while I periodically gasped in horror, I more often swore violently at the (mostly) long-dead people on the page. It is a deeply upsetting and infuriating read for the most part, frankly because British racism is an ancient and vile institution. Black and British is also a deeply fascinating book. I have an interest in history - and studied it for two years at university - and yet I didn’t know many of the events or people in this book, apart from the ones I’d found from watching Olusoga’s accompanying documentary, or other similarly “specialised” shows or books. So many of these people could be easily taught about in British schools or mentioned in the books or documentaries we use, and it’s maddening that they aren’t. Even in the 526 pages and the four generous sections of photographs there were times and people I wanted to know about and described images I wanted to see. In some cases there just isn’t the information, but in others I look forward to exploring the bibliography and reading other books on the subject. Overall, I think this is vitally important reading, and I’ll be doing my part as a person and as a bookseller to encourage more people to read it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This book will challenge your perception of British history, and is utterly brilliant how it reintroduces Black britons into their own past. It also shows how the British leaders and people idea of Black people has greatly changed many time throughout history. Cementing the idea that white supremacy and othering was essentially to further colonial and consumerist causes. This is a book that you will experience not just read - but it is also a perfect springboard to allow us to question what stor This book will challenge your perception of British history, and is utterly brilliant how it reintroduces Black britons into their own past. It also shows how the British leaders and people idea of Black people has greatly changed many time throughout history. Cementing the idea that white supremacy and othering was essentially to further colonial and consumerist causes. This is a book that you will experience not just read - but it is also a perfect springboard to allow us to question what stories and histories are we considering more important today.

  14. 4 out of 5

    AnnaG

    I was somewhat disappointed in this book, I know David Olusoga is a talented historian and writes very well, so I was looking forward to a detailed history of black British people that hadn't been told before. Instead, this book barely tells the story of any black individuals at all, but is instead focused on relations between Britain and black populations as communities with a major focus on slavery. The individuals who get mentioned most are mainly white e.g. Granville Sharp (35), Thomas Clark I was somewhat disappointed in this book, I know David Olusoga is a talented historian and writes very well, so I was looking forward to a detailed history of black British people that hadn't been told before. Instead, this book barely tells the story of any black individuals at all, but is instead focused on relations between Britain and black populations as communities with a major focus on slavery. The individuals who get mentioned most are mainly white e.g. Granville Sharp (35), Thomas Clarkson (12), Enoch Powell (14) . Frederick Douglass (who is of course American) gets only 10 mentions by contrast. There is an odd victimisation narrative in a lot of history books I've read on slavery, which this book also follows. It says Black people today are suffering because of slavery/racism, due to a unbroken chain of history where Black people were oppressed as slaves, freed by white men who (racistly) still viewed black people were inferior and so for the next century or more, black people were still unable to break off the shackles of prejudice because of systemic bias. This victim-mentality is both corrosive and demonstrably untrue. The very narrative itself puts down Black people in exactly the way the "racist, patriarchal whites" contained in the narrative are supposed to have done and suggests that Black people lack the agency to succeed. It's all the more frustrating to read this nonsense when there are so many amazing Black people in British history to celebrate. Examples that don't get mentioned in this book, off the top of my head: Mary Seacole, Billy Ocean, Johnson Beharry, John Sentamu, Zadie Smith, Frank Bruno, Lenny Henry. Ira, Aldridge - one of the highest paid actors in the world of his time only gets mentioned in the introduction as having married a white woman - nothing about his own accomplishments and career, not even a passing reference that he was an actor! Since Olusoga was extending his history of "Black and British" to cover not just the history of individual people who are both Black & British, but rather the wider impact of Britain on Black people around the world and Black people on Britain, then there are huge threads of history missing. The Anglican church is one of the most enduring legacies in former British colonies, surely Desmond Tutu and the phenomenal achievements in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission avoiding major bloodshed at the end of Apartheid would be worth mentioning. Or another big omission - the cultural impact of colonial/commonwealth links in art or literature - Wole Soyinka springs to mind. The author has obviously faced prejudice and racism in his own life, so it's not really a surprise that he expects to see a thread of racism in history. Nonetheless, it feels like a real leap to say that Victorian Britain, which is acknowledged in this book as putting so much of its blood and treasure into ending the slave trade and where Uncle Tom's Cabin was a best-seller, was rampantly racist; even in a Olusoga's example of racism in society - a racist statement in a local newspaper - the black man who had been defamed received compensation from a court, hardly systemic discrimination. When looking at more modern race relations/racism, Olusoga does point out that Enoch Powell got sacked for his speech and that the Race Relations Act was already on the books by the end of the 60s. The attempt to row back on the Nationality Act and restrict immigration may indicate racial bias in government policy, but more likely, as with today's points-based system, suggests that the local population tends to kick-off when there is large scale immigration and in a democracy that's a problem that politicians need to take notice of. Ultimately, I see this as a missed opportunity. Rather than being a celebration of people who are black and British or looking at cultural enrichment, this is really a play-by-play of the abolitionist movement, which is not really a forgotten history since its on the National Curriculum.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Val

    I read this book for Black History Month, which is held in October in the UK and Netherlands (and not at all in other European former colonial and / or slave-trading nations). It is a very good, well written history book and I hope a lot more people read it. There is not a lot in it that I did not already know about, but I had not looked at history from this point-of-view before. The author's emphasis is different, so anything not particularly relevant to Britons of African or Afro-Caribbean desc I read this book for Black History Month, which is held in October in the UK and Netherlands (and not at all in other European former colonial and / or slave-trading nations). It is a very good, well written history book and I hope a lot more people read it. There is not a lot in it that I did not already know about, but I had not looked at history from this point-of-view before. The author's emphasis is different, so anything not particularly relevant to Britons of African or Afro-Caribbean descent (the many wars of succession or religious denomination, for example) is left out. School History lessons have changed since the 1970s, so my daughters learnt far more about the lives of ordinary people than I did at the time. This is an improvement, history is not or should not be just about those at the top of the hierarchy, it should have some relevance to those studying it. When those at the top did not even look like the pupils studying them, it must have seemed even less relevant. David Olusoga's book addresses that problem. The Roman Empire recruited its soldiers from all its dominions and there were Africans in Britain in Roman times. Carthaginians had been trading for Cornish tin in centuries before that. They then vanish from the historical record for more than a thousand years, before reappearing in the age of discovery, global trade and slavery. This is when the book becomes detailed. It continues through the years of Empire, when being British did not mean being white (although those at the top always were), and on to the divisive post-colonial years when some people thought it did. Racism based on skin colour is not new and egalitarian rhetoric was rarely matched by reality, but it seems to have increased in Britain throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries largely due to contact with US propaganda and 'race' theories then exacerbated by economic difficulties. Perhaps what changed in the 1960s and 1970s was that racism came more out into the open. There had been speeches just as racist and inflammatory as Enoch Powell's, but they had received much less publicity. That overt racism resulted, among other things, in the Olusoga family being driven from their home. It also resulted in David deciding to study history and later to write this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Darrel Bailey

    This took me a long time to get through. Being born in this country, the title denotes my nationality so I know instinctively what I was in for picking this up. Man, was I wrong. As a young lad, certain family members would earnestly impress upon me the need to research my history and "arm myself" with knowledge. Over the years, I have done... in certain areas, but as I progressed through the book, I found myself emotionally charged and impassioned at some of the shocking things I learnt. From the This took me a long time to get through. Being born in this country, the title denotes my nationality so I know instinctively what I was in for picking this up. Man, was I wrong. As a young lad, certain family members would earnestly impress upon me the need to research my history and "arm myself" with knowledge. Over the years, I have done... in certain areas, but as I progressed through the book, I found myself emotionally charged and impassioned at some of the shocking things I learnt. From the slaughter of Jamaican people in the 1860s (and Charles Dickens amongst the English gentry defending the irrefutably guilty perpetrator) to the "Race for Africa" in the early 1900s where Africa's sovereignty was almost completely lost in 10 years to the British Empire and other countries, to the despicable treatment of Black soldiers in the 40s by the British government (Attlee and Churchill were awful to Black immigrants). However, not all is harrowing tales of my people's suffering. There are plenty of heroic figures to smile about finally getting widespread recognistion; Touissaint l'Overture, Henry "Box" Brown, Fredrick Douglass to name a few. From ancient Rome Black people have been a part of British people (and even further due to recent findings) but my early educational days would have me believe that transatlantic slavery was the beginning of the history of my blood. The history uncovered in this book is what I wished I learnt as a boy, but maybe things are changing for generations younger than myself and I can relax a little. There's sooo much further to go to improve race relations the world over, but it's up to us alive and capable people to arm ourselves with the knowledge of our past to empower our future.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mark Gelder

    Insightful and eminently readable throughout the text and full of essential and interesting parts of our (British) history. However, it's the middle chapters on and around slavery that make you realise just how tightly woven Britain's fortune and history is to Africa. Again and again Olusoga reminds the reader of this plain facts and you see the tendrils leading to and away from this moment to lend a clarity which, in my school days, were sadly lacking. Can't recommend enough!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Othniel

    This is a comprehensive and thoroughly researched look at the history of African and African-Caribbean people in Britain, operating as a corrective to the assertion that immigration only began with the Windrush in 1948. Going back as far as Roman times, Olusoga interrogates a myriad of texts and testimonies to outline a multi-faceted history, pointing out that significant numbers of non-white people have been in Britain for several centuries, whether as servants, entertainers, public officials (i This is a comprehensive and thoroughly researched look at the history of African and African-Caribbean people in Britain, operating as a corrective to the assertion that immigration only began with the Windrush in 1948. Going back as far as Roman times, Olusoga interrogates a myriad of texts and testimonies to outline a multi-faceted history, pointing out that significant numbers of non-white people have been in Britain for several centuries, whether as servants, entertainers, public officials (including a High Sheriff of Monmouthshire) or simply ordinary people living their lives. Each chapter deals with a specific period or issue - e.g. the troubled settlement of Sierra Leone, the campaign against the slave trade, the contributions of Commonwealth soldiers to both world wars. The book does not focus solely on Britain, putting things in context by taking in developments in the Americas and Africa, painting a complex picture of multiple imperatives (moral, economic, political) and contradictory attitudes. It is both academically rigorous and deeply felt, the author himself bemoaning the fact that many of the individuals mentioned remain silent participants in their own stories; thus we get tantalising glimpses into lives which then fade into the background - that background being a Britain which, due to their genetic input, is less "white" than some might have us suppose. It is a tad repetitive at times, and a few stories which might have been expanded go unexplored. Nevertheless, this is an important contribution to the continuing debate about "Britishness"; and there is much material here which could form the basis for fictional or dramatic extrapolations.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Farah Mendlesohn

    Mildly embarrassed at how long it's taken me to read this book, but it is very thick. But I'm on sick leave and it was a good solid read when I needed it. I am *very* impressed. I'm reasonably well read in Black British History but there were so many things here I either didn't know about or only knew the surface of. I was aware for example of the very different racial attitudes in Britain in 1820 compared to 1870 (I've had to explain this more than once) but I was not really very clear on why: O Mildly embarrassed at how long it's taken me to read this book, but it is very thick. But I'm on sick leave and it was a good solid read when I needed it. I am *very* impressed. I'm reasonably well read in Black British History but there were so many things here I either didn't know about or only knew the surface of. I was aware for example of the very different racial attitudes in Britain in 1820 compared to 1870 (I've had to explain this more than once) but I was not really very clear on why: Olusoga delineates the shift brilliantly, and in what I think sums up why this is so brilliant a book, explains both consequential shifts (responses to changing economic motivations, new ideas about science) and quite deliberate ones in which active campaign groups set out to ensure that racial poison is spread through the new education system. Also superb is the way he explains how different movements interacted, and how different international ambitions shaped the rhetoric of slavers and abolitionists. He also does a fantastic job of moving away from the Single White Man heroic tale and to a much more complex one of people, black and white, men and women, engaged in a joint project but often with very different ideologies. His account of the UK's role in the American Civil War was also something I did not know in detail. It hadn't really occurred to me before that one reason for Lincoln's emancipation proclamation may well have been to revitalise the anti-slavery forces of Great Britain in a context in which the pro slavers seemed to have the dominant voice. The section on the 1919 riots is one I'll pick out as something I simply knew nothing about; and the abysmal behaviour of the first Labour government because only this week Keir Starmer made it clear he's quite happy once again to go along with racist agendas in the name of centrism. Note: the book has a slow start. If you get bored with the pre 16th century chapters just skip them.

  20. 4 out of 5

    ella 🥀

    In his thoroughly researched book, Olusoga goes far beyond British education about black history, which is mostly just the American civil rights movement (and even then only MLK and Rosa Parks) and the abolition of the slave trade, centred around William Wilberforce. He provides an insightful and detailed account of Black British history, spanning from Ancient Rome to the Georgians to World War II to Windrush to today, and everything in between. He documents key events and gives a wider perspect In his thoroughly researched book, Olusoga goes far beyond British education about black history, which is mostly just the American civil rights movement (and even then only MLK and Rosa Parks) and the abolition of the slave trade, centred around William Wilberforce. He provides an insightful and detailed account of Black British history, spanning from Ancient Rome to the Georgians to World War II to Windrush to today, and everything in between. He documents key events and gives a wider perspective on the British Empire and its horrors, as well as combining his narrative with the lives of fascinating individuals like Olaudah Equiano and John Blanke. I understand that Black and British is quite dense and hard to read for some, but I think the content is so important and interesting, and I couldn't stop reading. Olusoga introduces us to a wrongly hidden but always present aspect of British history in just 600 pages of essential reading.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Johanne

    The opening - about his childhood is chiling - and shocking. He then goes back through the history of slavery: Bunce Island, in Sierra Leone - horrendous and then starts the narrative history with the Roman legions, through black servants and courtiers as a symbol of wealth, the abolition of the slave trade, the pseudo-scientific concepts of racial eugenics, WWI- should black troops should be deployed in Europe? The murder of Charles Wooton - 1919, drowned in Queens Dock by a mob of white Liverpu The opening - about his childhood is chiling - and shocking. He then goes back through the history of slavery: Bunce Island, in Sierra Leone - horrendous and then starts the narrative history with the Roman legions, through black servants and courtiers as a symbol of wealth, the abolition of the slave trade, the pseudo-scientific concepts of racial eugenics, WWI- should black troops should be deployed in Europe? The murder of Charles Wooton - 1919, drowned in Queens Dock by a mob of white Liverpudlians and on..... Grim but very worthwhile because at the same time it is also a celebration of how much black Britons have contributed. It is academically rigorous but also humane and readable - all in all highly recommended

  22. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    An absolute masterpiece, essential reading for all British people. I learnt more about history from this book than I did in the ~10 years studying history in school, both in terms of descriptions of events and in terms of how we view history as a whole and how it is manipulated. British schools teach us more than just imperialist propoganda challenge

  23. 5 out of 5

    Hamish Pottinger

    So much learning. A combination of international racial politics, fascinating individual profiles and the crucial retelling of moments in British history that you thought you knew, all of which is, sadly but unsurprisingly, missing from the UK's general knowledge. The ending (relax, it's non-fiction) threw me off at first because Olusoga dedicated only a few words to the period 1981-present, which I was looking forward to learning about. But for me that turned the focus back on the previous 600+ p So much learning. A combination of international racial politics, fascinating individual profiles and the crucial retelling of moments in British history that you thought you knew, all of which is, sadly but unsurprisingly, missing from the UK's general knowledge. The ending (relax, it's non-fiction) threw me off at first because Olusoga dedicated only a few words to the period 1981-present, which I was looking forward to learning about. But for me that turned the focus back on the previous 600+ pages, which highlighted the longevity and importance of black Britons all over the empire. For non-black Britons, myself included, this will be a reminder to separate blackness and immigration. For Olusoga, commenting on his experience of looking at a portrait of black Georgian Olaudah Equiano, it is "to feel the embrace of the past and of a deeper belonging".

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    [In 1954] Sir David Hunt, Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary, paraphrased the dilemma. ‘The minute we said we’ve got to keep these black chaps out, the whole Commonwealth lark would have blown up.’ This is a massive book: big in word count, big in ambition, big in execution. I could - and let's be honest I probably will - write a review about all the things I wished Olusoga had done differently, but that is largely because this feels like such a keystone text. Not just one every Brit should be [In 1954] Sir David Hunt, Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary, paraphrased the dilemma. ‘The minute we said we’ve got to keep these black chaps out, the whole Commonwealth lark would have blown up.’ This is a massive book: big in word count, big in ambition, big in execution. I could - and let's be honest I probably will - write a review about all the things I wished Olusoga had done differently, but that is largely because this feels like such a keystone text. Not just one every Brit should be familiar with, but also those of us living in the remnants of the empire as well. That was a surprise to me. I expected this to feel like someone else's story, not that of a German-surnamed Australian*. But part of the power here is how Olusoga argues that Britain cannot stand apart from the story of her colonies or for that matter, from those her companies impacted on. The chapters of the text I had expected to find most compelling, covering Rome's multicultural settlements and Tudor-era migrants, instead covered material I already knew, albeit in a style equally engaging and authoritative**. Instead, the book really hits its stride when the slave trade commences, and Olusoga gets to write about the entwined nature of Britain, slavery, Africa, North America and the West Indies. Olusoga charts the way British ideas about race intersect with the country's participation in slavery, as well as how this drives migration of Black people to Britain. He emphasises aspects of this history that run counter to the smug "we were the abolitionists" narrative Britain has around race, covering in detail how Britain largely established the global slave trade, and staunchly supported it for many more decades than it opposed it. He covers the role of slave revolts, and the arguments of activists who had freed themselves from slavery in changing views in Britain, covering the simultaneous rise of racial inferiority theories alongside abolitionism. He helpfully points towards key texts now easily accessible such as Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species: Humbly Submitted to the Inhabitants of Great by Ottobah Cugoano as well as the more well-known The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano Gustavus Vassa, the African. Olusoga excels at complexity and exploring how various different pressures work together. He covers the complex interplay of minstrel shows in which anti-slavery speeches are delivered by racist stereotypes enforcing views of black inferiority, of mute black servants used largely as status symbols alongside the public celebration of a prominent Black wedding. He's also simply a great writer. His use of words is precise, illuminating and economic, and never flags. And yet, the book is *long* and could have been a multivolume series. This paragraph exploring the role of Uncle Tom's Cabin is the best summary I've read by a long way, for example: "Uncle Tom’s Cabin remains largely unread in the twenty-first century not simply because its melodramatic style has fallen from literary favour but also because it is highly contentious. In the second half of the twentieth century, it was largely disowned by African Americans, who recoiled at the meek passivity of the central character, whose name has become a pejorative shorthand for a black person unable to stand up for his own life and in thrall to white power. Tom is the simplistic and saintly figure that Stowe intended him to be, but also the embodiment of the stereotype of Africans that had emerged from within transatlantic abolitionism; honest, childlike, uncomplicated and deeply imbued in the Christian message. Other characters can also appear to be personifications of various stereotypes, or at least to display traits that accord with the racial paternalism of the abolitionist movement. As these characters were some of the best known ever generated by any work of fiction, the significance of these failings and limitations is enormously magnified. Yet there are other characters who demonstrate autonomy, resistance, pride and devotion to family, most notably George Harris, who bravely leads his family to liberty in Canada.* Even Uncle Tom, who refuses to whip another slave and is punished for his disobedience, does not fall neatly into the stereotype." Frustratingly, some topics get significantly more attention than others. So the book wonderfully covers the pre-colonial era slavery/abolition engagement by Britain, but the Scramble for Africa is dealt with almost in passing, and the story focuses much more strongly on the impact on the residents of the British Isles, rather than the broader definition of Britain followed earlier. As a result, I learned a fair bit about the West Indies, Sierra Leone and to some extent, Nigeria, but nothing at all about most of Africa. (It is also worth noting that Britain's engagement with India, and the role of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi migration, is out of scope for the book). It also felt as if women frequently got short shrift in the book - and an uncharacteristically clumsy attempt to assure the reader that the abolitionist movement "could not possibly have achieved what it did without their involvement." probably makes it worse, given the paucity of coverage of women. Olusoga picks the story up again in detail from WWI - with scant mention of the Boer War - and by this stage explains that Britain's black population was once again tiny, without any explanation as to where descendants of the 18th-century population had gone. World War II is covered in great detail, with the impact of African-American servicemen making for compelling reading, as the Jim Crow-style overt racism of the Americans clashes with the genteel and polite racism of Brits, designed never to be acknowledged. The book again is at its heights in discussing the post-war for Churchill dilemma summarised in the opening quote of this review - that maintaining the empire rested on this form of never-acknowledged racism, a pretence that everyone was equal - but the clear desire of most of the British powerful class to keep Britain White clashed with this professed ideal. This led, as Olusoga devastatingly elaborates, to: "In order to change the public mood and prepare the British people for new legislation that would, in effect, strip non-white immigrants of their rights of entry and settlement, successive British governments set about gathering information that was intended to prove that the black settlers represented a social problem. Five internal investigative studies were launched in the 1950s, by both Labour and Conservative politicians, all of which set out to delineate and define the problems caused to the country by the presence of black migrants and demonstrate the negative effects the host population might face if black people continued to arrive in significant numbers. No comparable investigations were established to discover if the arrival of European Voluntary Workers from the Displaced Persons camps of post-war Europe might pose similar threats to the social fabric of the nation." Thankfully, this is not the reality that triumphs. Olusoga details the distance Britain is from racial equality at the end of the book, but also celebrates the return to a multicultural Britain, where 44% of Londoners are "officially classified as Black or a Minority Ethnic" and being British no longer equates to being White in popular imagination. The fact that this book is all new information to me, and I'm sure to most Britons, is by itself an indictment of how far Britain has to go to acknowledge her own history and identity. But in concluding, this book is fundamentally hopeful, and almost idealistic, about a future in which Britain's imperial endeavours, the source of so much documented-here damage, have enriched England, Scotland and Wales through immigration, new perspectives and passions. Olusoga's love for modern London, and the potential of a community which has survived intense racism, buoys the heart and points, perhaps, to a brighter future. *Australia doesn't appear frequently in the book, and when it does it is mostly as threat - that Black people would be transported to the penal colony, as indeed, many Black rebels were. This aspect of Australia gets almost no attention here, and is long overdue for examination. In general, Australia's relationship with British culture is rarely treated critically or with regard to race (outside of Indigenous paradigms). What does it mean to Australia to be a majority White colony in a non-White empire? The book raised a lot of questions on this for me. It also pushed me to consider, that while I tend to think of myself as a generic mongrel Australian (with White privilege), 30 of my 32 great-great-great grandparents were born in Britain, and my cultural world has been largely shaped by Anglo values. **Olusoga notes his indebtedness to historian Miranda Kauffman here, which eased my guilt about finding his summary of her research so much more pleasurable to read than her own thorough, but poorly organised, book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Siân

    Absolutely SUPERB. So well written (not surprised about that given the author), so well researched (again no surprise) and just an excellent compelling read about elements of british history that’s been ashamedly neglected - what a dereliction of duty. I think everyone should read this.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Logan

    The story of black Britons and Britain's impact on black Africans and West Indians over the centuries, from pre-slave trade to 2016 (any revised edition should also include the Windrush scandal that happened after publication of the book ...). Hugely informative and well researched and very well written, it bravely reveals parts of Britain's history that generations have tried to airbrush away. Highly recommended.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Williad

    The book shocked me; about the UK involvement in cotton and the attitudes they had, man alive, if they put this in the industrial Revolution section in school history lessons.... but what shocked me more so was the sections about the first and second world wars and Winston Churchill's view and the UK political parties of that time. I have not seen the TV series, but I hope they include these sections as vividly as in the book. I even had to search and thankfully found the 'people in trouble' 195 The book shocked me; about the UK involvement in cotton and the attitudes they had, man alive, if they put this in the industrial Revolution section in school history lessons.... but what shocked me more so was the sections about the first and second world wars and Winston Churchill's view and the UK political parties of that time. I have not seen the TV series, but I hope they include these sections as vividly as in the book. I even had to search and thankfully found the 'people in trouble' 1958 TV interview, on YouTube. I have now a more understanding and deep respect for the generations before us. well done David for showing us our foundations, I hope and pray that we build upon it as an enlightened community

  28. 5 out of 5

    Richard Howard

    What an important and outstanding book, especially post the shit-show that is Brexit, which seems to have enabled festering racists to spew their bile again. I first saw the TV program based on the book, which was eye-opening, and then determined to read the book itself, which fleshed out the stories touched upon in the broadcast. Meticulously researched and superbly written, I wish I could somehow make every British person read it!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Hopkinson

    Everyone should read this book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bianca

    Although I don't personally fit in either of the categories in the book title, I nonetheless enjoyed its detailed coverage of a neglected aspect of history: that of the British slave trade that took place from 1600s to 1800s. When I say neglected, I mean I really haven't seen a single spec of British history yet that covers any topic anywhere near racial tensions and disputes. Perhaps because I haven't searched that deeply for topics surrounding racism? Perhaps because of the taboo behind it and Although I don't personally fit in either of the categories in the book title, I nonetheless enjoyed its detailed coverage of a neglected aspect of history: that of the British slave trade that took place from 1600s to 1800s. When I say neglected, I mean I really haven't seen a single spec of British history yet that covers any topic anywhere near racial tensions and disputes. Perhaps because I haven't searched that deeply for topics surrounding racism? Perhaps because of the taboo behind it and the desire of the modern era to neglect the negative parts of some history if possible? Anyway, written by an author that is a Nigerian historian himself, professor of history in Manchester, that alone vouches for the quality of the book on startup. The man speaks from knowledge, but also experience, be it direct or indirect, and that has always been a quality I look for in a book. Any book that aims to deepen your grasp of historical context is noble in my eyes. The book doesn't just discuss old history, but also contemporary (references to recent presidential elections, and Brexit). I really liked that the author doesn't focus only on the bleak remarks of slavery and victimhood when speaking about the African 'diaspora', but instead also supports with proof the relevance of black people within the making of British history. Present in Britain since the Roman Empire, it's only natural that they have their own central stage at certain historical events. The author does an excellent job at bringing all that to the audience's awareness. Books like these make me appreciate that the complexity and often contradictory nature of historical records will always represent a challenge, but one that's worthwhile, because it brings to light better understanding and a more objective and true image of the events and perceptions that lead us to where we are now. The book definitely explores what is being refereed to as 'Elizabethan anxieties around blackness', a historical marker that's easy to observe about fear of interracial mixing. It makes me be grateful that although racism hasn't been totally abolished, it's still considerably less taboo than it used to be then. The racist ideologies present at the time were strengthened by the economic aspect of slave trading, which makes me wonder - which ideologies are influencing us today and what is the source of their potency? This book will definitely make you wonder and think. To be honest however, it was a difficult read for me personally. Due to the author's desire for precision, there were a lot of details that I believe require true passion and some degree of personal involvement with the topic to be able to digest it all very thoroughly. Just like the history books surrounding America in this topic, or America's past 'relationship' with Native Americans, this book remains a good historical eye-opener well worth a read.

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