I’ve been looking for a while for something that deals with the issues of race in Britain; Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book was one answer to that, and Brit(ish) another. It’s really mostly a memoir, an examination of what being Black in the UK is like and how Hirsch had to navigate figuring out her identity. Lots of it felt familiar, as someone who spent a lot of their time as a kid furiously asserting their Welshness, while not feeling Welsh enough. Obviously any bias I faced from people when I did so was nothing like the same scale as Hirsch experienced (and probably partly just because I was stepping out of line in my very English school), and not based upon my appearance… but it means that some of her pains and frustrations in exploring her identity (and where she calls home) were familiar.
This definitely answered some of the questions I had about race in Britain — and reminded me to my shock that though a lot of the people I grew up with were the children of immigrants, they were mostly from Pakistan and India; I knew few (if any) Black people growing up… and though I can’t say I have many white friends either, I’d say I’ve got more insulated from people who don’t look like me, not less, as I grew up. Even in Cardiff — famous as a melting pot for cultures — my experience was very, very white. So there’s a whole subset of the British population that I somehow never figured into how I saw race, and all also filtered to those who could afford the fees for private school and university… which makes a hell of a lot of sense out of some of my past misconceptions.
However, I found it a bit flat to read; mostly I am not a reader of memoirs, and I wasn’t that fascinated by Afua Hirsch as a person. She does very much come from my world of private school and a good university, but even more so since she attended Oxford… and it did make me wonder sometimes what people more like her husband’s family would say about the navel-gazing.
If you’re looking for a book that delves into some of what it’s like to be Black in the UK, then yes, this will be useful. I’m glad I read it, but I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it — not because it presented any hard truths I lacked from elsewhere, but because I didn’t find Hirsch’s writing compelling… and I wasn’t sure about some of her forays, which felt like gawking. Did she really need to go spectate at a swingers’ club to discuss Black sexuality in Britain? Hmm.