Saturday 12 June 2021

Black and British: A short, essential history by David Olusoga, review by Lynda Waterhouse


In the Afterword, Lavinya Stennett, CEO of the Black Curriculum, sums up the value of this book perfectly, ‘This book is a testimony to the rich experiences of Black people of Britain in different periods of our history, and a reminder of the dearth of Black history in our curriculums.’

This revised edition, adapted from David Olusoga’s 2016 bestselling adult version adapted for secondary and upper primary school children, has a striking blue cover and accessible font that caught my eye immediately when I walked into a bookshop. 

1,800 years of history from the Romans to the twentieth century and up to 2020 are covered. Each chapter contains maps, bite sized facts, paintings, photographs and personal stories including John Blanke, Olaudah Equiano and Sarah Forbes Bonetta. It has a glossary and a useful list of picture credits so that you can view the images more clearly online, visit a gallery, and undertake further research.

The book is crammed full of information that can be dipped in and out of or read as a narrative in one sitting. It demonstrates the great financial gains that drove the slave trade from Tudor buccaneers to slave powered colonies in Virginia and Barbados and illustrates how Britain’s great wealth and power was built upon it. The book shows that despite the abolition of slavery the Victorians were still investing and profiting from slave powered commerce and creating their own racist theories to justify their actions.

The narrative style is clear, evidence-based, and delivered in a calm and measured tone which has a powerful effect particularly in the retelling of shameful episodes and ideologies. The description of ‘new racism’ – racism that appeared in the second half of the nineteenth century which used science to justify racism - is chilling.

As someone who lives in the borough, I was particularly interested to read about Sam King, the first Black mayor of Southwark in 1983 and a man who had first came to Britain to serve in the RAF during the Second World War and returned again on the Windrush.

 David Olusoga says ’Black history helps explain how national history is intertwined with family histories. It helps us make sense of the country we are today.’

A must read for children and adults alike.

Macmillan Children’s Books will donate 50p for every copy sold to The Black Curriculum.

ISBN 13 978-1529063394


1 comment:

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks for this great review and recommendation, Lynda.
David Olusoga's voice and approach are welcome in the times we're living in.
Thinking about getting this for one of the grand-teens.