Brit(ish) Book Summary By Afua Hirsch

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Brit(ish) by author Afua Hirsch is an insightful and powerful exploration of the complex relationship between British national identity, race and immigration.

Spanning history, journalism, social analysis, culture and memoir, Brit(ish) delves deep into the issues that shape how we view our society - particularly concerning race and origins.

This timely book aims to challenge readers to think deeply about how racism affects us today by examining its past and present presence in Britain.

In addition to examining historical stories, Afua Hirsch brings her own personal experiences as she examines these tumultuous themes.

With Brit(ish), Afua Hirsch encourages readers to reconsider their entrenched beliefs on race in order to move towards a more equitable future.

Brit(ish) Book

Book Name: Brit(ish) (On Race, Identity and Belonging)

Author(s): Afua Hirsch

Rating: 4.4/5

Reading Time: 33 Minutes

Categories: Society & Culture

Author Bio

Afua Hirsch is an incredibly accomplished author.

Not only has she worked as a barrister and broadcaster for Sky News and the notorious correspondent for The Guardian, but she continues to write columns for the same paper.

Additionally, her accomplishments include earning the prestigious Wallis Annenberg Chair in Journalism and Communication from the University of Southern California.

Her first book, Brit(ish) was no exception to her impressive resume!

Not only did it become a Sunday Times bestseller, but also won her Royal Society of Literature's Jerwood Prize for Non-Fiction.

Her success with this book proved she isn't just showing up on titles -- she's writing great content that people care about!

Exploring The Hidden Racism Of Modern Britain Through Afua Hirsch’S Experience

Hidden Racism

If you want to learn about the complexities of racial and national identity in modern Britain, then Afua Hirsch’s book, Brit(ish), is a must-read.

It explores the nuances of what it means to be British and how British national identity intersects with various ethnicities and races in today’s UK.

Through personal stories, Hirsch sheds light on the unspoken racism that still exists in Britain, touching on xenophobia and delving into Britain’s past relationship with slavery.

The book also encourages readers to question the ways race continues to shape our views of who belongs in this country.

For those looking to gain a greater understanding of British identities today, Brit(ish) provides an important perspective – one that discusses these difficult issues without shying away from their complexity.

Exploring National Identity: The Complexities Of Defining “Britishness”

Identity is a very complex concept, and no two individuals are exactly alike.

We each carry within us a myriad of different nouns, adjectives, stories and values that help to form our unique sense of identity.

These definitions come both from ourselves as individual beings and the social groupings we are a part of.

But while these social groups may share certain values or stories that make up part of their identity, they may also disagree on how to define those values or which parts of the story deserve to be included.

This can lead to conflicts over the issue of identity – whether it’s in regards to nationality (as happened in the 2016 referendum on EU membership in Britain), or any other context.

The reality is that when it comes to defining individual and collective identities, there often aren’t easy answers – making it all the more essential for us to learn how to discuss issues surrounding identity respectfully and peacefully.

The Complicated Relationship Between Brexit, Immigration And National Identity

The Brexit referendum revealed deep divides in the British national identity.

On the one hand, you had Remainers with a more inclusive view of Britain – one that welcomes immigrants and celebrates diversity.

On the other hand, Leave voters embraced a more exclusive idea of Britishness – one that rejects immigrants and reinforces division and prejudice.

This disconnect was evident in both the rhetoric coming from some of the leading campaigners for Leave, including those associated with the UK Independence Party, as well as in public opinion polls surrounding the Brexit referendum.

The sudden increase in racially and religiously-motivated hate crimes after the referendum vote only served to reinforce just how polarized British attitudes around immigration were at this time.

The notion of being “white” as a marker of being British is also a deeply problematic belief that had even crept into polite conversations between people who were assumed to be members of Britain’s “in-group.” The underlying assumption seemed to be that if your skin wasn’t white then it automatically meant you weren’t seen as British by many people in society – which goes against everything modern Britain stands for.

A Historical Look At Immigration And Anti-Immigration Rhetoric In The Uk


Xenophobia is nothing new in British society.

It has deep roots, going all the way back to Queen Elizabeth I’s laments over immigrants coming to England in search of work in 1573.

Many times throughout British history, laws and regulations have been put into place that curbed the immigration of certain groups – primarily those of different religions or races.

The most famous example is the 1905 Aliens Act, which was primarily aimed at keeping out Jews from Europe.

The long history of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies has always come alongside large influxes immigrants no matter what nationality or religion they were from.

Immigration began to increase significantly after World War II, when people arrived from former parts of the British Empire including countries like India, Pakistan and the Caribbean islands.

The anti-immigration backlash to these influxes have been just as rampant throughout modern era as it had been with Renaissance era Elizabeth I.

Various governments have implemented different restrictions on immigration including limits put in place by both Labour and Conservative party rulers in 1961, 1964 and 1968 respectively.

Even more recently leaders like Gordon Brown and Theresa May have used anti-immigrant rhetoric for political capital by trying to blame them for taking British jobs away from citizens, no matter if this truly reflected economic reality or not

Dismantling The False Narrative Of Color Blindness And Recognizing Racial Identities As Sources Of Meaning, Belonging And Connection

Many British people will tell you that their nation is post-racial and that they themselves don’t see race, but the evidence does not bear this out.

While the UK has made impressive strides in recent years, there are still systemic issues rooted in racism that the country hasn’t addressed or overcome yet.

At its core, believing one can be color blind implies that racial identities are negative and should be avoided.

Those claiming a lack of awareness of race may view it as a strength, but they fail to appreciate the important and enriching role that racial identity plays in many people’s lives; it provides them with a sense of heritage, belonging and connection.

Additionally, thinking of the UK as having “overcome” racism sends a dangerous message—that racism is no longer an issue or concern, when in reality it is still very much alive today.

Afua Hirsch’s life story stands as a powerful reminder that Britain has yet to fully grapple with its dark history—a history which needs to be acknowledged so real progress can finally be made.

Growing Up Privileged But Racially Isolated In London’S Wimbledon Suburb

Growing up in Wimbledon as a person of color wasn’t easy for Hirsch.

As part of an extreme minority, she was often subjected to racial ridicule.

She experienced derogatory nicknames like “troll” and “thunder thighs” from her classmates due to physical differences between her and them.

They made jokes that sexualized black women, which hurt her confidence deeply at a young age.

Even stores seemed intimidating to her; one manager once said she wasn’t allowed in because black girls are “thieves.”

Hirsch’s childhood was filled with negative formative experiences due to racism – something no one should ever have to go through growing up.

This had a long-lasting effect on the author and brings about many themes within Brit(ish).

The Long-Lasting Harm Of Racist Jokes And Dehumanizing Beauty Standards: A Look At Hirsch’S Sense Of Otherness

Hirsch'S Sense Of Otherness

Kiran Hirsch’s childhood was full of negative experiences that made her feel like an outsider.

She was subjected to racist sexual jokes and derogatory nicknames by peers, making her feel like she didn’t belong in the society she lived in.

But what happened to Hirsch is more than just the product of schoolyard insults or bawdy teenage humor.

It reflects larger issues regarding race and power.

The racist sexual jokes used against her have roots in the time of slavery when Black women were routinely raped and sexually assaulted by white captors who justified these practices by claiming Black women were hypersexual.

This mentality of denigrating Black women’s bodies as “ugly” remains present today through Western beauty standards that continue to privilege whiteness over other races.

In this context, it’s clear to see why Hirsh experienced such deep feelings of being an outsider even though she was born and raised in Britain – because in some ways, the society ignored or excluded those like herself who don’t fit into its racial norms.

White Beauty Standards Cause Black Women To See Themselves As “Other”

Women of color in the UK and around the world are constantly bombarded by white beauty standards that permeate our culture, from the media to advertisements, music videos and even the packaging of consumer products.

White physical features are almost always held up as exemplifications of beauty, with slender figures and light or suntanned skin as ideal for all women regardless of ethnicity.

This warped perception of beauty has had a detrimental impact on women of color, many of whom have internalized these standards and negatively judge themselves when they are unable to achieve them.

In an attempt to conform to these standards, women may resort to extreme measures such as skin lightening creams or straightening their hair.

The idea that one’s features must be made more “white” in order to fit into society is incredibly damaging and perpetuates feeling of racial inequality from a young age.

These white beauty standards put unrealistic expectations on women while also downplaying or erasing black features, creating an unfair sense of otherness that can haunt them throughout their lives.

It’s time for us to break free from these white supremacist ideas and view every person’s natural external characteristics as beautiful no matter race or gender.

The Unfortunate Consequences Of Believing In Hypersexuality Among Black People

Black people have long been subject to pernicious sexual stereotypes.

Black men are seen as hypersexual, leading some people to view them as both sexually threatening and desirable at the same time.

This is a long-standing problem that extends back centuries, with European writers spreading myths about Black men’s allegedly superior libido and other related traits.

Meanwhile, Black women are often seen as hypersexualised, leading to perverse fetishes on the one hand and an aversion to dating them even when open to casual sex on the other.

This has serious consequences for the way white people interact with Black people – a fact emphasised by a 2010 study which revealed that only 7% of male users of Yahoo!

Personals were prepared to date Black women.

It can lead to distorted views of beauty standards – where internalised racism leads both Black and white individuals to internalise damaging ideas of race-based desirability.

Therefore, it is clear that damaging cultural norms surrounding sexuality are still harming society today, black people especially being made most vulnerable by these extremely reductive stereotypes.

Stereotypes And Prejudices Facing Black People Everywhere From Criminality To Being Mistaken For “The Help”

Black People

The number of stereotypes and prejudices that Black people face in the United Kingdom and around the world is widespread.

One such stereotype is that Black people are often associated with criminality.

This unfair association was demonstrated when Hirsch, as a child, visited a boutique and was regarded by the manager as inherently untrustworthy owing to her race.

Unfortunate experiences like this for Black people still occur today, highlighted by an anecdote from Hirsch’s family where after introducing their newborn son to others, a person remarked that he looked “like a little gangster”.

Furthermore, many of the places that Hirsch attended as an adult, both educationally and professionally, featured either no Blacks or only those in menial positions- observing again that they were typically employed in these roles classifying them as ‘other’.

Another upseting assumption made by white people upon seeing a black person at a privileged or predominantly white setting- is either thinking they are someone there to clean or employ some other labour task and not necessarily be welcomed there as another professional.

To reiterate this point better, one particular occasion had her mistaken for Michelle Obama; and here it can be seen clearly how even with high calibre individuals like Michelle Obama and herself – all Blacks tend to be placed into the same category which confirms an occurrence of stereotyping yet again.

The Unsettling Realization That We Don’T Belong Anywhere: The Journey Of A Biracial Briton In Ghana

Katharine Hirsch’s sense of otherness persisted into adulthood and drove her away from, and then back to the UK.

Even when she tried to come back to her roots in Ghana, she found herself on the outside looking in.

When she visited the local market, people stared at her as if she were a tourist with a guidebook – and even her name being Twi, an unfamiliar language for all but those who spoke it natively meant that she couldn’t even pronounce it correctly.

Added to this was an incident of robbery at knifepoint by a group of locals which left her feeling that she was just another rich British person intruding on a poverty-stricken land for which she had no understanding.

These experiences sunk in so deep that eventually Katharine decided to return to the UK.

While there, although still displaced from both cultures, what former conflicting identity issues remain have been settled somewhat – and ultimately established within Katharine is the knowledge that while she might not feel like it all the time; Brit(ish) is her home.

The Inaccurate National Narrative Of The British Empire’S Role In Slavery And Its Effects On Identity

When it comes to British and African history, the conventional British national narrative tends to take a surface-level look at the relationship between them.

This involves centering much of the conversation about Britain’s role in slavery around one grueling event: the 1807 abolishment of the transatlantic slave trade by the British Empire.

Typically, this event is used as an example of patting itself on its back, but what is usually ignored are the actual details behind involvement and participation during this time.

In reality, there’s much more to the story than just this.

The laws that abolished the slave trade had many loopholes which led to continued exploitation by means of British banks, insurance companies and merchants who found ways to keep their interests alive via transportation of enslaved people from Africa – and all at a rate exceeding that provided by Spain.

British Empire

In fact, approximately 40% of 12 million slaves were transported by way of shipping vessels supplied directly from Britain!

Clearly there’s something more here than just passing off a single event as justice for all wrongs done; therefore we must challenge our overviews and dig deeper into uncovering facts about Britain’s involvement in slavery to understand how far connected it really is with Africa’s history today.

Reconciling One’S Identity Through An Accurate Representation Of Black British History In The National Narrative

When it comes to the story of Britain, Black history is often relegated to a side-story or seen as separate and distinct from British history.

But this is deeply problematic, because in truth, Black people have long been an integral part of British history—and vice versa.

From Olaudah Equiano and the Sons of Africa, who fought for abolition in the 1700s; to William Wilberforce, the famous white British MP whose work for abolition has been celebrated in many books and movies; to more recent figures whose stories have been told in films like Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers and particularly The Help—Black people have always played an important role in shaping Britain’s identity.

In fact, if Black people had been given proper recognition and visibility within British society, it’s likely that different generations of non-white Britons would have found it easier to reconcile their own dual identities.

After all, seeing yourself reflected in the national narrative is powerful—so it’s time that Black history be part of that narrative once and for all.

The Paradox Of British Society: Acknowledging Race And Racial Inequality As A Necessary Step Towards Belonging

Hirsch and her partner Sam come from different backgrounds, and their stories illustrate the problems of race in the modern UK.

Hirsch came from a privileged background, whereas Sam grew up in Tottenham, which he referred to as “the hood”.

Sam’s backstory is unfortunately familiar to many people of color living in Britain: Overcrowded housing, chronic unemployment, entrenched poverty and rampant crime are some of the realities they face every day.

To make matters worse, statistically speaking there is a large disparity between White people and people of color when it comes to issues such as poverty and unemployment.

Hirsch was indirectly exposed to these harsh realities through her partner, which made her uniquely aware of how pervasive racism is in British society.

Her privilege underscores this fact – despite having all these advantages she still felt so out of place that she moved thousands of miles away just to find a sense of belonging.

The truth is that many other British people have done the same thing due to their own struggles with identity and race in their homeland.

It is clear that racism exists in all corners of British society today, but until we acknowledge this problem we will not be able to take any steps towards addressing it.

Naming the problem without fear or shying away is the first step towards breaking down barriers and creating an open dialogue about inclusion for all citizens living throughout Britain.

Wrap Up

The final takeaway from Brit(ish) is that racism still exists in the UK, and it takes many different forms.

Many British people think they are “color blind” when it comes to race, but they are often unaware of the subtle ways racism shows up in their daily lives.

Additionally, British history has marginalized Black contributions and perpetuated stereotypes about them.

Finally, immigration and xenophobia have become more noticeable since the Brexit referendum, but these issues have a long history in the UK.

It’s clear that there is still much work to be done to address these issues, but this book serves as an important first step for raising awareness about racism in the UK.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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