Erkin Ünlü

Software Engineer

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire

Date read September 13, 2020

How much I recommend: 10/10, Go to Amazon or Goodreads for other reviews

My biggest take from the book is, although Britain advertises itself as a bastion of liberalism and democracy, where racism barely exists and a multicultural way of living is the status quo, an empire that spread this enlightenment and democracy around the world; author rejects this narrative and tells us the story of how Britain treated its citizens of colour that moved within the Empire (which London asked them to do to heal the wounds of the World War II) and how the legacy of the global Empire is intertwined with industrial scale Atlantic slavery, racism and classism. This is a very serious topic which I can just consider myself as a student of at the moment therefore I will refrain as much as possible from making personal comments about the subject. Instead I will share some nice quotes from the book and list the things I learnt from the book.

Some quotes

A general guide to how the world works:

Rich people crime good, poor people crime bad.

An existential contradiction in racism of the empire:

You see, while the people in the colonies were being told Britain was their mother, much of white Britain had convinced itself that these undeserving niggers – Asians were niggers too, back then – had just got off their banana boats to come and freeload, to take ‘their’ jobs and steal ‘their’ women. Never mind that Britain has a German royal family, a Norman ruling elite, a Greek patron saint, a Roman/Middle Eastern religion, Indian food as its national cuisine, an Arabic/Indian numeral system, a Latin alphabet and an identity predicated on a multi-ethnic, globe-spanning empire – ‘fuck the bloody foreigners’.

A more detailed explanation of "rich people crime good" phenomenon

We judge the street corner hustler or working-class criminal – from East Glasgow to East London – but we see a job as an investment banker, even in firms that launder the profits of drug cartels, fund terrorism, aid the global flow of arms, fuel war, oil spills, land grabs and generally fuck up the planet, as a perfectly legitimate, even aspirational occupation. I am not even necessarily passing judgment on those who are employed in that system, as I’m complicit in it to a degree because of my consumption, I am just pointing out that our evaluation of what constitutes ‘crime’ is not guided by morality, it is guided by the law; in other words, the rules set down by the powerful, not a universal barometer of justice – if such a thing even exists. We need not remind ourselves that slavery, apartheid, Jim Crow, a man’s right to rape his wife and the chemical castration of gay people were all ‘legal’ at one stage of very recent history, as was most of what was done by Nazi Germany. This ‘if you just pull your socks up’ trope also ignores the reality that many Britons (and people around the globe) are poor and getting poorer through no fault of their own under austerity – the technical term for class robbery. Can a nurse whose pay increases are capped at 1 per cent – below the rate of inflation – by politicians who have not capped their own pay, change the fact that he or she is literally getting poorer every passing year, despite doing the same bloody hard work?

Although a bit unrelated but I like this perspective for China as well, given the current cold war against China (focusing around how undemocratic current Hong Kong administration and alleged Huawei spying activities):

Less than a century ago, the Chinese in British-ruled Hong Kong lived in squalid, segregated ghettoes and were governed by racist legislation;5 today the ethnic Chinese of Hong Kong are on average some of the richest people on the planet. How quick the pace of change in world affairs. When China was militarily and economically weak and politically fragmented by external and internal forces, Chinese people left China as exploited indentured servants and found themselves on the receiving end of many of the same racist assumptions and discriminatory immigration legislation as other ‘subject races’. Today you can check into any Park Lane hotel and you are as likely to see a Chinese guest as any other nationality. Over the past few decades, China has pulled at least 500 million people out of poverty (the Communist propagandists at the World Bank actually put the figure at around 800 million), industrialised at a pace faster than any nation before and today stands at the leading edge of many green technologies, and it has managed to do all of this without invading and colonising half the planet

Things I learned

  • Probably lot of you know about this but the media plays a large part on this systemic racism by portraying crime amongst black people as something inherent to blackness, by labelling it with idioms like black on black crime etc.

    • Whereas they don’t mention the youth crime in Glasgow as white on white crime, which was far worse than what happens in London.
    • We can further exaggerate this to World War I. Nobody calls it as the White on white massacre in Europe right?
  • We are more perceptive for poor people's racism such as a racist slur etc. But unfortunately we're blind to racism that was done by the empire. Some easy examples are starving millions of people in India by the empire and the Atlantic Slave Trade! This requires structural racism to be able to exploit people at this scale!

    • Another example to this structural racism is, although trivial, British people are called expats whenever they go abroad to work, but they call every skilled worker coming to Britain migrants .
    • Although no form of the racism can be excused, structural racism affects people on a far greater scale in every way.
  • Britain usually boasts about it being the first country that abolished slave trade, but it's not. Denmark was the first country that did it (although it went into effect after 1803). Haiti also abolished slavery as the first Western Hemisphere country in the world (and was punished dearly for this by the big powers).

  • The systemic racism in the UK schools is absurd that:

    • The black kids are more likely to get expelled and they got the lowest grades from their teachers (but they fare much better if they are tested independently without a person knowing who they are)
    • Once you get expelled, there's literally not so many possibilities in life and street violence is always there for you
    • Black kids learn quickly from school that state is racist and they don’t stand a chance against the system, therefore another reason for street justice and violence.
  • Racism and class can not be separated. Slaves were literally the first unpaid working class of United States and the colonies.

  • Until very recently Britain still celebrated its slavery merchants and colonisers such as Cecil Rhodes. Thanks to Black Lives Matter movement, they are going to replace these statues and street names in London at least.

  • Reason people in the UK adore Mandela is that he didn’t change the class structure after fall of Apartheid.

    • Whereas they vilify Castro because he changed those structures and got some success out of it.
    • Even helped defeat apartheid but no one mentions it in the west.
    • Cuba actually fought against Apartheid South Africa and won.
    • And a quote:

    In 2014, Cuba had 50,000 healthcare workers in sixty-five countries; that is more than the Red Cross, Médecins sans Frontières and UNICEF combined.

  • Everywhere in the world, whether in South Africa, Britain or States, resistance is required and always wins at least a degree of freedom.

  • Irish people were subjected to a critical degree of racism until the 60's with infamous signs such as No Irish, no blacks, no dogs.

I recommend this book to everyone living in the UK or interested in the recent BLM movement and the history of slavery and racism.