Dominic Davies
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Beyond experience
British anti- racist non- fiction after empire
in British culture after empire
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On 10 June 2020, three days after #BlackLivesMatter protesters toppled the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race topped the UK non-fiction bestseller chart. It brought with it a wave of books marketed as guides for readers – especially white readers – wishing to educate themselves about the effects of structural racism on individual lives. Many of these titles place notable emphasis on the value of personal anecdote and experience, blending memoir with often detailed and cogent anti-racist critique to create a kind of anti-racist life writing that has a long history in African American literary culture. While the genre is less widely known in Britain, this chapter argues that a similar suturing of individual biographies into the structural contours shaping social, cultural and institutional life in Britain after empire has been deployed by a number of Black writers in recent years, often to persuasive and powerful effect. This 'anti-racist non-fiction’ genre blends memoir with social and historical commentary to build similar connections between individual experiences and structural conditions, often (though not always) without conforming to the individualising inclinations of identity politics that are otherwise so pervasive in our neoliberal era. To demonstrate its arguments, the chapter focuses on two of the most rigorous and best-selling of Britain’s anti-racist non-fiction titles: Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking and Akala’s Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire.

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