Book Club

As a thank you to subscribers we have created a Make It Plain book club where we will explore new books and classic texts. In keeping with the ethos of Make it Plain we will be making recommendations as well as criticism. As part of the book club you will have access to:

  • A monthly feature on the website, highlighting a book to read, enjoy or critique.
  • Discounted tickets to event including our conversation between Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu and Kehinde Andrews about her new book This is Why I Resist: Don’t Define My Blackness on May 6th 7pm GMT online.
  • Access to 5 week online book club discussions that will focus on a particular book. We will run these 3 times a year.

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The Troubling Legacy of the Autobiography of Malcolm X

The power of autobiography is that it has shaped the public image of Malcolm X, but the book’s greatest legacy is its strongest weakness. The Malcolm we get from the Autobiography is good for posters, slogans and samples on hip hop records but little more. It is the watered down, made for TV Malcolm. Just enough to keep his credibility but nothing that will actually sustain his legacy. Subscribe below to read more.

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Some of these books about racism are not just bad, they are dangerous

There are so many books coming out about racism that it is difficult to keep up. As much as this may sound like progress there is a whole new genre of books that are not only bad but actually reduce our understanding of the problem. Don’t get me wrong there are some excellent new works that we will cover but unfortunately the worse they are the more copies they seem to sell. Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste is the perfect place to start because it has all the ingredients of the sour new recipe but also has its own distinct flavour.

On the plus side the book offers lots of historical examples of racism, filling in the gruesome details of abuses in the US, Nazi Germany and India that we often turn away from. Accounting for the true level of barbarity is essential if we ever hope to understand the nature of the threat. Unlike most of the new works there is also a focus on more than one country. A book about racism that is only about the US, UK or wherever the author lives will always be woefully incomplete. Racism is a global problem. But Caste manages to include Germany and India in such a US centric way that the internationalism is mere window dressing.

The book presents the individual nations completely divorced from the global system that produced them. Wilkerson assures us that there is something unique about American slavery, even though only the minority of Africans were enslaved in the US. Not to mention that the original thirteen states were at first colonies of the British empire. The Nazis are presented as some kind of aberration within the nation as though their empire had not perfected the logic and mechanisms for the holocaust during their colonial atrocities in Namibia and Tanzania. India’s inclusion is an outlier given that the caste system there is completely distinct and not based on Western racism. It seems that it is only possible to view the supposed ‘other’ through the eyes of the West. Caste in India is a significant problem but predates Western racism by centuries and should be treated in its own right. The book also sidesteps the colonial brutality inflicted on India, using the same logic of racism at work in the US and Germany.

Caste stands apart from much of the genre because it refuses to name the problem racism. Wilkerson presents ‘caste’ as a somehow novel way to view the problem of racism in America, a better way to see and address the issues. The problem is that the idea does exactly the opposite. There is nothing in this book that has not been better explained by various schools of thought from Critical Race Theory, racial capitalism to Black radicalism. The framing removes the focus away from the structural and global nature of racism instead highlighting the different national systems that emerge to control the different populations.

The most obscene example in Caste, when I almost stopped reading, was Wilkerson’s dismissal that ‘there are no Black people in Africa’. In this narrow view it is the unique American system that creates Blackness as a caste that does not exist on the continent. Tell that to those fleeing economic catastrophe to cross the Sahara desert and drown in the Mediterranean. Tell that to the child being forced down a mine in Congo to find the minerals for you to read this piece on your device. Tell that to the Nigerians cut down by the police bullets of the SARS unit. As Malcolm reminds us ‘there is no American problem, but a world problem’, and sadly Caste manages to take us further way from the essential analysis that we need.

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