Here are details of my new book, Not So Black and White: A History of Race from White Supremacy to Identity Politics, bublished by Hurst and available from the usual places. In Britain: Bookshop, Waterstones, Book Depository, Blackwell’s, Amazon, Foyle’s, etc. Or, in America Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, Powell’s, Amazon, Tattered Cover, Schuler. Or Australia: Angus & Robertson, Amazon, Dymocks. Or, best of all, order it at your local independent bookshop.
This is the blurb from the Hurst brochure:
Is white privilege real? How racist is the working class? Why has left-wing antisemitism grown? Who benefits most when anti-racists speak in racial terms?
The ‘culture wars’ have generated ferocious argument, but little clarity. This book takes the long view, explaining the real origins of ‘race’ in Western thought, and tracing its path from those beginnings in the Enlightenment all the way to our own fractious world. In doing so, leading thinker Kenan Malik upends many assumptions underpinning today’s heated debates around race, culture, whiteness and privilege.
Malik interweaves this history of ideas with a parallel narrative: the story of the modern West’s long, failed struggle to escape ideas of race, leaving us with a world riven by identity politics. Through these accounts, he challenges received wisdom, revealing the forgotten history of a racialised working class, and questioning fashionable concepts like cultural appropriation.
Not So Black and White is both a lucid history rewriting the story of race, and an elegant polemic making an anti-racist case against the politics of identity.
“A precious provocation. Combining valuable historical observations with acute political commentary, Malik unsettles the absurdities, pieties and default settings of contemporary race-talk.” Paul Gilroy, author of The Black Atlantic
“From one of our keenest and clearest guides through the labyrinths of identity, this book fills me with hope. A tour de force of courageous and empathetic common sense.” Thomas Chatterton Williams, author of Self-Portrait in Black and White
‘Malik attempts nothing less than to explain why we inhabit racial identity as we do today, and at what political cost. Most serious readers will quarrel with something in his argument, but political culture as a whole will be enriched by this deeply thoughtful, learned and brave work.” Wendy Brown, author of Nihilistic Times and Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire
“A brilliant book on one of the most important issues of our time. Malik writes with great clarity and a profound sense of purpose. If you want to read just one book on modern racism, this is the one.” Vivek Chibber, author of Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital
“Smart, pacy and sharply argued, this is the book you need to read about contemporary politics. Malik delves into the origins of twenty-first-century identity politics, exposes its inherent individualism, and offers thought-provoking progressive alternatives.” Selina Todd, author of The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class and Snakes and Ladders
“A stunning journey through the ideas that have shaped our thinking about race over the years; a magical accomplishment that is at once nuanced and gripping.” Remi Adekoya, author of Biracial Britain
“This erudite, sensitive book overturns the core assumptions of contemporary identity politics. Highly recommended for all looking beyond the narrow confines of purity politics to embrace the complexities of what it is to be human, and construct a better world.” Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, author of Against Decolonisation
Kenan Malik’s fascinating new history of race and racism, Not So Black and White, builds upon his previous books The Meaning of Race, Strange Fruit and From Fatwa to Jihad to provide a valuable intervention in an argument that is often both fraught and infested with thought-terminating clichés and sloganeering.The book provides an account of the development of both classical racism and contemporary identity politics and the connections between the two. It also offers a passionate, unabashed defence of Enlightenment radicalism…. if you want to know how and why the superstitious, antihuman ideology of race has taken hold of society, Not So Black and White is an excellent place to start.
“Race did not give birth to racism. Racism gave birth to race”, British commentator Kenan Malik declares at the start of his original and ambitious rethinking of the history of the politics of race, from slavery to Black Lives Matter. In contrast to much contemporary antiracist thinking that is fixed on the seemingly eternal presence of “whiteness” to understand racism’s persistence, Malik argues, one needs to understand the shifting fortunes of the politics of class, within the epoch-defining claims of the Enlightenment – its assertion of universal human rights and human equality – and the decline of its ideals over the last two centuries.
In recent decades, the ghosts of racial thinking have reappeared in ‘cultural’ guise. We may reject the idea of biological difference, but Malik argues that people see themselves increasingly as attached to their racial ‘identity’, understood as their ‘culture’. Malik perceptively frames the left’s recent turn to “stay in your lane” identity politics as an unwitting echo of the nineteenth-century right’s “cultural identity” arguments against universalism, since “for many today, the only form of collective politics that seems possible is that rooted in identity”.
There is much to applaud in Not So Black and White. It provides an illuminating history of the idea of race, and systematically outlines the key concepts necessary to understand the development of racial thinking. But… Malik fails to see that it is left-wing identity politics that has helped turn racial thinking into today’s official orthodoxy.
Kenan Malik has written a detailed, disturbing examination of how racism was born and developed across the years to oppress people who are black or Asian – he analyses how such racism has been challenged and repulsed, often through black and white uniting against economic exploitation. While not everyone may agree with his political conclusion in the final chapter, this is a fascinating dissection of dangerous ideas throughout human history. While this book may at first seem like simply an explanation of the history of racism, Kenan Malik also explores the problem with much contemporary ‘anti-racism’. It is a thorough and nuanced book… a history and analysis of politics that has real depth and understanding of its complexities.
Graham Kemp, The Equiano Project
Nor does the idea of “white privilege” provide a useful programme for the lives and prospects of the non-white. As Malik writes: “To describe as ‘privilege’ the fact that one is not being denied equal treatment is to turn the struggle for justice on its head.” Yet this is the ahistorical and unambitious place that so much racial advocacy finds itself in the third decade of the 21st century: with a governing theory about racial injustice that neither fits the established facts – past and present – and offers little in the way of meaningful ambition about the future. Malik’s aim is to set out why this has happened and how it can be reversed.
Unsurprisingly, Malik is unhappy about the rise of identity politics: “we live in times in which any universalist perspective, or any desire to transcend imposed categories of race, is chimerical, and so we must appropriate for ourselves the identity cages in which we have been placed”… There remains plenty of room for the left to embrace an internationalist and universalist narrative. Malik’s strong belief in a politics of solidarity based not on particular identities but a shared set of values and beliefs, and the struggles to win acceptance for them, chimes with that.
What does it mean to be black? Kenan Malik, an Observer columnist, argues in his excellent new book Not So Black and White that we “live in an age in which our thinking is saturated with racial ideology and the embrace of difference”. But “the more we despise racial thinking, the more we cling to it. It is like an ideological version of Stockholm syndrome”…
In his 1940 book, Dusk of Dawn, the influential black American intellectual WEB Du Bois offered an answer to the proposition: “The black man is a person who must ride ‘Jim Crow’ in Georgia.” To be black is a social condition. It is not a natural or essential state.
This is the view Malik takes. He argues that anti-racism must be rooted in an understanding of material conditions rather than an attachment to racial identity.
For Kenan Malik, this strange mirroring, of progressive identity politics and reactionary racism, is no accident. He argues, in his new history of race and racism, Not So Black and White, that both are reactions to one of the Enlightenment’s most persistent and bedevilling paradoxes: the fact that this new order asserted the radical equality of all human beings, and heralded their emancipation in the political sphere, even as it allowed profound inequalities and vicious exploitation in the material, economic sphere…
The heroes of Malik’s book are the “black Jacobins” of the Haitian revolution as well as C.L.R. James, Frantz Fanon, and even Malcom X in his later years. These were figures who saw — or in time came to see — that class and economic exploitation form the more fundamental power relationship in modern society. Race, in many ways, works to legitimate class-based domination and, especially in the United States, to forestall the emergence of a cross-racial labour movement.
This book is a powerful and important argument for that solidarity. Malik recounts the importance of struggles in British Asian communities in the 1970s, such as the strikes at Red Scar Mill and Grunwick, to the development of his politics, and of organisations like the Indian Workers’ Association and the Asian Youth Movements. Importantly, this history provided a basis for cross-racial solidarity, rather than ‘the shackles of identity’. Back then, ‘we recognized, almost without thinking about it, the commonality of values, hopes and aspirations that bound together Asians, blacks and whites’ (p.2). A view of race and racism which casts commands for white people to “stay in your lane” and arguments about cultural appropriation as anti-racist activism is no substitute.
Elaine Graham-Leigh, Counterfire
An old-school man of the left, Malik argues for a return to what he calls “the radical universalist tradition” based on Enlightenment values. It’s a measure of how rapidly modern identity politics have transformed the landscape that his arguments have an almost quaint ring to them. In an age that has put post-colonial and postmodernist theory centre stage, Malik wants to return to an older left-wing tradition rooted in building class coalitions rather than dividing the population into minorities with their own value systems.
Looking forward to a well balanced and insightful work
Thank you. Hope you enjoy it when it comes out.
I look forward to your book. Have you read The 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History? I would like to know your thoughts on it. https://www.amazon.com/Times-Project-Racialist-Falsification-History/dp/1893638936/ref=sr_1_6?keywords=The+1619+Project&qid=1636834819&sr=8-6
Apologies for a slow response. Yes, I’ve read it, and I tackle the debate in the book.
This is really welcome! Looking forward to it and hope it appears asap
Looking forward to your new book. I’ve read them all and have benefited from your perspective.