Reviews /

Black and British – A Short Essential History

Authored by David Olusoga
Published by Macmillan Children's Books

Tagged , ,

Black and British – A Short Essential History is an accessible short history of Black Britons, complete with maps, photos, portraits and a glossary. It is a new much shorter edition of the best-selling tome Black and British – A Forgotten History by David Olusoga and suitable for upper primary and secondary pupils.

It distils key moments from Roman Britain to 2020, giving the reader a clear sense of the presence of Black people in Britain through the centuries. It makes explicit the gaping hole in the history curriculum. When primary schools teach the Victorians, how many refer to the conditions under which the cotton for the Lancashire cotton mills is produced?

Be ready to learn lots. Did you know that for Romans ‘skin colour didn’t determine your place in society’ while most Black Tudors were not slaves but servants earning a wage? During chapters on the Tudors, Stuarts and Georgians, the reader gains a clear overview of the economics driving slavery from the Tudor pirates, attempting to steal African gold from the Portuguese to the Stuarts who built up the slave powered colonies in Virginia and Barbados.

Interestingly it was only during the reign of James I that the English started using the term ‘white’ to talk about themselves. Later we learn of the Abolitionists, boycotts of sugar, the Zong slave ship and insurance payments, resistance in Haiti and Jamaica and finally compensation paid to slave owners.

Slavery had been abolished by the time Queen Victoria came to the throne, but Victorians were still investing in slave powered businesses, and Thomas Carlyle promoted racist theories. The reader learns that the Industrial Revolution relied heavily on slavery and the Scramble for Africa in the 1880s was about taking control of the continent, and this was clearly seen in the actions of Cecil Rhodes.

This excellent and readable history continues with chapters on both world wars and key events of the twentieth century, such as Windrush. It will help readers join up the dots and see how Western economic success was built on the slave trade and slave powered business. This is an essential history text for both primary and secondary teachers to read. It is also a welcome addition to every school library.