I’ve wanted to read this for ages and was very pleased when it finally arrived at the library. I love essays and I have been trying to expand my world-view in light of the recent political landscape. One of the ways I became acutely aware of how things were shifting was through the conversations I was having with my students. I am incredibly privileged to work with kids from a huge variety of backgrounds (in my school we have a noticeboard that shows all the languages spoken by the students- there are about 35 in total.) I listened to their fears and how they saw themselves being treated, first after Brexit (I teach in a town which voted to leave) and later, post-Trump.
This book really should be in every secondary school library. The stories contained within it are important and reflective of a society that we may not recognise initially- many of us do not have to go through life worrying about the way our hair or our skin colour or religion affects the way the world sees us. Sex, death, culture, femininity and masculinity, fashion,the importance of representation across all areas of life, as well as the importance of the language we use is all covered here and I devoured every page.
I loved Bim Adewunmi’s exploration of pop culture , ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Tokenism’ and Nish Kumar’s exploration of his feelings after he became a meme in ‘Is Nish Kumar a Confused Muslim?’ Another standout piece for me was ‘Cutting Through (On Black Barbershops and Masculinity)’, where poet Inua Ellams travels around Africa exploring what it means to be a man in different countries. Kieran Yates’ piece ‘On Going Home’ explores the culture shock- not only from country to country, but also city to city when she visits family in India.
Riz Ahmed’s piece about airport security and performance, ‘Airports and Auditions’, has rightly received a lot of attention for its humour and blistering anger and it is one of the best pieces in the book. I also enjoyed Selena Godden’s essay ‘Shade’, which explores being ‘other’ in a society that doesn’t quite know how to deal with those who might be seen as ‘outsiders’.
The essay that spoke to me the most, though, was Darren Chetty’s ‘You Can’t Say That! Stories Have To Be About White People.’ As a teacher, Chetty found that pupils wrote stories from the perspective of white characters, regardless of ethnicity. As I read this, I realised that this was often true of my own students. As a result, I have gone away and thought about how I can encourage my students to see themselves in the world and in their work. And then I hope they can change the world for the better.
Everyone should read this book. Everyone.