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Representation, these accounts show us, is not enough.
The early 20th century world should be Adrian’s oyster and he gets a good job as an overseer on St Kitts.
Yet he finds himself caught between the two communities and, when he starts relationships with both a local Sunday school teacher and his boss’s daughter, it is only a matter of time before disaster strikes, setting off a chain of events that will take a generation to make good.
It is, as Nikesh Shukla states in his editor’s note, ‘a document of what it means to be a person of colour’ in the UK, assembled in response to ‘the backwards attitude to immigration and refugees, the systemic racism that runs through this country to this day’.
As Shukla’s comments suggest, much of this book does not make for comfortable reading – nor is it meant to.
Instead, we need to break free of those familiar narratives – those single stories as Chimanda Ngozi Adichie so memorably dubbed them – and push for a vast array of complex, challenging and even conflicting accounts.
This is important within nations like Britain, as much as across borders, because, as Bim Adewunmi puts it in ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Tokenism’, the superficial and inadequate representation of minorities in the stories we consume ‘leaks into the everyday too – if you cannot bring yourself to imagine us as real, rounded individuals with feelings equal to your own on screen, how does that affect your ability to do so when you encounter us on the street, at your workplace, in your bed, in your life?
For example, I was unaware of the extreme abuse often experienced by people of Chinese ethnicity in the UK, but Wei Ming Kam and Vera Chok bring this home memorably, with Chok’s discussion of the sinister objectification of Asian women being particularly powerful.
Alongside these personal and specific examples, a number of the writers expand on larger themes that illuminate the mechanisms of the blindspots and doublethink that make such inhumanity possible.
The book by the former electrician, who spent some time in the UK as an adult but was raised, educated and trained on the island, was greeted with a great deal of local enthusiasm and government minister Hensley Daniel praised the example Roach’s achievement set for the island’s younger citizens.