This month sees the UK cinema release of Steve McQueen’s brilliant and brutal new film, 12 Years a Slave. McQueen has been vocal in condemning cinema’s wariness in confronting the subjects of slavery and race, and his film has galvanized a new interest in the unspeakably ugly period in American history.
Based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 documentary, 12 Years a Slave takes an unflinching look at the story of a free black man from New York who is abducted and sold into slavery.
Verso has long held a commitment to telling similar stories, and we now present a selection of books as the essential starting point for those looking to learn more about the roots, events and legacies of slavery and racial tensions in America and the world.
In January 1978, Margaret Thatcher, then leader of the opposition, gave what became one of her most quoted television interviews. "People," she told ITV's World in Action
, "are really rather afraid that this country might be swamped by people with a different culture." Those words gave birth to a tenet of modern British politics: that Margaret Thatcher stole the far right's thunder by addressing the tricky subject of immigration. But is it true?
The background to her interview was public hostility to immigrants from Britain's former colonies. This wasn't exactly new: racism had shadowed the arrival of Commonwealth citizens from the 1940s onwards, peaking violently on occasions such as the 1958 Notting Hill race riots. But from the late 1960s, that racism had begun to find a growing political expression, in the form of the National Front.
Out in the UK this month, Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained and Steven Speilberg's Lincoln has energized interest in a period of American history defined by race. Rather than make our own critiques or slap downs, we present these books to fill the gaps left by Hollywood.
Labour MP Jon Cruddas looks back on a very different Olympic year, 2000, in his review of Daniel Trillings Bloody Nasty People
in this weeks New Statesman
. Rather than the "positive national story" of this year's games, instead we saw the opening days of a decade of political and racial antagonism fostered by the far-right, unwittingly colluded in by both Conservative and Labour politicians who "swerved around the question of modern national identity and triangulated instead between the nationalist right and the liberal left".
The full irony of a book about the British National Party being called ‘Bloody Nasty People’ was not lost thanks to the Sunday Herald which was keen to point out that Daniel Trilling’s title was lifted from a front-page headline in The Sun, one of the many mainstream media outlets that the author takes to task over their complicity in the rise of ultraright-wing politics.
In the Independent, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown sums up the primary thrust of the work:
Neo-Fascist racism is getting more brazen and popular. Its reach is misread by the left, tolerated by liberals, excused and even encouraged by the right- wing political classes and the media, ignored by apolitical citizens, and denied by the deluded many who still believe members of the BNP, English Defence League and other organised belligerents are just loonies with deviant hobbies. Trilling incisively cuts through all that..