Not So Black and White
A History of Race from White Supremacy to Identity Politics
Selected as one of the ‘Books to Read in 2023’ in the Financial Times and The Irish Times
Selected as one of the ‘Best Books of 2023 So Far’ in the New Statesman
A Counterfire Book of the Year 2022
A powerful new history of the idea of race, forcing us to rethink today’s culture wars.
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.
‘Racism rebranded: how far-right ideology feeds off identity politics’: Read an extract from Not So Black and White in The Observer here.
Kenan Malik in conversation with the prize winning poet Don Paterson and academic Francesca Sobande on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week programme:
Does the conversation on race need a reset? That is the question that Kenan Malik and Coleman Hughes explored when they came to Intelligence Squared in January 2022. Watch their conversation here:
‘The esteemed theorist on multiculturalism and race offers a longer- run perspective on contemporary race debates in an antidote to the muddiness of the “culture wars”.’ — Financial Times
‘A stalwart of the universalist left, [Malik] espouses a working-class solidarity not “fractured” by race and holds fast to the ideology he embraced in his street-fighting years. He expresses these views eloquently—and with a lightly worn erudition—in Not So Black and White.’ — The Wall Street Journal
‘Malik makes a strong case for reviving an intellectual movement that concentrates on the hard work of reducing inequality rather than indulging in the gesture politics of the new generation of radicals.’ — The Times
‘An informative and revealing history of ideas.’ — International Socialism
‘Excellent.’ — Stephen Bush, Financial Times
‘Provides clarity on the origins of popular beliefs and assumptions about contemporary identity politics … Not So Black and White [is] a comprehensive and persuasive guide to thinking of ways in which we can politically organise for better living conditions for the working class on the basis of shared values of liberty, equality and justice, and fight against the oppressive capitalist force of the elite, instead of fighting against each other.’ — The Irish Times
‘Malik’s most striking point is that the very idea of “whiteness” is a product of the Enlightenment.’ – Martin Sandbu, Financial Times
‘Excellent.’ — New Statesman
‘A consistent and compelling … masterful history.’ — UnHerd
‘This book opens with a stunning sentence… Taking the long view, author Kenan Malik argues the origins of identity politics lie not in the left but the sometimes reactionary right.’ – The Australian
‘[Not So Black and White] is both a history of modern racism from the invention of race in the eighteenth century to the present day, and a powerful argument for universalism and solidarity.’ — Counterfire
‘[Malik’s] book has important implications for contemporary race politics, particularly for understanding the current debates over critical race theory and the 1619 and 1776 projects.’ — Catalyst
‘A rich account of the history of race … there is much to recommend in this book as a history of ideas with ongoing relevance for contemporary struggles for equalities and social justice.’ — Morning Star
‘Interrogates race and its relationship to class struggle today, tracing the rise of identity politics alongside the decline of the labour movement and universalism.’ — Tribune Magazine
‘[Malik’s] critique of right and left identarianism is convincing and useful for the academic… and non-academic activist alike, looking to make sense of contemporary race politics and locate it within a larger, complex history of inequality.’ — Ethnic and Racial Studies Review
‘Kenan Malik’s fascinating new history of race and racism… provide[s] a valuable intervention in an argument that is often both fraught and infested with thought-terminating clichés and sloganeering.’ — Areo
‘A thorough and nuanced book.’ — The Equiano Project
‘Provides an illuminating history of the idea of race, and systematically outlines the key concepts necessary to understand the development of racial thinking.’ — Spiked
‘[An] original and ambitious rethinking of the history of the politics of race, from slavery to Black Lives Matter.’ — ArtReview
‘Malik impels us to invert the causal arrows between race and the differential treatment of people from different ethnicities. It’s not the latter that flows from the former but the inverse.’ — Law & Liberty
‘A tour-de-force of intellectual history as well as a political polemic and a plea to the left. Malik takes many of his leftist confreres to task for misunderstanding the causes and function of racism and thereby, unwittingly and unintentionally, contributing to the maintenance of an unjust and unequal status quo.’ — The Liberal Patriot
The Guardian Live event: Kenan Malik in conversation with Zoe Williams about his new book Not So Black and White.
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer, broadcaster and Observer columnist. A former Moral Maze panellist, he has presented BBC Radio 3’s Nightwaves and Radio 4’s Analysis. His previous books include The Quest for a Moral Compass, and From Fatwa to Jihad, which was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize.