Not So Black and White

A History of Race from White Supremacy to Identity Politics

January 2023 9781787387768 328pp
Available as an eBook
EU customers purchase here


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.


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. Listen to 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

‘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

‘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

‘Excellent.’ — New Statesman

‘A consistent and compelling … masterful history.’ — UnHerd

‘[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

‘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.

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