Arts & Culture


By Memela Cavanagh at

Hip-Hop artist, writer and social entrepreneur Akala was in conversation with Shaista Aziz to a packed house at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford recently.

His new book ‘Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’ is “Part political essay, part historiography, part memoir.”
He said “Why do I see the world the way I do?” For many people, people of colour, police brutality is he says “Normal”.

Stopped and searched by the police at the age of twelve, without an adult present, Akala said “This shapes our views as an adult, puts things in context.” While making a music video in Brazil he was held up at gunpoint by the police. When they realised he was from England, and not ‘Native’, they put their guns away. In Jamaica, he says his high colouring gets him called ‘Sir’ by the police there.

He talked about his grandfather, who, although he was poor and uneducated, consoled himself with “At least he wasn’t black.” He also talked about his Caribbean grandparents who, because of the hierarchy back home, when they first came to England ”Couldn’t believe that poor white people existed.”

Now living in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, “Down the road from Grenfell.” Talking about Class he said: “Why claim that people have the same opportunities? …We delude ourselves in this country, where I live residents have sprinklers installed, regular appliance checks. The buildings aren’t so high the fire engines can’t reach. And they can afford legal advice. Imagine if every resident at Grenfell could”

“Imagine if Hillsborough had happened at Ascot…If white privilege doesn’t exist then why do poor whites live in poverty with black people, who they have more in common with?”

Brought up in Camden in the nineteen-eighties, he attended Pan-African Saturday School and went to the theatre “About five times a week”. When his primary school teacher claimed that Wilberforce stopped slavery singlehandedly, Akala knew something was up.

In the USA, directly post-slavery, he said “Things had moved forward. Fifty percent of former slaves were literate.” However, “This was oppressed by violent terrorism”: The Ku Klux Klan weren’t simply perpetrating random acts of violence.

On remembrance, he says that, in the UK, “Remembering World War II every year doesn’t mean we aren’t friends with Germany… [On remembering slavery,] White children will not say ‘Oh my ancestors did terrible things! I’m gonna cut myself!’… There’s a need to reconcile by confronting, then reforming, not to leave it to fester…people clashing over different versions of history. What happened is a social reality.”

You can see more of what Akala has to say on You Tube:

To buy a copy of his book visit: