Tomiwa Owolade’s “This is Not America” is a compelling exploration of race and identity in Britain, challenging the Americanised lens through which these issues are often viewed. The book is a reminder that Britain needs to develop its own narrative on race and identity, separate from the American discourse. This includes, according to Owolade, examining the use of ‘critical race theory’ and ‘intersectionality’, as commonly known forms of social critique, which inform many people’s thinking without being fully understood in the context of British experiences.
According to Owolade, this would include the history of empire and slavery, but would also recognise the unique and modern experience of many people, and their offspring, who have made the United Kingdom their home since the Second World War. This is Not America can be seen as a call for a more authentic cultural expression of what it means to belong in Britain today. One that is defined and created by the people themselves, rather than being imposed by a homogenising and simplifying corporate system that imposes narrow accounts on what should be a pluralistic and democratic process of integration that goes both ways.
Owolade argues that contemporary social identity in the UK needs to be understood in its uniquely British context, and one that would be better understood if it was articulated through the lens of common cultural expression, with a focus perhaps on class, rather than simply making cultural disparities about race. Owolade argues that it is when we acknowledge that we understand our social and cultural differences by our unique lived experience of life in the UK, that we can make progress. So, rather than importing wholesale critiques from abroad, we need to refocus on our own experiences and tell our own stories.
Owolade suggests that people should be given the freedom to define and create narratives about themselves that are not defined by embedded cultural stereotypes, either imposed or self-imposed. Taking a lesson from Owolade’s critique, suggests that we need forms of media, art, and social sensemaking that are accessible to people, through which we can tell stories for ourselves. This is a powerful counterpoint to the dominant narratives often propagated by corporate media systems, which tend to homogenise and simplify complex issues of race and identity.
The book advocates for a more natural expression of identity and a sense of belonging, expressed through art, music, and other forms of cultural expression. Owolade’s proposals, perhaps, are more suited to a metamodern sensibility, one that seeks to develop a coherent and articulate form of collective culture in a globalised context, but which retains a dynamic interplay between the persona and the social, the past and future, and the local and the global.
Owolade’s work therefore offers valuable lessons for community cohesion and the development of an emerging and future-focussed common British culture. He emphasises the importance of valuing and promoting diversity, establishing effective communication, building mutual support, and fostering understanding and respect for difference. These lessons are not just applicable to the black community, but must be extended and applied to all other social groups in Britain.
Lessons that Tomiwa Owolade suggests might be helpful for improved community cohesion in the UK include:
- Valuing and Promoting Diversity: Owolade emphasises the importance of valuing and promoting diversity within communities. This involves recognizing and appreciating the different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives that exist within society.
- Establishing Effective Communication: Owolade suggests that effective communication is crucial for community cohesion. This includes fostering dialogue, listening to different voices, and creating spaces for open and respectful conversations.
- Building Mutual Support: Owolade highlights the significance of building mutual support within communities. This involves individuals and groups coming together to address common problems, provide assistance, and work collaboratively towards shared goals.
- Encouraging a Positive Future: Owolade proposes that cohesive communities are those that work together for a positive future. This includes engaging in collective efforts to improve the well-being and quality of life for all community members.
- Tackling Common Problems: Owolade emphasises the importance of communities coming together to tackle common concerns. This involves addressing issues such as inequality, discrimination, and social challenges collectively, rather than placing the burden solely on marginalized groups.
- Promoting Understanding and Respect: Owolade suggests that fostering understanding and respect for difference is crucial for community cohesion. This involves challenging stereotypes, promoting empathy, and encouraging individuals to learn from and appreciate each other’s experiences and perspectives.
This is Not America is a thought-provoking exploration of race and identity in Britain. Owolade’s work challenges the prevailing Americanised discourse on these issues, advocating for a nuanced understanding of the Black British experience. His insights offer valuable lessons for community cohesion and the development of a common British culture. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the complexities of race and identity in modern Britain, and the power of authentic cultural expression in shaping these narratives.