Cardyn Brooks reviews The Life The Life and Times of a Very British Man by Kamal Ahmed
Bloomsbury Circus October 18, 2018
Non-fiction sociopolitical personal memoir
Kamal Ahmed, BBC economics editor, is the son of Yorkshire British mother Elaine Mary Sturnam and Sudanese African father Abubaker Ismail Ahmed. On page 3 the author declares, “The debate of our age is the debate about identity.” Then he proceeds to assemble the facts that support his declaration.
With the election of Barak Hussein Obama to the U.S. presidency on November 8, 2008 as his personal inception point for writing this intimate memoir, Kamal Ahmed uses his parents’ individual and joint personal stories to pan outward into the broader histories of their countries, continents, and the evolution of ideas about race and citizenship, which makes the first third of the book read like an engaging novel.
Expanding upon ideas in quotes from James Baldwin, Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari, Michel Foucault, historian David Kynaston, author Reni Eddo-Lodge, artist director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave and Widows, not Bullitt), Sudanese author Jok Maduk Jok, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and others reveals the overlapping influences of insiders (us) versus outsiders (them) in literature, science, economics, theology, politics, cartography, music, sports, fashion, sociology, criminal justice, and basic human rights. This Venn diagram establishes a framework for the author’s nuanced deep dive into Enoch Powell’s speeches contrasted with the experiences of British Olympic medalist Linford Christie (and with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech discussed in the afterword).
Although emotionally similar to Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama and stylistically similar to Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, The Life and Times of a Very British Man is deeper in its complexity and broader in scope than those other two titles. Kamal Ahmed directly refers to Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi and many of his ideological explorations connect with themes in The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, the Africa’s Great Civilizations documentary series by Henry Louis Gates, and recent public discussions about the ethnic authenticity credentials of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to portray John Henry in an upcoming biopic. Topics in the contentious Brexit debate echo strongly, too.
The Life and Times of a Very British Man reads at a mostly brisk to steady pace until the “Prejudiced, Me?” section, which drags a bit. (The links to bias evaluation resources mentioned in Women, Minorities & Other Extraordinary People by Dr. Barbara Adams seem more relevant than the very basic scenarios offered by K.A.) “Reconciliation” focuses on contact theory under the conditions of equal status among all participants without addressing the issue of racism as serving the needs of people who are racist to justify or explain away their own failures, deficiencies, and disappointments. It doesn’t address the idea of racism as a case-specific form of psychosis that prevents a racist person from recognizing their shared humanity with other kinds of people in the way that people who are anorexic look in the mirror and see themselves as fat instead of skeletal.
The application of The Golden Rule as an effective, accessible anti-racist strategy is indirectly discussed in passages about people’s willingness to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Everyone is rendered in variegated shades of imperfect humanity.
Maybe the author will delve deeper into practical strategies for eliminating racial stereotyping and for fostering reconciliation in his next book because his writing style delivers a range of facts and opinions about complicated subjects from a variety of disciplines in a compelling manner that’s very accessible. It’s not surprising that an economist has mastered the distillation of macro forces to micro impacts on individuals.
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Cardyn Brooks is a reading fiend, compulsive writer, chocoholic, and swim enthusiast. She writes upbeat, diversity-is-mainstream contemporary erotic fiction for and about grown-ups in love. Her previous titles include Seducing the Burks: Five Erotic Tales and Dodging Eros, Through Past, Present and Pleasure. In spring 2018, When She’s on Top, a collection of four novellas about powerful women and the men who are strong enough to love them, written as her edgier persona of C. X Brooks, will be available in print and e-formats from BlackOpalBooks.com. She earned her B.A. in English at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A.
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