The Meaning of Race: Race, History, and Culture in Western Society, by Kenan Malik

Malik’s study is an awesome and challenging counter-narrative of the history of ‘race’. He charts how the notion originated and developed through slavery and colonialism and the ways in which it was formalised via a scientific discourse. So far, so familiar. Malik’s originality lies in his bravura conclusion: he demonstrates how in the post-war era the discredited idea of ‘race’ was transmogrified into the equally tenuous notion of ‘culture’ and, even more ephemerally, ‘ethnicity’, serving merely as codes for the unscientific concept of ‘race’. Usefully, this thought-provoking work powerfully emphasises the strategic dead-end of identity politics and multiculturalism as ideology. SS

Palgrave Macmillan; 1996; 336 pages

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Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual workers. George Orwell

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