Akala was raised in Camden, north-west London with Scottish, English and Jamaican whakapapa. He positions himself as having been racialised as black despite being raised by his white solo-mum. Akala is a rapper, a historian, a political thinker and now an author. He was in Aotearoa this week for events in Christchurch, Dunedin and the Auckland Writers Festival (which is still going). Lillian Hanly was lucky enough to spend some time with him before he gave his talk on his new book Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire. They sat outside Aotea Center just after Akala had finished speaking to a huge group of students about Shakespeare - because, on top of his work on race and class, and holding two honourary doctorates, he owns The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company. This is a 'music theatre production company aimed at exploring the social, cultural and linguistic parallels between the works of William Shakespeare and that of modern day hip-hop artists'. A number of people actually came up during the interview asking for his autograph.
As Akala positions himself in most interviews, Lillian decided to start the interview by positioning herself - as a Pākehā woman raised with Te Reo Māori as her first language. This positioning she also believes is important as it is the lens through which she sees the world, and informs the work she does. While reading Natives in preparation one of the first things that jumped out at her was Akala’s statement in the introduction, “I was born into these currents, I did not create or invent them and I make no claims to objectivity. I find the whole idea that we can transcend our experiences; and take a totally unbiased look at the world to be totally ridiculous, yet that’s what many historians and academics claim to do.” News media too, claim objectivity, states Lillian. This is where the interview begins.
For reference, the Charles W. Mills quote reads as follows, “But in a racially structured polity, the only people who can find it psychologically possible to deny the centrality of race are those who are racially privileged, for whom race is invisible precisely because the world is structured around them, whiteness as the ground against which the figures of other races - those who, unlike us, are raced - appear.” - The Racial Contract, p.76.
Photo credit: British GQ