When Fatima Manji visits a stately home, which is something she often does, she walks swiftly past the portraits of porcelain-skinned landowners and the European art collected by a son on the Grand Tour. She is looking for something else: a brown-skinned sitter in a portrait, say, or some Arabic or Urdu lettering. These are hidden clues to a lost past and they unlock stories about Britain’s complex relationship with the East – stories that give Manji a sense of belonging.
Britain, says Manji, is suffering from historical amnesia. Some people today believe that the first people of colour in Britain were the Windrush settlers. But as Manji shows in this original and engaging book, the relationship between Britain and the Orient goes back many centuries. (Manji uses the O word in its literal sense, as a term for south and west Asia, and not in the way used by Edward Said, who saw it as a construct designed to caricature and subjugate Asians.)
Elizabeth I wrote letters to the Mughul emperor Akbar to promote trade with India. Moroccan ambassadors visited her court and she received gold-dusted letters from the wife of the Ottoman sultan. These contacts have been overlooked by the overwhelmingly white historical profession. A portrait of the dark-skinned Moroccan ambassador