Terraformed: Young Black Lives In The Inner City by Joy White was a book I first noted when considering new books by Black British writers to look out for over summer. This book in particular because while there are countless articles and books about gentrification, Joy White is focusing on a particular area in London. I have fond memories of Forest Gate from visiting in childhood. It’s been a while and I know it has changed. Terraformed is a series of essays on the Newham neighbourhood: It’s history, present, “regeneration” and ultimately the devastating impacts on young Black residents.
Joy White’s use of hyper-local demarcation and the fact that her personal experience informed the book makes it uniquely specific. Even so, her critiques on capitalism, gentrification, neoliberalism and racism can be applied anywhere. Peckham, Brixton, Hackney…. Brooklyn, San Fran. Most of the places with the good coffee shops. I can’t lie, I like the coffee shops..but I’m very aware of the wider implications these ‘urban villages’ come with, who gets to benefit from them. Who gets displaced by them.
Terraformed sets the scene by explaining what gave Forest Gate it’s distinctive characteristics. From it’s place in Victorian history to the close proximity of far right groups and multicultural populations. Migration stories, racists and working class ethics. It connects the dots between politics, music and the built environment.
Hyper-local Demarcation is a definitive framework White put forward. It examines how legislation, communities, music (references to music reminded me of Boakye’s Hold Tight) and town planning impactBlack youth in Forest Gate. I found this very effective because it’s easy to speculate about a general malaise affecting prospects of Black people in the UK. These four pillars drilled down into what the issues actually are. Terraformed is described as part ethnography – in being a Black person from Forest Gate herself, White is uniquely positioned to give a view on how legislation, the community and town planning impact us in the UK. Whether first hand or through experience of family and friends.
Informative Picture of Forest Gate
At times, the editing could have been tighter to focus the narrative and a couple of observations seemed arbitrary but this could have been the effect of combining memoirs. On the whole Terraformed built an informative picture of the impacts of legislation and regeneration on Black youth which could probably used in study for years to come. Particularly for people who aren’t familiar with Newham. Local Council leaders or MPs for example should be reading this too. I think if you are Newham resident or even from a major city, it is likely that you will know of these issues already.
Terraformed is Part Memoir
Perhaps the strongest point was incorporating her own experience. Part of what motivated Terraformed was Joy White coming to terms with the violent loss of her nephew. In chapter six, you can almost feel a catharsis happening through her words. It is moving. This is where the strongest point is inadvertently made. Young black people dying in Newham and UK isn’t just numbers and percentages. It is personal. It is family. It is future potential ended. Hearts broken. We need to treat it that way. Joy White writes an account that drives home that we aren’t statistics. We’ve been talking data but all those points are people. Case in point.
You can watch Joy White Speak to Kano about Terraformed as a guest on Newham Talks
Terraformed: Young Black lives In The Inner City by Joy White Published by Repeater Books in 2020