Access an online archive of the thoughts, writings and speeches of A. Sivanandan, 1923−2018, analyst, organiser and novelist, director of the Institute of Race Relations and editor of Race & Class.
A. Sivanandan was one of the most important and influential black thinkers in the UK, changing many of the orthodoxies on ‘race’, heading the Institute of Race Relations for almost forty years, founding the journal Race & Class, and writing the award-winning novel, When Memory Dies, on his native Sri Lanka.
In April 1972, following an internal struggle at the IRR with staff and members on one side and the Management Board on the other, over the type of research the IRR should undertake and the freedom of expression and criticism staff could enjoy, the majority of Board members were forced to resign and the IRR was reoriented, away from advising government and towards servicing community organisations and victims of racism. Sivanandan (head of library services) was encouraged by the staff to become a joint director with Simon Abbott (assistant director and head of publishing) and later as from late 1973 Siva became sole director, a post he held till 2013.
Under Sivanandan’s directorship the IRR began to change tack from speaking to the powerful to speaking from the powerless. It broke with long-term empirical research, now producing short-term research, based on case studies, with results published in accessible ways as pamphlets that could be used to intervene in struggles against injustice in areas not popularised by academics – e.g. over policing, the rise of the National Front, school exclusions, community care, deaths in custody. Sivanandan’s IRR also spoke out against empty multicultural educational policies which emphasised cultural difference without addressing the racism of British society. To meet the lack of provision of basic narratives, IRR produced a series of educational pamphlets for young people in the 1980s– Roots of racism, Patterns of racism, How racism came to Britain and the Fight against racism.
Sivanandan’s writings and speeches, which spanned over four decades, covered a multitude of subjects – the black experience, migration, political struggle, technological change, globalisation, developments in Sri Lanka – but always with a race/class analysis. Find all of them at asivanandan.com