Updated on July 22, 2018
26. ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge
This book has been incredibly popular since it was published last year. To give you an idea of how popular – I ordered it to my local library in November 2017, and it only became available last month! I’m delighted to have got my hands on it at last.
In 2014, Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote a post on her blog entitled ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’. In it, she discussed her experiences of talking to white people about race and having them refuse to acknowledge that structural, institutionalised racism is a problem in our country. As a result, people of colour (already oppressed by this same structural racism), have to tread carefully around white feelings, trying not to cause upset to the people who have a privilege they won’t recognise, lest they seem to be living up to the stereotype of being ‘angry black people’. In this blog post, Eddo-Lodge concluded that she wasn’t going to talk about race with these white people any more; if they weren’t going to listen, she wasn’t going to exhaust herself trying to make them.
Their eyes glaze over in boredom or widen in indignation. Their mouths start twitching as they get defensive. Their throats open up as they try to interrupt, itching to talk over you but not really listen, because they need to let you know that you’ve got it wrong.
From this blog post, the book Why I’m No Longer… was born. Eddo-Lodge opens the book with the original blog post, and then expands on her thoughts about race in relation to a number of different ideas, including history, class and feminism. The book is part essay, part autobiography, as Eddo-Lodge recounts how she first came to learn about the UK’s slave trade and the history of race relations in Britain. Having read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me earlier this year, which looks at racism in America, I found Eddo-Lodge’s analysis of race in Britain particularly interesting. We can often look to America as having the most significant problems with race, and in so doing forget that racism is also a pervasive force in our own country. Why I’m No Longer gives a comprehensive history of race in the UK (including race riots, lynchings and bus boycotts), thus helping to plug a gap which is often passed over in UK schools.
There are so many interesting topics covered in this book, it’s difficult to know where to begin. In one essay Eddo-Lodge charts the life of a hypothetical black child, showing the (un)likelihood of him getting through school, leaving with good grades, getting into university and finding a job – all the way down the line, the odds are stacked against him. She talks about how people agree with anti-racism in principle, but become enraged at the methods people use to implement it (in so doing, she makes a strong case for affirmative action). She argues that black people are not fighting for equality or assimilation within the established white system; they’re fighting to change the system entirely. In one eyebrow-raising anecdote, she explains how tabloids in the 1970s railed against “political correctness” after a white man was told to take down a sign from the house he was selling that read “Positively no coloureds.”
In her essay on race and class, Eddo-Lodge demonstrates how these two ideas are deeply intermingled in the UK, and she points out how the political classes only really started shouting about protecting working-class people – crucially the ‘white working class’, a term which has been used more and more in recent years – once they had ‘foreigners’ and immigrants to pit them against. In her essay on feminism, she discusses how the dominant form of feminism in the UK is white feminism, and she describes how many feminists are able to see the patriarchy but somehow can’t see institutionalised racism.
Ultimately, she argues that we should never plead colour-blindness or pretend that these racist structures don’t exist. The first step is to acknowledge them, then we can begin to change them. If you’re a person of colour, you don’t have the luxury of being able to close your eyes to these problems, because you live them, in small and large ways, every day. If you’re white, you do have that luxury, and you should not take it – when somebody is trying to explain their experience of the world, one that is different from yours, just listen. Reading this book is a very good place to start.
“The perverse thing about our current racial structure is that it has always fallen on the shoulders of those at the bottom to change it.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
If you want to read it, you can buy Why I’m No Longer… here.
[Disclosure: Above is an affiliate link. If you buy a book through that link, I get a small cut, at no extra cost to you.]