Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
|Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge|
|Category: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: If talking about race makes you nervous, this is a book you should read and not avoid. Clear, direct and succinct, it makes its case. Silence is a conversation too, you know. Just not a productive one.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: June 2017|
|External links: Author's website|
A couple of years back, Reni Eddo-Lodge got fed up with white people getting defensive every time she mentioned structural racism. Basically, the problem was this: white people were happy to admit that some people were personally racially prejudiced but very keen to point out that they themselves weren't, and even keener to downplay any suggestion that they themselves were beneficiaries of a society organised and structured in racist ways. So she wrote a blog post called Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race as a kind of sayonara from even trying to explain it. Ironically, the huge response the blog post got has seen Eddo-Lodge do a great deal of talking to white people about race since it was published and this book is the culmination of it. In it, she summarises the history of race relations in the UK and puts forward her central argument that overt and extreme personal prejudice is the least of the problem and not the problem in its entirety.
I had to put the book down after the first couple of chapters. I'm very firmly middle-aged - in my 50s, born in 1964. I remember a great deal of what Eddo-Lodge writes about in these opening sections. I remember cringing past the National Front skinhead who lived a few doors up from my grandmother, in case he picked on me for having Asian mates. I remember coming out of the tube and staring at the ground so that the purveyor of British Bulldog didn't try to force a leaflet into my hands. I remember the riots. And if I, a white person, remember this as frightening and oppressive, what must have it been like for black and Asian folk? Why is Eddo-Lodge writing about this stuff as if it will be news to her readers, I thought? And have I myself failed to give my children enough information about these significant cultural memories? It was uncomfortable. But I read on.
The section on class is very good. Why is the working class white? Why, all of a sudden, are the grievances of the working class of import? But only the white working class. Because, thanks to a structurally racist society, there are plenty of black and Asian folk in the working class thankyouverymuch. That said, I do think it is worth talking about the white working class as a specific group, so long as it's not implied that they are the working class in toto. Consider the post-Brexit hand-wringing, in which the Grauniad dispatches an intrepid reporter anywhere sixpence north of Watford to survey the strange, feral racists who populate this wilderness. Because what's that, if it's not a deflection of the fact that the white middle classes are beneficiaries of whiteness, too? You don't get to absolve yourself that way.
See, here's the thing. If I can clearly understand that patriarchy exists as a political and cultural system that discriminates against women even when many individual men don't, why would I not clearly understand that concept when applied to whiteness or white supremacy, call it what you will? I honestly don't understand the resistance. Patriarchy isn't limited to builders cat-calling female passers-by or comedians making mother-in-law jokes. And racism isn't limited to people who use the N word. It really isn't hard to grasp, is it? Yet it seems so, because Eddo-Lodge needed to write this book.
I'm grateful to Eddo-Lodge for Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race. I hope I learned something. You should read it too, even if you don't think you have anything to learn. Eddo-Lodge might surprise you. Inequality in the UK isn't some big hierarchy of oppression in which special interest groups fight for some kind of preferential top spot, you know. It's a Venn diagram. And if people would only imagine it that way instead of being constantly vigilant not to lose their place on the non-existent hierarchy ladder, they might see that understanding structural racism in the UK and how white people - even the female ones, even the working class ones, even the gay ones - benefit from it doesn't mean they're having anything about them and their own struggles erased.
If Eddo-Lodge gets you thinking, why not get curious about that thinking? You could read the essays in the The Cambridge Companion to British Black and Asian Literature, which see the literary contribution of black and Asian communities as central to the British cultural landscape, not an adjunct to it. Or even take a trip to Our Migration Story to flesh out some of the narratives that Eddo-Lodge summarises in her fabulous book.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge at Amazon.com.
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