Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race
by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Once in a while, there is a book that really makes us think – not just about the words, the story, the literary value or even, superficially, about the message. Instead, it makes us search deep down in our own personality – soul if you like – and ask ourselves questions about who we really are. Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, first published in 2017, and added to in 2018, is such a work.
I have never thought of myself as a racist, but after reading Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, I’m beginning to wonder. Can I truly put hand on heart and swear I have no prejudices at all?
‘When I was four, I asked my mum when I would turn white, because all the good people on TV were white, and all the villains were black and brown.’
Eddo-Lodge is a young black woman, a journalist, who was born, raised and educated in Britain. The idea for the book sprang from reactions to a blog she wrote in 2014, in which she described the emotional disconnect between herself and large numbers of white people who refuse to acknowledge that racism exists.
Beginning in 1562, when the British began trading African slaves, the book charts the history of black people in Britain up until the present day. That is only the first chapter, but even here, the author challenges the assumption that many (maybe most?) white people seem to have, that whiteness is the norm. It is a conditioning, she argues, and western society is founded upon it. It is embedded in our society.
‘We tell ourselves that good people can’t be racist. We seem to think that true racism only exists in the hearts of evil people. We tell ourselves racism is about moral values, when instead it is about the survival strategy of systemic power.’
The chapters which follow discuss this system and how it has evolved, apparently to the detriment of citizens who aren’t “white”. Eddo-Lodge records an interview with Nick Griffin, formerly head of the BNP, which shows up the prejudices, fears – and lies – in all their colourless detail.
Next comes a chapter on racial bias with respect to sex/gender. Not only are women treated unequally, the writer argues, but black women are treated even less equally than white.
‘We should be rethinking the image we conjure up when we think of a working-class person. Instead of a white man in a flat cap, it’s a black woman pushing a pram.’
The final category of prejudice is that relating to class. When it comes to job opportunities, wages and salaries, and housing for example, black and brown people are again disadvantaged, having to work and study much harder than their white counterparts to make a success of their lives.
Reni Eddo-Lodge makes a lot of good points, although she doesn’t always come up with answers. She doesn’t pull any punches either, and there are times when I find her tone strident, something that does not and will not endear her to political authority. Hopefully, enough people, especially white males like me, will read this book to make a difference. Those who are beyond the racism pale already, won’t be reading it anyway.
Whatever our race, class or gender, we all have prejudices. The clever part is to see them for what they are.