Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race
By Reni Eddo-Lodge
In 2014, award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote about her frustration with the way that discussions of race and racism in Britain were being led by those who weren’t affected by it. She posted a piece on her blog, entitled: ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’.
Her words hit a nerve. The post went viral and comments flooded in from others desperate to speak up about their own experiences. Galvanised by this clear hunger for open discussion, she decided to dig into the source of these feelings. Exploring issues from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Reni Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge and counter racism. It is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of colour in Britain today.Tweet
Reni Eddo-Lodge has written this book to put forward her views on racism in Britain today. She is black and British and draws extensively on her own experience in her writing. She tackles various issues surrounding racism, discusses the historical background and backs up her arguments with statistics on many occasions. She is passionate and is not afraid of being controversial and provocative.
This is not an area that I know a huge amount about. For this reason there is a sense in which I am not the right person to review this book as I cannot constructively agree with or counter the arguments that are put forward. However, in another sense maybe I do have a valid voice as I am not coming from a position of knowledge or pre-conceived opinions but am evaluating the points that are made purely on the impression which they made upon me. You may feel that my ignorance does not provide enough legitimacy for me to pontificate – if that is the case, please do not read any further as I do not wish to offend.
First of all, the positive aspects of the book. On the whole, and especially at the start, it is well structured and interesting with lots of factual information about the history of racial issues in Britain and the current day situations/legacies. There are plenty of thought-provoking insights from the author who has personal experience of what it is like to live as a non-white in modern-day Britain. Statistical information is given to back up many of the points that are made and I have no doubt that the figures are authentic and that there are many issues that need addressing, both at a personal level and at managerial and governmental levels. Personally, I have no doubt whatsoever that ‘structural’ racism exists and that I (as a white person, also British) have been unwittingly immersed in it as part of my upbringing. I don’t think that necessarily makes me a bad person, but it may well mean that I need to start examining my attitudes to various issues more closely. So far, so good.
Now for the hard part – the things that I was not so convinced by. I found it very difficult to write this review - I actually finished the book quite a while ago but have been procrastinating ever since. I will try and explain why and, if I succeed, I think that that will go a long way to explaining some of my increasing discomfiture as the book progressed. The reason for my hesitation in committing anything to paper is that I now feel that anything I say that is construed as a negative point about the book will be taken as a racist comment. Whereas I used to feel free to express my opinions (which may or may not have contained elements of racism, but were certainly more enquiring than malicious in intent), since reading the book I feel apprehensive about expressing any kind of opinion at all for fear of reprisal. I was left with the distinct impression that “if you are white, you can’t be right” (as previously stated, I am white). In fact, this “opinion” is implicit in the title of the book – there is no point in even bothering to talk to white people about race because white people are collectively and universally wrong. I feel as though my thoughts and attitudes will be seen as offensive unless they coincide with those of the author. I also feel as though I am being denied the chance to learn as asking any questions about racial issues (in an attempt to understand) or exhibiting any form of unintentional white bias (almost inevitable given my upbringing in suburban middle-class Britain), is going to be viewed as racist, inexcusable and indefensible. I concede that this may well be very similar to the way that non-white people in Britain have felt for a very long time and that the resultant backlash may be intentional, but I cannot see how it is useful to perpetuate this reversal of roles. I do not think it is a legitimate way of solving any issues at all - if it is wrong for whites to behave in this way (and I am not disputing that we have behaved very badly), why does that make it OK for non-whites to behave in exactly the same way? Surely the answer is to develop a mutual respect, whereby everybody feels that they have the freedom to express their opinions and discuss them in order to learn from each other. By the end of the book it felt to me a bit like a broken record, an impassioned tirade leveled against white people and I cannot see how this is helpful. It is not my fault that I was born into a society in which there is structural racism. Rather than refusing to speak to me and try and intimidate me to such an extent that I do not feel free to voice my concerns, I would have thought that a more constructive approach would be to initiate discussions which allow people on both sides of the “racial divide” to express their opinions and come to a mutual understanding. Nobody is saying that it is going to be either easy or fast, but surely it is better than refusing to communicate at all in any way, shape or form which, as far as I can see is bound to create a greater divide rather than a coming-together. I hope that goes some way to explaining why I was reluctant to write a review initially – I did not feel comfortable expressing views which did not entirely coincide with those of the author, knowing that it was likely to just support her argument about whites being racist and put me firmly in the camp of those that she would not talk to about race.
One further problem that I have derives from my gullibility when it comes to the written word. I always find books like this quite difficult to analyse objectively as the author invariably has a strong viewpoint which they wish to put across and I have a tendency to miss flaws in the argument, even if they are quite glaring. The issue for the reader is that only those facts which support the author’s viewpoint are given. This is a particular problem when arguments are well-constructed and the reasoning is logical and convincing so that the final result is very compelling. That doesn’t however, mean that it is right. I find it particularly difficult to spot omissions, ie when points which are not supportive of the argument in question are not included, but I did notice a couple of instances where that appeared to be the case in this book. This is a particularly dangerous line to take as it can be powerful and convincing, yet also designed to deceive.
Although I think some very valid points were made in this book, it left me feeling too uncomfortable to award it more than 2 stars. I was left with the distinct impression that it wouldn’t matter what a white person said on the subject of race, they were going to be wrong. I suspect this is probably not the case, but it was certainly the way I felt by the time I reached the end. Regrettably, in my case it has served to alienate rather than include. This is unfortunate as I think the book could have been a useful platform for promoting something positive, although I realize that there is an anomaly here - without the controversy and provocation (which, in part, is what I am objecting to), it would not have been read by nearly such a wide audience.
I was originally going to give this book a 4 star rating but as time has gone on, my slight irritation at the barriers that it contrived to create between people of different races has festered into anger at the divisive nature of the commentary and I have reduced it to 2 stars. I am slightly reluctant to actively recommend this book for the reasons which have been highlighted already, but I do think that it is an interesting and thought-provoking read.