Reviewing Reni-Eddo Lodge's 'Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race'
‘I’m no longer talking to white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms.’
Blog post turned bestseller, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is a book I cannot recommend enough. This is the book that will help white people understand something they will never understand - discrimination on the grounds of their skin colour. In the current climate, Eddo-Lodge's words and exploration of systematic racism resonate more than ever. Her book says it so much better than I ever can.
Eddo-Lodge considers racism in a British context, opening a vital conversation that should make anyone who denies racism wake up to a reality that we must end. She considers how the politics of whiteness as a political ideology, an ideology that dominates and excludes. In turn, this makes the race discussion for black people incredibly difficult, as Eddo-Lodge conveys through fearing white people ‘will tap into their presubscribed racist tropes about angry black people who area threat to them.’ She talks about various instances across time and space when black people have fallen victim to cruel, heartless and devastating racist attacks, whether this be physical, emotional, or verbal. She touches on Rachmanism, and how black people were the ones who ‘fell prey to Rachman’s small dilapidated properties and extortionate rents.’ She brings attention to how the Race Discrimination Bill of the 1950s was defeated nine times, and how the government were (and, in some ways, still are) ignorant of how their country was poisoned by racist ideology. Until 1991, there was no way of knowing how many black people there were in Britain - this highlights the fundamental bias of the system.
‘The efforts to challenge racism came from the very same state that had sanctioned racism decades earlier…the same state that picked up and disposed of black and brown bodies at its own convenience.’
The anecdotal aspect of Eddo-Lodge’s book is what really makes it succeed in striking a chord with its readers. In the current climate, when George Floyd’s tragic death has resonated across the world, we must remember that his death is not the beginning; Why I’m No Longer Talking reminds us of this. We hear the story of Guy Bailey, turned away from a job interview because of his race; the fact that Bristol Omnibus, the company who Bailey failed to secure a job at, never apologised for their discrimination insinuates they felt they were doing nothing wrong, and that they were ignorant of the devastating impact their actions were having. In highlighting how criminality became interlinked with black people, we hear the story of the ‘accidental death’ of Cynthia Jarrett, who was killed by the police after her son was unlawfully taken into custody for allegedly stealing a car, despite the police having no reasonable ground to arrest him. We are told of Cherry Groce, who was shot by the police after her son was accused of armed robbery in 1985, paralysed by her injuries that eventually provoked the kidney failure that killed her. Osei Owusu, a victim of police brutality with a racist motive. Stephen Lawrence, murdered by a gang of white men when he was crossing the street.
’So many white people think that racism is not their problem. But white privilege is instrumental to racism. When I write about white people in this book, I don’t mean every individual white person. I mean whiteness as a political ideology. A school of thought that favours whiteness at the expense of those who aren’t.’
There are so many moments within this book that bring to life the reality of what it is like to be non-white. Have you ever considered why James Bond and Hermione Granger, key figures in cinematic and literary history, are white? Eddo-Lodge touches on how seeing Hermione as only white raises the assumption that only white girls can be intelligent, hardworking and successful, and how damaging this can be for young black girls.
‘…You’d have to be fooling yourself if you really think that the homogeneous glut of middle-aged white men currently clogging the upper echelons of most professions got there purely through talent alone.’
Have you ever said the words ‘I don’t see colour - I’m colourblind’? Throughout the book, Eddo-Lodge explains why holding the opinion that race doesn't exist, no matter if it comes from a place of solidarity, is unhelpful, as it means white people don’t recognise that race is an affecting factor within society and across the world. This really resonates within a British context. As Eddo-Lodge so perfectly states, ‘the black British history is starved of oxygen’ whilst ‘the US struggle against racism is globalised’ so that the black British story is eclipsed into non-existence. If we do not look at our own history and the racism Britain has witnessed, we will never be able to eradicate it. Institutionalised racism is individual belief transformed into collective behaviour.
‘Racism’s legacy does not exist without purpose. It brings with it not just a disempowerment for those affected by it, but an empowerment for those who are not. This is white privilege.’
The book’s thoughts on immigration are devastating, as Eddo-Lodge brings to attention the fact that people see multiculturalism as destructive for our national identity. As someone who has been brought up knowing racism is fundamentally unacceptable and has grown up surrounded by peers and friends of all nationalities and races, I find this theory baffling, as I have always perceived Britain to be a place that prides itself on multiculturalism. Nick Griffin and the British National Party’s reflections on mixed-race relationships as were exposed whilst in conversation with Eddo-Lodge is why this appalling discrimination exists, as people like Griffin are so toxically privileged that they fail to recognise the impact of their opinions on marginalised groups. Why do people see multiculturalism as ‘destabilising the essence of Britain’? I find these ideas barbaric, heart breaking. Even though I will never understand what it is like to feel discriminated against on the grounds of race, it is through reading books like these that I begin to understand how embedded racism is within our society, and simply stating you are ‘anti-racist’ is not enough.
‘Racism does not erupt from nothing, rather it is embedded in British society. It’s not external. It’s in the system.’
This book is important. It is important because it makes its white reader realise that there is so much work to be done, and on such a large scale. We must use our white privilege within our private and professional lives, and work towards helping the black community, rather than simply performing anti-racism for an audience to reduce your own guilt. When you share a black tile on your Instagram feed, remember that ‘Solidarity is nothing but self-satisfying if it is only performative.’ When Jeremy Corbyn was attacked for promoting only white men to high-ranking positions within his party, Eddo-Lodge reminds us that this was only a show of anti-racism, and did nothing to change the flawed system.
Part of reducing racism and the impact it continues to have across the world is for white people to understand that racism has existed and continues to exist, and it is through books like these that allow this to happen. Eddo-Lodge reminds us that simply electing a black president in Barack Obama does not mean we have moved into a post-racial society. It is not enough to state that you are not racist - you have to actively engage in the debate, participate in protests, and appreciate that, whilst you yourself may not engage in racism, your white ancestors and previous societies have participated in it. As Eddo-Lodge says, ‘Every voice raised against racism chips away at its power.’
‘We cannot afford to stay silent’, Eddo-Lodge tells us. Don’t stay silent. Don't just read this review. Read this book. Read other books. Listen to what people have to say. And stand up against racism.