Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (2017) by Reni Eddo-Lodge started off as a 2014 blog post that went viral. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more as a short blog post with a catchy title rather than its book form. I found her too be too dramatic & hyperbolic at times, and too dry and fact-spewing at others. A real Goldilocks situation, her writing was never ‘juuuuust right’ for me. Honestly, while I liked parts of her book, I wasn’t at all impressed and I’m certain that all the hype surrounding this book comes from an audience who agrees with everything she says because they’re angry too or from well-meaning white people who think this is just so “IMPORTANT” to read. That being said, I did enjoy the thoughts and discussions I had with myself and friends using her points as a starting point.

Two things were interesting while reading this book – I had two racist encounters in London where people would threaten me just for being from the Middle East, and I was simultaneously reading Homefire for book club, a novel by a British author about British Muslims.

The whole book felt like a blog in book form, too opinionated and rushed. Sometimes it felt like a collection of anecdotes more than a purpose driven essay.

At one point she decided to randomly throw in the the word “depressive”. Near the very end of the book she casually mentioned that she had a “depressive personality”. This really did not fly with me, it was as if she was bandying it about lightly. Racism might very well have serious consequences for mental health but she didn’t give it the time it deserved – if, in fact, her point was to show that oppression leads to depression. The human psyche would obviously be scarred by acts of oppression or violence, but to use a term like depression casually is not constructive for anyone. It feeds into the medicalisation of society – where hyper kids are immediately labelled as ADHD or socially awkward people are labelled with some mental health issue or other instead of being coaxed out of their shells. Too many people throw about concepts like suicide etc in the same way and that is not ok. Her throwing in depression like a penny into the fountain of her thoughts was a massive turnoff.

“Who really wants to be alerted to a structural system that benefits them at the expense of others?”

I appreciate the theme, a lot of my favourite reads tackle the issue of race and racism. It’s a topic that interests me. It links to Trevor Noah , who exemplified on a small scale in his grandmother’s kitchen the point Eddo-Lodge was making about white people not wanting to change a status quo that worked in their favour: when a five year old has to choose between standing up for racial injustice vs getting away with eating grandma’s cookies, cookies win. White people own the cookie jar, why would they willingly share?

“I write – and read – to assure myself that other people have felt what I’m feeling too, that it isn’t just me, that this is real, and valid, and true”

This above quote is possibly my favourite part of the whole book, it applies to fiction, music, any creative act that we consume or perpetrate. I love it.

The whole book is about invisible racist structures and how Nice White People “move through the world blissfully unaware of their own race until its dominance is called into question”

“To be white is to be human; to be white is universal. I only know this because I am not”

In the time of technology she claims it’s easy to believe the past has no bearing on the present. However, her personal history is at odds with her racial history and that leaves her feeling displaced. She has only ever known the UK as her home, but her ancestors’ histories mean that when people wave around the Union Jack and shout “we want our country back”, it’s aimed at people like her. Even though, it’s the only place she’s ever called her country. History is what gives her the context to why this is the case, because if it was just her without a past, she would have no reason to feel out of place.

“It’s easy to view slavery as something Terrible, that happened A Very Long Time Ago”

The facts she provided were shocking – police brutality, the public cries of eugenicists who viewed blackness as a contamination. The fact that mixed race relations were viewed as so wretched as to merit multiple studies and investigations. However, I feel like Trevor Noah was much more useful showing use about mixed relations in the Apartheid than Eddo-Lodge was at making any point. She was so skittish, she didn’t fully tie her ideas up.

“What history had I inherited that left me an alien in my place of birth?”

It’s just sooo boring. She has interesting insights, but once she makes a good remark there’s no reason to keep reading? And by far hers are not the most important insights on race that there is out there. However, it is a useful lens to use when thinking of any form of race relations.

“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 that racism is about moral values , when instead it is about the survival strategy of systemic power… We tell ourselves that huge sections of the electorate simply cannot be racist, as that would render them heartless monsters”

I like how she says we conflate racism with morality, and that keeps it at an individual level. However, it’s not individual people but the structures of race constructs – how else did Trump get elected? You’d have to believe all the voters were evil because they were racist. Structural racism is not just personal prejudice, it’s not about racist people but racist systems.

“People feel that if a racist attack has not occurred, or the word ‘nigger’ has not bee n uttered, an action can’t be racist. If a black person hasn’t been spat at in the street, or a suited white extremist politician hasn’t lamented the lack of British jobs for British workers, it’s not racist”

She discusses intersectionality of race and gender. I like the concept of intersectionality but I think she does a crap job of explaining it (excuse my language). When I studied it at school it was much more useful. Anyway, she is a supporter of feminism as well as anti-racism – which puts her at a junction. She may be inside the feminist circle but sometimes her presence in this middle section of the Venn diagram alienates her from other white feminists. Intersectionality is almost like waging a war on two (or more if you add other minority identities to your persona) fronts. Her blackness is as embedded in her identity as her womanhood, and she cannot separate those traits from herself, nor from each other.

“When feminists can see the problem with all-male panels, but can’t see the problem with all-white television programmes, it’s worth questioning who they’re really fighting for”

I liked her discussions on feminism a lot, possibly because that’s another topic I’m passionate about. I basically highlighted the entire The Feminism Question chapter.

“An all-white television programme was nothing new to me. What I was really upset about was the ease with which white people defended their all-white spaces and spheres.”

She argues that quotas are actually fair. This is based on the ideas of meritocracy and fairness. Her argument is that quotas would be fair because whiteness is its own leg-up and that since we don’t currently live in a meritocracy, simple hard work is not enough.

“When each of the sectors I mentioned earlier have such dire racial representation, you’d think that the homogeneous glut of middle-aged white men currently clogging the upper echelons of most professions got there purely through talent alone”

She also fixates on the concept of ‘fear of a black planet’,  wherein white people believe that anything not assimilating to white homogeneity exists only to erase it. This is the fear that the presence of more cultures, more immigrants, more races will somehow destroy the social fabric of the country – that the presence of one is mutually exclusive to the presence of the other. That ‘Other’ will disrupt or displace whiteness. Fearing a black planet is a fear of loss – loss of benefits, resources, power.

“Why don’t white people think they have a racial identity?”

Even I sometimes forget that the word race applies to people who are white. The word ‘culture’ denotes other races: think, “oh, what a rich culture!” while ‘cultured’ is for white people: think, the opera.

As a non-white, even if you’re a third gen immigrant, you are ‘multiculturalism’. You are the ‘extra’ culture, the additional, and anyone who fears multiculturalism thus fears you. It is personal. My presence in a Georgetown University lecture hall made it ‘diverse’, I am ‘diversity’. I was the only non-American in the lecture hall.

Nick Griffin says London is largely a foreign country. Hearing other languages in England bothers them, but they expect English to be spoken in every country they ever visit.

“Misogyny is not a problem that can be solved with closed borders, nor a crash course in Received Pronunciation. It exists in the psyche of what it means to be a man in every country”

Speaking of Griffin’s fear of hearing foreign languages on the tube, Cameron implemented a legal policy that actually FORCES immigrants to learn English and thus conform under the guise of helping women’s rights. David Cameron issued an ultimatum where immigrants on spousal visas need to learn English within their first 2 years. Um, excuse me sir?  How in the world does it solve the problem of men keeping their women from leaving the house or working? Regardless of language. Men are able to enact crimes against women in countries all over the world, including those where they are fluent in the official tongue.

“I began to realise that other women were experiencing the same things I was. Together we asked why. We took what we thought were isolated incidents, and linked them into a broader context of race and gender”.

I love that she emphasized the importance of coming together as a group and talking to each other. The importance of finding a community, of collaboration and groups.

Now, to reward you for reading this far, I’m going to leave you with a few quotes I liked:

“There’s an element of just peaking the truth of what it means to be a black woman in the UK that it would be ridiculous, as a white person, to not read that as implicating you”

“Obsessively focus on a woman’s looks and how covered or uncovered her body is in determining her value, as though her body belongs to a male gaze before it belongs to her” : the virgin/whore dichotomy, women as flesh, the hijab as feelings of public piety while white young bodies are the only attractive things.

“I have always loved feminism’s readiness to viciously rip into the flesh of misogyny, to stick its chin out defiantly and scare the living daylights out of mediocre men”

“To believe in emasculation, you have to believe that masculinity is about power, and strength, and dominance. These traits are supposed to be great in men, but they’re very unattractive in women. Especially angry black ones.”

“Britain’s relationship with race and racism isn’t a neat narrative with a feel-good resolution. Change is incremental, and racism will exist long after I die”.

“Discussing racism is about discussing white identity. It’s about white anxiety. It’s about asking why whiteness has this reflexive need to define itself against immigrant bogey monsters in order to feel comfortable, safe and secure”

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