Dear Reni Eddo-Lodge
Please do not stop talking about race. Please do not stop talking about race to me (a white person). And please do not stop talking about race to anyone. I can see your arguments, and understand why you may need a break every now and again, but please do not stop talking about race. We need to talk.
Best wishes Caroline
The argument of the book is that white people on the whole do not accept that racism is structural; that to be a person of colour means you are cumulatively disadvantaged; that by default people are assumed to be white unless indicated otherwise. To be black is to be different. Moreover, racism and discrimination are seen as belonging to a fringe group, or to those rather nasty people who aren’t a bit like us.
And because this is the reaction, it’s hard to go on beating your head against that proverbial brick wall, repeating the arguments, noting the small victories but seeing very little change in the big picture.
It began as a blog. Feeling oppressed and tired with it all Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote her blog called Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race in February 2014.
So I can’t talk to white people about race any more because of the consequent denials, awkward cartwheels and mental acrobatics that they display when this is brought to their attention. Who really wants to be alerted to a structural system that benefits them at the expense of others? (xi)
It proved to be provocative, after all white people do not like being excluded (any more than black people do) and not addressed by stroppy bloggers. And to allow that a system benefits one group at a cost to others implies the necessity both for action and for a possible loss of privilege.
What other people have said
It’s only a small minority of people who are racist. The fringe groups such as the BNP, Combat 18, National Action are just that – on the fringe, some proscribed.
I’m not part of the problem. I’m not a racist. I’m colour-blind.
Many black people are very successful in British society and life. If one can be successful all can be successful.
Structural disadvantage is a myth. Remember Mrs Thatcher’s claim that ‘there is no such thing as society’? In 1985 Oliver Letwin, one of her advisers and now a Tory MP, said much the same: ‘Riots, criminality and social disintegration are caused solely by individual characters and attitudes.’ (53). Which is a way of saying that bad people cause problems not poor social conditions.
I did not find the argument about structural disadvantages by Reni Eddo-Lodge new. In part, this is because so much of my adult life has been conscious of the structural disadvantages endured by women. And because I have worked in inner-city education for most of my professional life.
Even so I accept that being a white feminist puts me at an advantage over black women/feminists.
And Reni Eddo-Lodge is right to be critical of those who do not act. Above all action should be taken by you and me, our institutions, organisations and our mouths should be forever open.
I got into political commentary because I wanted to change the consensus, to widen the narrow confines of political ideas that were deemed acceptable. But over the years I have realised the futility of this job. Attempting to challenge the racism deemed acceptable in political discussion istacitly tolerated, but making white people feel uncomfortable is impermissible. (220)
And there will be pushback when action is taken. The book was published before the recent Penguin Books incident. Lionel Shriver made some doubtful comments about Penguin’s actions to improve diversity in their publishing. It caused a furore. But it’s a classic. There were suggestions, by Toby Litt for example, that it was a bit much to dilute quality to satisfy some perceived need to diversify. Did someone say political correctness gone mad? The dilution argument ignores the possibility that current practice excludes many excellent black people from the publishing (and other worlds and other achievements). And that this exclusion operates at many levels. Penguin are choosing to act at their level.
I repeat, according to Gunter Grass, it is the job of citizens to keep their mouth open. That includes you Reni Eddo-Lodge. Write on.
This book, Why I’m no longer taking to white people about race is a prizewinner.
THE TOP 5 SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE BRITISH BOOK AWARDS NON-FICTION NARRATIVE BOOK OF THE YEAR 2018
FOYLES NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR
BLACKWELL’S NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR
WINNER OF THE JHALAK PRIZE
LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION
LONGLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE
SHORTLISTED FOR A BOOKS ARE MY BAG READERS AWARD
Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, published by Bloomsbury in 2017. I used the updated edition, which includes a chapter on the election of Trump and the EU referendum. 261pp
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