My hunt for non-American literature on the topic of (anti-)racism continued and that’s how I came across Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book. It’s very heavily centred on British history, stories and statistics, so do be aware of that when you’re going into the reading. I specifically chose it for that reason because even though all the purely British details frequently used in the statistics didn’t always speak a 100% to me, it still felt closer to home rather than the description of some North American states. Even the author herself mentions how inevident it was to get to all the information she needed:
“I wanted to know about black people in Britain, post-slavery. However, this information was not easily accessible. This was history only available to people who truly cared, only knowable through a hefty amount of self-directed study.” (p. 7)
“Most of my knowledge of black history was American history. This was an inadequate education in a country where increasing generations of black and brown people continue to consider themselves British (including me).” (p. 9)
This book will shake you up and make you feel so many different things at once. If you’re a white reader like me, this might range from anger, to disappointment, to frustration, to shaking your head in disbelief with a promise to yourself, to always keep the lines you’ve read in mind in the future. To be completely aware of white privilege and to look at the world through a different lens from now on.
“White privilege is the fact that if you’re white, your race will almost certainly positively impact your life’s trajectory in some way. And you probably won’t even notice it.” (p. 87)
“White privilege is an absence of the negative consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost, an absence of ‘less likely to succeed because of my race’. It is an absence of funny looks directed at you because you’re believed to be in the wrong place, […] an absence of a lifetime of subtle marginalisation and othering […]. (p. 86)
If I was previously hesitant about quotas for hiring women or people of minorities – this book made me look at the situation in a different light.
I have always felt a bit off hearing someone say that they’re “colourblind” and that they “don’t see race” – this book helped me better understand why my intuition was correct. We can all strive towards a “race free” future, where we consider all people simply as “human beings” but for the moment, we haven’t arrived at that point yet. In order to have a clear view of the present, we need to “see” races, in order not to undermine or erase the experience of the repression of people because of the colour of their skin for centuries.
“[…] Racism is a white problem. It reveals the anxieties, hypocrisies and double standards of whiteness. It is a problem in the psyche of whiteness that white people must take responsibility to solve. You can only do so much from the outside.” (p. 219)
The author’s writing is very powerful, energetic, even aggressive in its positive sense. I can see how it can offend some white readers who are not in the mindset for bigger change at that moment, who would feel attacked or overwhelmed.
“So many white people think that racism is not their problem. But white privilege is instrumental to racism.” (p. 115)
That’s exactly what I appreciated about this book though. Its rawness, its honesty and how unapologetic it is. Just like Reni phrased it, we don’t need the tears or the sharing of stories of guilt of white people. We need understanding and full support in this struggle towards equality.
“White people are so used to seeing a reflection of themselves in all representations of humanity at all times, that they only notice it when it’s taken away from them.” (p. 140)
Other topics that I really enjoyed getting a take on were:
- The “what-aboutism” necessarily appearing around popular shared news stories. When people were crying about the terror attacks in Paris, why have worse ones never been mentioned or spoken about? The solution is to simply support the causes that you believe in and forget the manipulative eye of the news.
- A take on sexual harassment and how it is kept up by heterosexual male power:
“There is an old saying about the straight man’s homophobia being rooted in a fear that gay men will treat him as he treats women.” (p. 141)
- The debate about the Harry Potter theatre play as the follow-up to the main story, with a black girl cast as Hermione:
“It was heartening, then, to see J. K. Rowling come out in support of a black Hermione, rebuffing the angry literalists by tweeting that, when it came to the character, ‘white skin was never specified’. But when you’re used to white being the default, black isn’t black until it is clearly pointed as so.” (p. 137)
The book’s structure was very well defined with specific topics tackled in each of the 7 different chapters. My only point of criticism would be the fact that it often veered off from the main narrative a bit too much for my taste. That was a point that at times made it difficult to stay hooked by the text. In any case, this is not a book that you can just easily read on the side. You need to create the time for it, ideally in a quiet and peaceful setting. Your full attention will be needed to process the topics you’ll be diving into and reflect on their meanings in your personal life. That’s the only reason why it took me 10 days to finish it, since reading it in the sun while relaxing at the lake simply didn’t end up being the proper setting.
I found that the author has expertly reached her goal by illustrating how racism penetrates absolutely everything. Our system is built on it and will find a way to resurface if we don’t actively fight it. Take even the example of the application process for jobs in London, where you can’t put a photo of yourself on the CV. You think that solves the problem? Racism always finds its way.
“In 2009, researchers working on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions sent job applications with similar education, skills and work history to a number of prospective employers, The only distinctive difference in the applications were names – they either sounded white British, or they didn’t. The researchers found that the applicants with white-sounding names were called to interview far more often than those with African- or Asian-sounding names.” (p. 69)
“[…] Black employees were dealing with a growing pay gap in comparison to white counterparts, and this pay gap actually widened with higher qualifications. Black people with education up to GCSE level were paid 11 per cent less. Black people with A-levels saw an average of 14 per cent less pas, and university educated black graduates saw a gap of, on average, 23 per cent less pay that their white peers.” (p. 208)
“Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” is an absolute must-read for you, if like I currently am, you’re looking to educate yourself on the topic of (anti-)racism. It’s especially a must-read for white people in order to go further through life with a reflected view on their white privilege. I came across this edition of the book by chance but I would suggest you to get it too, since it includes an additional chapter by the author, written a year after the initial publication of the book.
Edition: ISBN 978-1-4088-7058-7
Bloomsbury Publishing 2018