- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus; 1 edition (1 June 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 140887055X
- ISBN-13: 978-1408870556
- Product Dimensions: 15 x 2.9 x 21.7 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 422 g
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Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race: The Sunday Times Bestseller Hardcover – 1 June 2017
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One of the most important books of 2017
A book that's set to blow apart the understanding of race relations in this country (Stylist)
An incisive and uncompromising commentator on the iniquities of oppression ... Comprehensive and journalistic, the book leaves a devastating trail of case histories, statistical and anecdotal evidence, personal stories and opinion about the manifestation of overt and covert racism ... Eddo-Lodge is a gifted writer, with a talent for bringing together debates around race, gender and class in a timely and accessible way (Times Literary Supplement)
Daring, interrogatory, illuminating. A forensic dissection of race in the UK from one of the country's most critical young thinkers. Reni's penetrative voice is like a punch to the jugular. Read it, then tell everyone you know
I've never been so excited about a book. Thank God somebody finally wrote it . Blistering . Absolutely vital writing from one of the most exciting voices in British politics. A stunningly important debut . Fellow white people: It's our responsibility as to read this book . This book is essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in living in a fairer, kinder and more equal world
It's deep, it's important and I suggest taking a deep breath, delving in and I promise you will come up for air woke and better equipped to understand the underlying issues of race in our society (ELLE)
A riveting deep-dive into the history and communication of race in Britain. From white-washing to intersectional feminism, it is an eviscerating and hugely educational read . This book is destined to become cult (Red)
A wake-up call to a nation in denial about the structural and institutional racisms occurring in our homes, offices and communities (Observer)
Laying bare the mechanisms by which we internalise the assumptions, false narratives and skewed perceptions that perpetuate racism, Eddo-Lodge enables readers of every ethnicity to look at life with clearer eyes. A powerful, compelling and urgent read (Ann Morgan, author of A Year of Reading the World)
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
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This book was an uncomfortable read as I thought about how many black and/or brown people impacted my life. Like most people similar in circumstances to myself, I would say very few if any. I am guilty of many of the things Reni discusses - colour blindness, assuming I'm not racist when some things I say would be construed as such.
I look in horror at what is happening in today's world and try to imagine what could fix such chaos. Trump Brexit, the rise of nationalism. There's a deep seated issue that this book touches on that the world as a whole must address before w can move on. Fear and distrust generate and feed racist ideology and it's very easy to buy into this.
The answer to my question is likely yes. I must work harder. My plan is to think about what is discussed here and reread the book before moving on.
I was about 20 pages in when I went and bought a full copy. This is much needed reading, for everyone.
The book starts with the author's titular blog post. The preface explains how this is an act of self-preservation - white people are not aware and do not carry the weight of injustice, suffering and discrimination that Eddo-Lodge bears, and so come to these discussion from an unequal place. There cannot be open discussions of racism when white people are unaware of this history, and on the defensive that they do not know what pains have been suffered, and continue to be inflicted.
It only took a few pages into Chapter 1 for me to begin to feel overwhelmed and get a sense of this weight. The prominence of American Civil Rights (combined with Anglophilic devotion to a white idyll of Britannia) means the UK-based race riots, injustice, and activist movements have not got appropriate coverage.
I cannot comprehend what it would be like to live through segregation, colour bars, and race riots, to feel ostracised and demonised by my skin, and that's the whole point. This is beyond my comprehension because whiteness blinds us to the experiences of others. I can see why people of colour would not want to talk to me about this, because it's something so alien, so 'in the past', that I don't bring that same faith into it, that this is something that shapes our world. And this is only the Histories chapter I've been able to read so far! (This is not so distant, this is parents and grandparents.)
I found this sampler to be a very confronting look at just how cruel and racist Britain is, and it's something everyone needs to be aware of before entering into discussions on race relations. We can't know where we're going without knowing where we've come from. Because you don't know what happened doesn't mean it didn't.
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No one today would defend the slave trade however no mention is made that it wasn't a white only activity, she claims that information about the issue is not easily available as if there is some type of conspiracy to keep it a secret but I didn't read anything new in her book. She doesn't mention the African pirates that plundered northern European countries in the 17th century, taking an estimated 35,000 slaves from the UK alone. You can't argue about the numbers or in any way try to take away the despicable actions of white slavers an historical and human perspective helps when viewing it from a 21st century perspective.
Some examples of her sloppy use of statistics are: She negatively points out in one chapter that 70% of university professors are white and in another chapter agrees with Nick Griffin that 81% of the people in the UK were white. The first prove that black people weren't given the same opportunities in universities and the second to prove that white people were the majority in the UK. This second point added fuel to another assertion that you can only be racist if you were the majority race and/or had power. Black people, in her opinion, can never be racist in the UK.
She talks about the number of black children waiting for adoption compared to white children, another sign of racism. Any serious investigator would be interested in look a bit further, e.g. Is the percentage of black children needing adoption higher than other races?, Is the rate of single mothers higher? Are black people less likely to adopt than white people? Do white shy away from adopting black children and if so why? You can't just use statistics to prove your point without a full understanding of what the statistic actually means.
She also discusses a London borough where the percentage of very poor people is very high and the majority of them are black. What she doesn't do is look a bit deeper and ask about percentages that relate to recent immigrants vs established ones. I don't know the answer but it would help to understand the underlying issues which may or may not have anything to do with colour.
There were many other weaknesses, opinions of someone she has spoken to are presented facts, she is happy to blame racism for all sorts of actions, one being the recent attempt by the NHS to recover money from health tourists. Most people in the UK supported this action but it was racist asking to see passports apparently. Lastly she doesn't really recognise the changes that we have seen in society over the last few decades, it may not be perfect (it never will be) but a balanced view always helps
So why has Ms. Eddo-Lodge stopped ‘talking to white people about race’? Essentially because she doesn’t like the way white people respond – even her friends. She can’t understand why ‘their eyes glaze over in boredom or widen in indignation’, why they just don’t ‘get it’. She tells us:
‘I can’t continue to emotionally exhaust myself trying to get my message across, while also toeing a very precarious line that tries not to implicate any one white person in their role in perpetuating structural racism, lest they character assassinate me.’
Poor thing. Heaven forbid that someone might take exception to being told that because they are white they are racist, or that they might ‘character assassinate’ her by having the gall to question her characterization of them.
It comes as no surprise to discover what she thinks is the source of the ‘structural racism’ that supposedly plagues Britain today – in a word, slavery. She concedes that prior to studying black history in her second year at university her knowledge of history was lacking. It shows. Her take on things is basic and highly selective. There is no mention of slavery being commonplace in Africa long before any European involvement and only a hint of the key part African blacks played in the slave trade. There is only grudging acknowledgement of the important role that Britain played (and continues to play) in abolishing slavery. But what is most lacking is any sense of historical context. It is as though she thinks that the average white person’s ancestors lived in the lap of luxury on the ‘white wealth amassed from the profits of slavery’, when if she knew anything about history she would know that even in the latter part of the period in question, those ancestors – including those of her white friends – were more likely to have lived in abject poverty, one step away from the workhouse, their children routinely sent down mines or up chimneys. Against this background her comments about ‘profits from slavery seeping into the fabric of British society’ are profoundly disingenuous – merely a way of unjustifiably allotting blame hundreds of years after the fact on the basis of nothing other than skin colour. The simple fact is that Eddo-Lodge’s white friends should no more feel ‘embarrassed’ by slavery than she should be embarrassed by the involvement of her own antecedents in cannibalism, human sacrifice, or indeed slavery.
The supposed ‘historical’ analysis jumps from slavery to a string of examples of racism in 20th century Britain, with no connection other than the ongoing assumption that white people are racist. In the ensuing chapters there are the usual tropes about institutional racism, white privilege, a digression into feminism - another of the author’s gripes – and social class. But there is nothing new or original – not one thing - just a succession of selective anecdotes and personal hang-ups. There is certainly no serious sociological or political analysis, and as polemic we’ve heard it all before.
In trotting out the usual well-worn grievances Eddo-Lodge simply repeats the same logical mistakes. Her text is littered with examples of erroneous thinking. For example, according to her reasoning, because a) most privileged people are white it follows that b) most white people are privileged. This is equivalent to saying that because a) most kings are human beings, then b) most human beings are kings. Eddo-Lodge is fond of casting aspersions about white people not ‘getting’ her point yet this is evidently something she doesn’t ‘get’. Yes, it is true that in the UK those who are rich and powerful, or who own land or property, or who have the best jobs or the highest salaries, etc., tend to be white. Statistically, this is only to be expected given that the majority of the population is white. And there are clear historical, political and sociological explanations for how these people came to have the advantages they do, explanations which by and large have nothing to do with race. This advantaged group is, by definition, a minority – it is not logically possible for most people to have the best jobs, the highest salaries, etc. Is it unfair that this minority has these privileges? Certainly, in some respects yes. However – and this is the point that Eddo-Lodge obviously doesn’t get – to the extent that this state of affairs is unfair, it is just as unfair to the average white person as it is to the average black person.
No doubt the reason Eddo-Lodge’s white friends ‘eyes glaze over in boredom’ whenever she talks about race is precisely because they have heard it all before. But if Ms. Eddo-Lodge wants to know why her friends’ eyes might, as she says, ‘widen in indignation’ I can enlighten her.
Like everyone else, Eddo-Lodge’s white friends will be aware of the extraordinary lengths the UK has gone to over the past half-century or more to encourage and accommodate black inclusion. The UK has changed its laws, introduced no end of initiatives and directed considerable public funds to that end. Her friends will also know that the UK has a long history of welcoming immigrants from around the world. In short, there are few if any countries that could be said to be less racist than the UK.
One of the more visible efforts to increase black inclusion is to be found in the media. Black faces are now everywhere on TV; on the main terrestrial TV channels it would be difficult to find a programme that doesn’t have an overrepresentation of black presenters, reporters, actors, etc., one that is out of all proportion to the relative size of the black community. Anyone who doubts this should try counting the number of TV adverts that don’t have black actors. In its current drive to include black actors in any and every drama the BBC stretches dramatic credibility to the point where it risks ridicule. And note that it is specifically black inclusion that is being accommodated here. Indeed, one could be forgiven for thinking that Black/Black British was the largest minority group in the UK, yet it is less than half the size of the Asian/Asian British population which enjoys nowhere near the same levels of representation in the media.
Of course none of this is acknowledged in Eddo-Lodge’s conveniently skewed reading of things or in her purposefully selective approach to the facts. And there is something else that her friends will be all too aware of, something that, again, is conspicuously absent from Eddo-Lodge’s account. Her white friends will know that whenever the media carries reports of the perpetrators of crime there is a good chance that the faces looking back at them will be black. The fact is that the black community places a disproportionately high burden on the criminal justice system with far higher levels of knife crime, drug dealing and robbery than other sections of the UK population. Black families are more likely to be single parent families, and the black community draws disproportionately on social services, on health, education and the benefits system. Of course none of this is about skin colour – being black doesn’t cause someone to commit crime or abandon their own children - but it is about attitude, perspective and values.
And here we come to the nub of the issue and the essential problem with this book. For however much many in the black community strive to be part of British society, and through their talents and hard work make a valuable and important contribution to society, there remains a sizable and unduly vocal minority who are intent on portraying themselves as victims, as continually hard done by. They find fault and take exception to anything and everything, automatically characterizing any and every situation or circumstance as a consequence of being black – an attitude so prevalent that it is now frequently caricatured by comedians with the expression: ‘It’s coz I is black innit’. It is precisely this undercurrent of self-pitying, sniping resentment that informs this book, a book that is unashamedly prejudiced and intolerant. I was safe in assuming that its author would be black – not, for example, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Chinese – because even the very title betrays this selfsame characteristic attitude of ungracious, caustic negativity. We do indeed have a problem with racism in the UK and this ill-informed and unfortunate book serves to illustrate the problem – but not in the way the author thinks.
Here is the crux of my problem with this book. Eddo-Lodge frames her argument in such a way that it’s impossible for a “white” person to have an honest disagreement with any of her premises without 1) her attributing the disagreement to their race, and 2) reinforcing those premises i.e. “You just don’t get it because you’re white. You just proved my point”. It’s the intellectual equivalent of “You’re in denial”, “Why are you so defensive?”, or “You always want to have the last word” (or even the classic last resort that Jehova’s Witness and the Westborough Baptist Church members use when confronted with an argument, “That’s exactly what the devil would say”). In other words, if there is no possible good faith retort that wouldn’t reinforce the very point of contention (e.g. “No, I’m not in denial”, “I’m not defensive”, “I don’t always want to have the last word” etc.) you have inoculated your argument against all criticism. This is the sign of a bad argument, not a good one.
Incidentally, I’m Hispanic, I have lived in three continents, have belonged to both the majority and the minority group for years at a stretch, and as the latter I have experienced prejudice, profiling, and discrimination, as well as immense privilege. Whether I’m “white” depends on who you ask, as well as where and when. The fact that my life story doesn’t fit neatly into Eddo-Lodge’s essentialist picture of “white” people gives me a different perspective on many of the issues she raises, and no doubt some of my disagreements (but also some agreements) are born out of that. However, my gripe with the book is deeper than the sum of my experiences.
In analytic philosophy you’re taught to detect both the explicit premises stated in an argument and the implicit premises that underpin them. The latter are the unstated assumptions that would have to be true in order for the explicit premises to make sense. The more assumptions there are, the more vulnerable the argument is. Eddo-Lodge’s book is laden with such assumptions, generalisations and, rather embarrassingly for a supposed anti-racism activist, essentialist claims about race.
This is not to say that there isn’t also some sharp and valuable insight into the issue of racism in modern Britain (the section about identity in mixed race families being one example), but it’s undermined rather than aided by her style of argument. This is a shame given the real need to address racism across multiple levels of society.
I’m also frustrated by a glaring contradiction in her book that she seems to be oblivious to. This is, on the one hand, the notion presented in her last chapter that the conversation about race will be necessarily messy and uncomfortable, and that we should overcome that in order to address racism. Yet, on the other hand, she advises her target audience to only talk to people who already agree with them about the nature of these issues, and confirms this in her own experience of breaking out of white feminist circles to set up a black-only group simply because of their disagreements about the role of intersectionality in feminist discourse. In others words, we are at once asked to have a “messy conversation” while also being told to seek out and remain inside echo chambers, avoiding engagement with opposing view points. The whole point of a messy conversation is that, by definition, there will be uncomfortable disagreements, and you should be prepared to face them and refine your arguments, not run away because you “can’t be bothered with white people”.
The climax of this diatribe is in equal parts depressing as it is dangerous. Don’t seek unity, she says. Power must be taken by force, and there is no end in sight to the struggle, so please don’t ask me about what my goal is. A perfectly legitimate question such as “what is the end point”, in her eyes, would only confirm her suspicions that you are not a genuine advocate of progress but instead would rather just put a lid on the whole racism thing and continue to sweep it under the rug. This type of all-or-nothing rhetoric has echoes of the Communist Manifesto, and the “by any means necessary” sentiment has more in common with Malcom X than with Martin Luther King (the latter’s call to judge people by the content of their character rather than by the colour of their skin being derided early on in the book).
Her worldview, in part seemingly born out of Marxist conflict theory, is not just incompatible with dialogue, but positively hostile to it. Dialogue with people who hold opposing views is counterproductive as it diverts valuable time and energy away from the movement. In her eyes, white liberals flying the flag of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech are a bigger threat to her movement than the BNP because, while you know where you stand with the latter, the former are a stifling and insidious form of opposition. This is not merely my personal interpretation of her book. She actually says that.
When this is the style of argument employed, there is no possible objection that could be seen as being had in good faith. Every bad argument I protest against is merely a confirmation of her original view that I don’t get it, and I can’t get it, because of my race. Forget the fact that black intellectual heavyweights such as Brown University professor Glenn Loury, Harvard-educated economist Thomas Sowell and the up-and-coming columnist Coleman Hughes have vehement disagreements with her analysis.
Despite occasional citings of research, this is decidedly not a scholarly book. It never seriously engages the counter argument, which is a prerequisite for any serious academic work. It is a political manifesto written by an activist. The lazy argumentation, strawmanning of opposing views and outright calls for echo chambers that reinforce – rather than challenge – confirmation bias demonstrates this in full. If you’re looking for sharp political theory, this is the wrong book. Anyone from Russeau to Rawls or Nozick would be more appropriate. If what you’re after is the writings of a lackadaisical, radical political activist á la Owen Jones, you’re in the right place.
With that said, and in spite of the low rating (mostly due to quality rather to the content itself) I still recommend you read it. The reason is that it’s important to acquaint oneself with this style of argument, particularly as it gains prevalence in schools, universities, the media, and increasingly, mainstream society (particularly on the Left). For better or worse, as this gains political currency, this atomised worldview of humanity will increasingly shape not just the dialogue about race, but the kind of society we live in. If you can borrow the book from someone, do so. If your only choice is to purchase it, I still begrudgingly recommend you do it.
Next I plan to read “Brit(ish)” by Afua Hirsch, which deals with similar issues but which (given what I’ve seen of her on TV) I hope will be argued in good faith.
This is a perspective that we sorely need. It has statistics, perspectives and insights that I suspect most white folks wouldn't consider day to day. The author quotes many fantastic black writers (if you're interested in reading more of their work but aren't sure where to start check out Penguin's Modern series, at £1 a book they are affordable and feature some of the most important thinkers of our time.) people who have a lot to offer but aren't covered in school so are easy for white folks to miss: that limits our education and understanding about what it means to experience racism.
For me this book was a whistle stop education in race in the UK. It will help you dip your toe into a history you should have (but likely didn't) covered in school, it will give you an overview of current challenges and it will inspire you to consider what you can do personally.
However for you to really benefit from this book you must open it with an open mind. If you go into it angry about the cover or peeved that one of your friends thinks you should read it, you will be so primed for anger you will likely only see an angry black woman in the pages (consider then, wouldn't you be angry too in her situation?) If, instead, you go into with an understanding that you can't possibly know how every individual experiences the world, nobody can, and that by reading outside your comfort zone you can personally help make the world a better place for people with a different experience, then you will learn a lot. You will appreciate the intelligence, bravery and skill it takes to write a good, interesting, educational and readable book about such a complex topic and you will come out the other side a better person, ready to make the world a better place. Read on, fine folks, read on! Stretch those brains!
Predicated on view that for racism to be racism there has to be a power element as well as a prejudice element and the only power element in town is the white power element. Therefore to suggest that there can be any other form of racism than white on black racism is racist in itself.
But, as I'm sure the author would conclude, and maybe she is right, I would say all that, wouldn't I?
Her chapter on feminism and racism was also very important to me and was written so clearly and spoke very powerfully of what needs to be done. I agree with her feminism without intersectionality means very little. This quote says it better than I could, "If feminism can understand the patriarchy, it's important to question why so many feminists struggle to understand whiteness as a political structure in the very same way."
Frankly, I think this book should be mandatory reading in schools and everyone needs to read it.
The following are all quotations from this book. I would expect any fair-minded person to feel uncomfortable about statements like:
‘The onus is not on me to change, instead it is on the world around me.’
‘Whiteness is a political position’
‘Racism does not go both ways’
Akala's book 'Natives' covers some of the same topics and reaches some of the same conclusions, but is better written and less one-sided.
However, Reni Eddo-Lodge's book includes facts new to me e.g. the mutiny in the British West Indies Regiment at Taranto after the First World War, when denied a pay rise granted to other troops. Whether that was due to ‘structural racism’ (the authoress Reni Eddo-Lodge’s preferred term) of British society or just thoughtless penny-pinching by one or two headquarters bureaucrats I do not know.
The authoress wrote this book because, although a feminist, she feels that there are things white feminists do not understand about being a black woman. I can believe that is true.
However, for someone who complains that white people do not understand her problems as a black woman, Ms Eddo-Lodge makes strikingly little effort to understand points of view different from her own. She takes a very one-sided view of many questions, and ignores or misrepresents the arguments on the other side.
She also never explains why, if it is that bad being black in Britain, she chooses to live here.
For example, she mentions an Equality and Human Rights Commission report that found 30% of black men in Britain are on the police national DNA database compared to only 10% of white or Asian men. To her, this proves the British criminal justice system is ‘structurally racist’.
While there certainly was racism in the police in the past (years ago I met police officers who made no secret of their prejudice against West Indians) that may not be the only or the main reason for the disparity in the figures now. After all, there can also be prejudice against Asians, especially these days if they are Muslim, yet on the figures Ms Eddo-Lodge quotes, the percentage of Asians on the police national DNA database is no higher than for whites.
While not mentioned in this book, Google ‘crime figures Britain by race’ and you will see that, where published figures exist, they tend to show that on average (note I said “on average”, not “always”) blacks are several times more likely to be convicted of e.g. robberies and crimes of violence than either whites or Asians. If the reality some whites and Asians experience is that most people they know who have been 'mugged' were mugged by young black men, that does not justify them becoming prejudiced against all young black men or all black people, but it does make it more understandable. It shows it is not always blacks who are wronged victims.
So shouldn’t we at least ask if the higher proportion of blacks on the police DNA database is not just ‘because the system is racist’ but has something to do with disproportionate numbers of (again, not 'all') black men committing some types of crime? This could be for any or all of: economic reasons, a more anti-authority or ‘macho’ culture, family structure (such as sons more likely to be brought up without their father present to keep them in line) or some other reason.
Presumably the authoress would say it is racist stereotyping to consider such explanations. Such possibilities do not support her arguments, so she ignores them.
Since you will not find them here, if you want the other side of some of these arguments to make up your own mind, I recommend the following books, by people of various races and nationalities:
‘The Diversity Illusion’ by Ed West- about immigration and multi-culturalism in modern Britain, but far more interesting and lively than that may sound.
‘Progressive Racism’ by David Horowitz - an American anti-segregation campaigner of the Martin Luther King era unhappy at how the movement has gone since then who would certainly query some of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s arguments
‘Exodus’ by Paul Collier and
‘Discrimination and Disparities’ by Thomas Sowell
– both written with a determination to reason through the arguments and figures logically rather than emotionally, although the authors care about the subjects they write about.
'To Miss with Love' by Katherine Birbalsingh - about teaching in racially mixed London comprehensive schools, with thoughts on why many of her black pupils fail to achieve their educational and career potential.
PS Added 11.6.20 a couple of years since I posted this review; in recent days the number of Helpful votes for this review has suddenly shot up massively, more than trebling. I assume it must be something to do with the Black Lives Matter protests in the USA and UK, following the choking to death of black suspect with a criminal past George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. People must be thinking a lot about race relations now.
Each chapter tackles a different theme, all were excellent but the chapter on white privilege particularly affected me. I am a pretty well educated woman so I knew the basic definition of white privilege. However, just knowing something is different to understanding it and Reni Eddo-Lodge has helped me to understand it better – "White privilege is an absence of the negative consequences of racism". Never have I been so acutely aware of the privilege my white skin affords me; and that is a very good thing. Awareness and acceptance of the existence of white privilege, is key to the improvement of relations between white and non-white people and most importantly the dismantling of structural racism within our society.
The chapter on racism and feminism had a similar impact on me. Feminists are one big happy, homogenous group, right? Well, no. Being a woman is hard but being a black woman is even harder. Eddo Lodge meticulously sets out the differences between white feminism and black feminism and it left a big impression on me. It would be impossible to cover it all but we white women unquestionably need to do MORE.
Special mention must also go to Eddo Lodge’s interview with Nick Griffin, former leader of the British National Party. I have no words that adequately describe how bizarre and frightening it is. Please read and draw your own conclusions.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is, in my humble opinion, essential reading for white people. I’m going to do my very best to take Reni Eddo-Lodge’s advice, join the conversation, join the movement and consider the dynamics of my own life and how race has shaped it. I felt incredibly humbled by this book but ultimately I have been enlightened. Thank you Reni Eddo Lodge.