23) Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
This book originated with a polemical blog post of the same title, which was so widely shared that it got extended and transformed into this book. And the book has gone on to be a best-seller, giving rise to the irony, as the author points out in her epilogue, that it’s only led to her speaking to more and more white people about race.
But that can only be a good thing, because there is much here to talk about and (speaking personally) much to learn. Not least in the excellent chapter(s) about the largely undocumented history of black people in Britain which builds out a much fuller and more substantive chronicling that doesn’t just focus on more recent events such as the riots in the 80s, and the death of Stephen Lawrence.
It was watching the documentary about the latter that inspired me to read this: although I remembered details of the Stephen Lawrence case – the aggression of the suspects outside the building, the Daily Mail front page, and the judgement of ‘institutional racism’ in the Macpherson report – I genuinely hadn’t understood all the detail and horrific nature of that drawn-out search for justice. The documentary did as effective a job as I’ve seen of putting people like me in the shoes of people like Doreen Lawrence and Duane Brooks, and giving at least a partial view of what that means.
This book takes that further: it is a clarion call for white people and the (largely white) establishment to go beyond acknowledgement and ‘understanding’ to a more fundamental and systemic addressing of the realities for people of colour in the country. In doing so, it also tackles about how this interrelates with class, with sexuality, with feminism, and more. There are some terrific lines and images too: I was struck by Eddo-Lodge’s idea that we need to radically alter our view of who the ‘working class’ are – to paraphrase, it’s not a white factory worker with a flat cap, it’s actually a single black woman pushing a pram.
I didn’t agree with everything, and the arguments are stronger when evidence is paired with emotion; also, somewhat inevitably, I guess, the pace and passion of that initial blog post doesn’t quite carry through the whole book. But for all that, and the odd tangent that didn’t seem to add much (I’m not sure the interview with Nick Griffin, though interesting, gave much more insight), it’s a compelling and challenging read.
Inevitably, I suppose, a white, male, heterosexual, middle class, metropolitan elite type such as myself can’t help asking ‘what should I do’, but perhaps rightly, Eddo-Lodge doesn’t consider it her role to do so. Fortunately, I’m a position in my day job to do some things; and as she says, it is about actions not talk. Being aware and ‘having the conversation’ isn’t enough, as the title spells out. And you don’t need to look far to see this is still a live topic all around us: the recent Windrush debacle, the refusal of the Premier League to consider the Rooney rule, or the ongoing debate about race really being a class issue. So it’s something that should concern us all.