This is such an important book, on all those diversity lists that have been coming out of course; I had had it on my wishlist for a while and bought it with a voucher early on in lockdown when my photo group were doing a lot of lovely pay it forward gifts and I received one for a bookshop. I then didn’t read it for a while, but I’m glad I had the delay, because what I ended up doing was reading it alongside my best friend Emma from early October to early December. We have been having Reading Night on a Thursday through lockdown, reading a chapter of a book in our separate cities but at the same time, with a Facebook Messenger conversation going on. We started with “Rewild Yourself” and we took our time, sometimes having a video chat if we really wanted to talk, sometimes not managing to slot it in. But reading the book slowly like this really allowed me time to think about what I’d been reading and its relevance to my life and circles and what I could maybe do about things.

Reni Eddo-Lodge – “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”

(28 April 2020 – bought with voucher for Topping & Company from Helen)

Lots of people have read this, of course, and a few people have talked about feeling defensive about what they read, so I tried to read it with an open mind and an attitude of learning and acceptance, rather than, “Yes, but, yes, but”. This came across most about the chapter on feminism, and while I was never part of the “movement”, having fallen between two stools (or perhaps waves!) due to my age, I could see there that work I’ve done with a feminist lens had some major sins of omission. I’m not going to lambast myself for my actions, but merely try to learn, and I was relieved to work out that my sins have indeed been of omission rather than commission. I was also very pleased to find some positive suggestions for action, something I’ve been searching for and hadn’t really expected to find here, listed so clearly.

Of course the book comes from that famous blog post where Eddo-Lodge laid out the idea that she was so sick of people talking over her, denying their and others’ racism, denying institutional racism, that she was just giving up speaking to White people about race at all. She does qualify this in the Preface:

I’m not talking to white people about race unless I absolutely have to. If there’s something like a media or conference appearance that means that someone might hear what I’m saying and feel less alone, then I’ll participate. But I’m no longer dealing with people who don’t want to hear it, wish to ridicule it, and, frankly, don’t deserve it. (p. xii)

The reaction she got to the original blog post inspired her to write a book picking up various themes and strands – and this new paperback edition also has an Aftermarth section which talks optimistically of the “renaissance of black critical thought and culture” and also in a British context, rather than having to “[rely] heavily on the American narrative as a tool to find ourselves” (both p. 235). This book was published and the new edition came out way before George Floyd’s murder and the huge increase in Black Lives Matter narratives and purchases by well-meaning allies: it is useful to be reminded that many of those books on those many lists were out there, waiting for us, when we went searching them out, and so many more have been written and published and promoted since. Now it’s our job to read those books and share about them.

This book is just so useful. First we are given a background to the racism of today with the Histories chapter, reminding us of the American slave trade and Britain’s role in it, leading into Eddo-Lodge’s own search for more information on Black people in Britain after slavery, which leads into her looking into Black History Month, how it was set up and how it differs from the US version. There’s lots of this positive information and it’s interesting to consider that I knew quite a lot about the bad stuff (the 1919 race riots, the systematic setting up of an atmosphere of discrimination for those who sought to move here quite legitimately, etc.) but not about the establishment of Black History Month or Dr Moody of Peckham who founded the first campaigning organisation for Black people, the League of Coloured Peoples, in 1931. She looks into perspectives on riots (or uprisings) and how the racism inherent in our society

does not erupt from nothing, rather it is embedded in British society. It’s at the very core of how the state is set up. It’s not external. It’s in the system. (p. 56}

A quick pause to say this is not the book I thought it was. I thought it was one long, well-argued polemic from a personal perspective. But it’s a lot more than that: a survey of history and sociology, heavily referenced and based on lots of different sources. I have purchased and read all sorts of different books and just thought this was what it was not (not surprised a Black writer writes in this way of course, in case anyone has read that into that).

The chapter on the system looks deeply at Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the institutional racism and corruption that led to the huge delays in getting him justice. I knew quite a lot about this, but there was still a lot I didn’t know about, and it’s so important to have this example after looking at the historical context. Here, the personal does jump in and shock us – Eddo-Lodge notes that she was 3 when Stephen Lawrence died and 22 when two of his killers were jailed. The wider context is looked at and shamed and shares information about Black children’s chances (or lack of) in education and then work, a condensed version of what I also read recently in “Slay in Your Lane” but is worth repeating for different audiences. Eddo-Lodge also shares her own journey from being suspicious of positive discrimination to accepting the need for it – a brave thing to include, and good evidence of people’s ability to change their mind. This chapter ends with a powerful call to action:

In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and two who power and privilege is bestowed upon – earned or not – because of their race, their class, and their gender. (p. 85)

I can’t really go on to describe the whole rest of the book in detail as this will be the longest post ever. Eddo-Lodge explains white privilege, while honestly sharing where she is an insider, for example only realising about barriers to people living with mobility issues or parents/guardians with buggies when she tried to take a bicycle on public transport. I did love this honesty and humility that shone through the book (as I’d expect from any writer). This bravery extends when she seeks to offer a balanced view by contacting the vile right-winger, Nick Griffin to ask him questions about his “Fear of a Black planet” as she puts it, in an effort to understand where these views come from.

The famous chapter on feminism and its rejection of intersectionality was shocking to read, and I wish I had been involved in the actual movement – although would I have done anything? I am uncomfortably aware that I am pretty sure my research for my postgrad on sources of information for women experiencing domestic violence, which had a feminist lens, did not take account of race as it should have. Hopefully as I say below, sharing and discussing texts that do have an intersectional element (i.e. look at the intersecting issues when someone is living with two or more characteristics that make them more vulnerable to prejudice and institutional harm, such as being Black and working class, working class and disabled, Asian and female, etc.) will hopefully help to start to redress that. Again, I salute Eddo-Lodge for her personal and political honesty and for the call to action for feminism to embrace intersectionality. Talking of class, I (and Emma) got a bit lost in the new research on the classes of Britain, not being able to locate ourselves, there, but the chapter on race and class wasn’t there for us, but to show that intersection, too.

As I mentioned above, I was surprised and cheered to find a section on what White people can do to be anti-racist and allies – a list of positive, clear, visible things, such as taking on administrative or financial assistance to groups doing vital work while leaving their running to the people actually affected, intervening in bystander situations and talking to other White people about racism issues (which Em and I did a lot while reading this book together, very revealingly and interestingly, and which I’m trying to do by continuing to showcase books like this with detailed reviews on this blog – I don’t of course know the demographics of my readership, but I know a lot of my commenters are of a similar demographic to me and I hope they find something of interest, while readers of colour might see some practices of allyship, something where we who seek to be allies should always be seeking to develop and learn.

The Aftermath chapter as I said above gives a lot of home: Eddo-Lodge has seen readers of colour feel supported by it and White people reflecting on how race has shaped their own lives – as we did as we read it. And no, it’s not controversial, as people have suggested: it’s all there in the sources, it’s sensible and thorough, honest and detailed, and something people can definitely use to educate themselves.