Thank goodness Kaggsy and Lizzy extended their ReadIndies challenge to the middle of this month: this is my fifth read for it. It’s also my oldest book on the main run of acquisitions in my TBR Challenge (I have some older randoms) so it felt good to have it out of March’s TBR photo finally (I read this in February). I bought this book in August 2020, apparently following a policy in buying diverse books of “buying some serious, hard-hitting books full of statistics and info and some lighter ones” and I’d been recommended it by a Facebook group I was in at the time (I think an anti-racist one that descended into virtue signalling and finger pointing … ).

Kalwant Bhopal – “White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-Racial Society”

(20 August 2020)

The main argument of this book s that within a neoliberal context policy making in its attempt to be inclusive has portrayed an image of a post-racial society, when in reality vast inequalities between white and black and minority ethnic communities continue to exist. Policy making has exacerbated rather than addressed the inequalities which result from professes of racism, exclusion and marginalisation in which white identities are prioritised and privileged above all others.” (p. 1)

In this academic title (really looking like one I’d have been putting on course booklists back in my university library days) dating from well before the big Black Lives Matter movement and publishing push, Bhopal looks carefully at the evidence for white privilege in the fabric of British and American society, looking mainly at education, work and wealth and finding that we are far from being the “post-racial” society we claim to be.

White privilege is, as we probably all know by now, the fact that by dint of being White, someone is the mainstream that other races are “othered” from and that whatever their level of education, poverty, etc., their world is not made worse by the colour of their skin. That’s very reductive and basic I know. But White privilege means I might not see middle-aged, childless women represented on the telly and in books, but I will easily be able to find White people represented, for example. Or I’ll find someone who looks like me to vote for (if I want to) and I won’t be singled out for my colour in a work meeting or asked to represent all White people with my behaviour and views.

Bhopal interrogates statistics and finds institutional racism still alive and kicking in universities, schools and workplaces, looking at the effects of that on income and living standards across people’s lives. She does look at intersectionality to (as in the combined effects of someone’s race and gender, race and class, or race and gender and class, etc.). What did feel slightly odd was the US-based bits, which did seem a bit bolted on, maybe an editorial decision to increase the book’s market. Education works differently in the US so the paragraphs in the university chapter didn’t really gel, and some chapters don’t have a US section at all. I think she could have left it at the UK stuff and still had a good and useful book.

It’s notable in this pre-pandemic read that there’s not much about health inequalities – I’m not sure those had been studied so much by the time she was researching and writing in presumably around 2016-17, and maybe one good thing coming out of the pandemic was the increased research output on ethnicity-based health outcomes. She does look at Traveller communities in that respect, when pointing out there are “acceptable” White and “non-acceptable” White communities, a point that echoes things I’ve read about the way some communities in the US had to lobby to “become” White and the work that recent writers have done on unpicking the conceptions and invention of race.

Like so many books, it’s slightly unfortunately heavy on the descriptive statistics and lighter on what can be done to address/redress the situation. Bhopal states that universities need to address the inequalities experience by their “black and minority ethnic” students and staff and understand that racism does exist in them, and in the final chapter talks more about this and about running unconscious bias training at least for recruiters. It’s interesting to consider whether she would have felt empowered to be bolder in her demands post the upsurge in publishing on race (also, would she have felt she had to include a personal note about the racism she and her family experienced, or would that have been more woven into the narrative?).

A decent, if academic, work that is still relevant today.

ReadIndies publisher note: This one is from Policy Press, who are an imprint of Bristol University Press and describe themselves as publishing “work that seeks to understand social problems, promote social change and inform policy and practice. Our core aim is to improve the day-to-day lives of people who need it most.”

This was officially my fifth ReadIndies read.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 10/53 – 43 to go.