It was approximately five months ago that my book club was speaking about race since we were discussing Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I found myself being the unique reference since I was the only black person in the room. Scary. That brought home the idea that black people are not a monolith.Everybody else is white and the majority are from the UK. Surprisingly enough, the subject of race and the UK came up as they all declared themselves disappointed with America’s outward racism since 45 being elected. They then came to the conclusion that class was more of a divide in the UK than race. I was surprised to hear this because the few black people I’ve known from the UK always said that race was largely the issue. Not being able to speak knowledgeably about the UK’s race issues, I remained silent on that one, while silently suspecting that they were giving the UK a bit too much credit on the race issue.
Contrary to the title Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, I find myself having to do it more frequently, since I’ve been living in France for over 20+ years. Here nobody wants to bring up the subject of race. The French are living in a race Disneyland in their heads. They never question the lack of racial diversity on television, in politics, in schools, and in the hierarchy of big business. Everything is hunky dory here. France has quite a way to go before they begin to just scratch the surface of their race issues.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race was an engrossing and informative read touching on race in the UK. This book was developed from a blog post Reni Eddo-Lodge had written on 22 February 2014 about her difficulty to speak about race with white people.
“I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms. I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience. You can see their eyes shut down and harden. It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals. It’s like they can no longer hear us.” (Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, p. ix) White people not being interested in hearing about race problems was very similar to what Michael Eric Dyson described in Tears We Cannot Cry: A Sermon to White America.
This book is her detailed extension of that blog post. It reminds the reader that black American story has taken over and become the story that is learned in the UK, while the black British story being neglected. So neglected that the average British person probably isn’t aware of how blacks really got to Britain nor how much race as also shaped the UK. It opens with a powerful preface, introducing you to Eddo-Lodge’s voice – insightful and punctilious. The book is separated into seven chapters, Chapter 1 beginning with the history of Britain – colonialism and slavery. The other chapters cover the system, white privilege, mixed race people, feminism, and finally race and class. The very last chapter is uplifting and gives both white and black people ideas on how to deal with discussions about race. Basically, we have to choose our battles carefully.
“Racism does not go both ways. There are unique forms of discrimination that are backed up by entitlement, assertion and, most importantly, supported by structural power strong enough to scare you into complying with the demands of the status quo. We have to recognize this.” (Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, p. 98)
If you’re still not sure about reading Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, click the video below and listen to Reni Eddo-Lodge talking about it. It’ll give you an even better overview of the topics she covers.
My copy: Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, paperback, 224 pages
My rating: * * * * *
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19 Replies to “Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race”
I certainly agree re France, having lived there 18+ years. One intellectual declared the French never participated in slavery at any time! I was stunned. Of course I had to set him straight with facts.
Sadly. I’m sure you got him together Tandi!
I’d really like to read this since I don’t know much about race relations over in the UK.
The media I mostly interact with (bloggers and vloggers) mostly talk about race relations in the US and hardly in the UK. I’ve always been curious about that.
That’s the reason I picked it up too. I now can’t wait to follow up with Black and British by David Olusoga in autumn. It’s a chunkier but I’m sure I’m going to learn LOADS of things.
What a fascinating book! I do not have much exposure to racism in UK except through random tweets or blog posts. I enjoyed The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla which contains essays that focus on a similar topic.Each of those essays was so powerful and thought provoking.
Well you should definitely check this one out then.
I’ve been wondering about this book – your post has convinced me I need to read this!
We’re not used to being made to feel uncomfortable about our role in setting up the systemic racism we benefit from so much. I’m sorry that you are taking on the burden of educating the people who screwed up in the first place. I will never understand how white people don’t feel any kind of shame for being the descendants of those who created the system.
I think it’s because people keep thinking everything was in the past and today has nothing to do with the past.
Great review as always Didi 🙂 I have to agree with the above comment – “It’s in the past, it happened there and focusing on it only causes more division”. Is what I’m hearing quite a lot of at the moment in Australia. Each year we have a debate about celebrating Australia/Invasion Day and what it means to everyone. Recently, two local councils voted to no longer observe Australia Day and it is causing a whole bunch of r*claim Australia supporters to clutch their flags and yell “Not in my ‘Straya!”. I’m interested to see if there are more councils that follow on from that or if they can look at being more inclusive in their celebrations.
Well it’s already a sad day when a country only wants to recognize certain parts of its history and pass over others. Wemyst accept and understand all of our history good and bad.
This sounds really interesting. I am always looking for books to teach me more about racism and to help me understand what other people have to deal with. I have a slight fear of becoming ignorant to others cultures, so I try really hard to educate myself. I don’t want to be one of those people who ignores the problem, just because I am white. That is not a race I am proud of at the moment. I would appreciate any more books you may be able to recommend to me.
Definitely check it out because it will give you the British perspective on race. There’s another great book I read and reviewed earlier this year called Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America. Check out my review on it if you’re interested.
Awesome thanks 🙂
“The French are living in a race Disneyland in their heads.” I had to laugh when I read this sentence. I am Black and French, and I have had to deal with racism since kindergarten. I live in the US and I still love to see so much diversity (I mean, so many Blacks) on TV here.
I wish there were more on television here in France, but nought. I don’t watch French television anymore. I hate to be so blunt but French television is as dry as the Gobi desert and absolutely has no intention of ever being truly diverse.
Fascinating! I love what she said around 9:00 in the video:
“Fear of a black planet is essentially people who on one side deny the power relations of race in this country, but on the other side are very very scared of white people becoming a minority. Almost as if they recognize that being a minority in this country means treatment that is not preferential.”
That is absolutely true, and I’ve never thought of it that way.
I wasn’t aware that the UK doesn’t truly address its own racism. I understand how the US can be an easy place to point the finger–after all, there is so much available material, such as the Georgia police officer recently caught on camera telling a white woman not to be afraid because “We only shoot Black people”–but the truth is that racism against Blacks, even by Blacks, is absolutely a global issue. I imagine Canada, where I grew up, is the same.
On a side note, I too went to a book club with all white people, here in the US. We were discussing Yaa Gyasi’s book HOMEGOING, and I must say I have not gotten over how irritating it was. There was a lack of empathy and interest, a nitpicking of the structure of the novel that wasn’t relevant to the much larger topic of racism, which I could see they did not want to touch. I decided then not to go to another book club where I would be the only Black person. It’s too painful. Thankfully, they opened a chapter of Mocha Girls Read here and I’m excited to discuss these issues with people who genuinely are interested.
Well I started my book club and these ladies are my friends. I refuse to back down on the subject of race. They are prepared to talk about it and that’s a good thing.
That’s a great thing.
Hi Didi – I love the title of the book – it reminds me of how talking about race in a real way is always left up to the people of color. Where’s the exchange? Where’s the feeling of pain on all sides?
I don’t know anything about British black history….It sounds like Reni Eddo-Lodge has written something important for contemporary readers.
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