I finished reading Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race, only to hear a few days later that it has been nominated for the Baillie Gifford Prize for nonfiction. It’s very exciting to hear it – as the book deserves to benefit from the extra publicity.
The book‘s title, Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, has been the source of much discussion and anxiety. I think it’s excellent in that it makes people stop and pay attention. A book entitled Why We Should All Talk About Race would not get half the publicity that this one does. There’s a reason why the blog post (from which this title is taken) has gone viral. It makes people stop and think. It really works marvelously with the design on the book’s cover. “White People” simply blur into the background, whereas the black stands out extremely clearly. Just as white privilege is absorbed and taken for granted.
Eddo-Lodge writes about an incredibly important subject: racism in the UK. The first chapter of the book presents a short history of structural racism in the UK (with a special emphasis on the British Nationality Act of 1948, which gave British citizenship to all Commonwealth citizens) – which is invaluable, given how little the subject is spoken about in public life.
Eddo-Lodge then goes on to talk about a variety of subjects: white privilege, the question of white-centered feminism, and the distinction between race and class. Her book is unapologetic and strident in its tone – Eddo-Lodge is aiming to convert her audience to her view and the rhetoric she uses is often quite categorical. Sometimes one feels, especially if one disagrees with her on a certain subject – that one is like a naughty pupil in a classroom, who should sit quietly and not attempt to argue.
I do think this is an important book, which needs to be read and discussed. That doesn’t mean I agree with all its suggestions. Eddo-Lodge very stridently attacks what she calls “colour-blindness”, which she says “starts and ends at ‘discriminating against a person because of the colour of their skin is bad’ without accounting for the ways in which structural power manifests these exchanges.” She seems to see colour-blindness as the way in which white privilege dismisses positive discrimination out of hand.
Now, I do think that positive discrimination would be an incredibly good thing and needs to be campaigned for. But I think Eddo-Lodge takes her fight against colour-blindness too far, when she states:
“Repeatedly telling ourselves – and worse still, telling our children – that we are all equal is a misdirected yet well-intentioned lie.”
What exactly should we tell our children then? That we are unequal? Inequality is constantly present throughout a world in which white privilege dominates, that’s true. But that doesn’t mean that the people living in this world are ANY different in their basic common humanity. Telling anyone anything else is absurd.
Telling kids that equality between the races doesn’t exist – and hoping that this will bring about a better, more equal world – is just a slightly bizarre aspiration. The only comparison I can think of is bringing up your daughter by telling her “girls are thought to be too stupid for science”, but hoping she will become a future Nobel Prize winner in physics. Sure, it could happen. But it’s highly unlikely.
The only comparison I can think of is bringing up your daughter by telling her “girls are thought to be too stupid for science”, but hoping she will become a future Nobel Prize winner in physics. Sure, it could happen. But it’s highly unlikely.
Let’s just remind ourselves of Obama’s recent tweet, which is the most retweeted quote of all time.
Exactly. We are all born equal. We shouldn’t instill a sense of inequality in children, as it should not be a thing that naturally occurs. Instead of damning ourselves for telling kids that we are all equal – let us try to create a world that makes our words truer in the sense of afforded opportunity.
Of course, there will be struggles and times when a child will ask its parent why someone shouted racist insults at them on the street. And then it makes perfect sense to explain that though we are all equal, some people will think themselves better than others – but that they are mistaken to think so.
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race is an important book, which needed to be written. I hope it leads to many fruitful discussions – and most importantly, to a better and fairer world.