Review: Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

This award-winning book provides a long overdue wake-up call to the structural racism that permeates British society. In a world where we’ve shamefully only just become semi-conscious of the issues at large, it is about time the first Black British author topped the UK’s bestseller list. Sparked by recent protests there has been a renewed interest in the title. 

This book leaves no aspect of British life untouched. Eddo-Lodge explores the whitewashing of British history by touching on her own experience of uncovering Black British history for the first time at university. The very fact that she first properly engages with Black British history at university is problematic in itself. It demonstrates a key flaw in the British history curriculum as, in order to engage with Britain’s violent past, one has to be actively interested in the subject and seek out  the topic. This is simply damaging to our society that this is overlooked. 

In her chapter on feminism, Eddo-Lodge explains the inherent whiteness of the movement and how the struggles of Black women are underrepresented. She describes her discomforting experience in 2013 when she was invited to appear on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Being the only Black person in the room the question about the intersectionality of race and feminism fell to her. Rather than continuing this conversation the topic moved to the online harassment of Caroline Criado-Perez who said that people had used an anti-racist perspective to troll and harass her online for her campaign on the introduction of women on banknotes. As Eddo-Lodge was speaking about the issues of race in feminism, it was perceived as if she was personally targeting Criado-Perez and defending the anti-racist bullying, which was not the case.   

Initially, Eddo-Lodge had never intended to author a book. The provocative title was first used in a blog post in 2014, where she wanted to demonstrate that she was signing off from the discussion on race. For her, talking about race was a constant losing battle. After posting, Eddo-Lodge was inundated with messages of support from others who shared her frustrations but had never managed to articulate them, apologies from white people and emotional responses begging her to continue the conversation. 

Despite provoking a wider engagement on the topic of race, we are still a long way off real change; even a change of outlooks is proving difficult shown by the outrage and condemnation when attempts are made to diversify. For instance, Eddo-Lodge highlights the polarisation on opinions over the casting of a Black Hermione Granger for the theatre production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which points to the wider problem that ‘white people are used to seeing a reflection of themselves in all representations of humanity at all times, that they only notice it when it’s taken away from them’. 

This quote is particularly pertinent when looking at the backlash the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has faced in the racist-knee-jerk ‘White Lives Matter’ (WLM) slogan, or even ‘All Lives Matter’ adopted by neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups alike. This direct confrontational response goes beyond a mere passive counter reaction and outright denies that the BLM is founded on a legitimate cause. By saying Black lives matter, the movement is not implying that white lives do not; instead, it is calling out the racial injustices that render Black lives less important than white. 

The BLM movement, founded in 2013, originated as a response to the acquittal of the man who killed Trayvon Martin, a 17 year-old African American. Although the movement began in America, the areas of injustice are also present in the United Kingdom. Violence and police brutality are not the only issues; inequalities in education and employment are omnipresent. For instance, according to the race report carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, just 6 percent of Black school leavers attended a Russell Group university compared to 11 percent of white school leavers. Moreover, upon graduation, Black workers with degrees earn almost a quarter less on average than white workers in Britain. These statistics completely debunk this perception of a meritocratic Britain. 

Closer to home, Eddo-Lodge highlights a particularly shocking example in which she details an event right on our doorstep in Bristol. In 1965, a nineteen-year old Jamaican, Guy Bailey, turned up for his interview for Bristol Omnibus Company, only to be told upon arrival that it had been cancelled. His case was sadly not unique – it wasn’t a coincidence that every employee at this company was white and many more Black people, who all had the required qualifications, had also been turned down. The bus company deflected accountability and to date has never formally apologised for its actions. Omnibus later merged with other companies to form First Somerset & Avon, the very one that trundles up Bathwick hill every day. 

Beautifully written, this work provides a necessary and uncomfortable read for white people and provides us with actions to take moving forward. 

Available online for free (yes, you read that correctly) at the University of Bath Library website. I also highly recommend giving the podcast series About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge a listen, available on Apple Podcast and Spotify.  

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