Following the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, the Internet is awash with anti-racist reading lists as people reflect on systemic racism, white supremacy, and police brutality. Most of them feature this unmissable title: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge.
Many of my friends, acquaintances, and online influencers had enthusiastically recommended Eddo-Lodge’s book. Both its ubiquity on social media and its distinctive title piqued my curiosity. Moreover, as a student in the UK, the least I can do is continue educating myself about racism in Britain, so I eagerly devoured the book in one sitting.
Some may find the title controversial, but as she goes on to clarify, Eddo-Lodge doesn’t intend to vilify individual white people. Rather, she aims to challenge whiteness as a political ideology ‘concerned with maintaining power through domination and exclusion.’ By doing this, Eddo-Lodge highlights how whiteness silences non-white people: those who speak out about racism are framed as robust and combative.
I am in agreement with Eddo-Lodge that it isn’t the responsibility of people of colour to educate white people about racism: instead, she urges white people to closely examine their privilege. She defines the denial of white-privilege as ‘white victimhood’: an effort by those in power to divert conversations about the effects of structural racism in order to shield whiteness from much-needed rigorous criticism.
Eddo-Lodge also illustrates how the legacy of slavery still looms over British history. I was appalled to learn that until recently, British taxpayer money went towards the slave-owner compensation loan. Segregation and racism are not issues confined to America, and neither is police brutality. Though the anti-black racism of American police system comes as no surprise to us, the U.K. is far from innocent: Eddo-Lodge cites the example of an essay written by a police cadet, which stated “Blacks in Britain are a pest.” Beyond overt insults and in-person violence, Eddo-Lodge stresses the systemic nature of racism in Britain. She reminds us that racism is endemic to housing, schooling, and systems of justice: it is, therefore, impossible to disregard the intersection between racial and class inequalities.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race wholly overturns the assumption that we live in a ‘post-racial’ society, considering that the inclusion of people of colour is half-hearted and reluctant at best and that white representation is the status quo. To quote Eddo-Lodge, “White people are so used to seeing a reflection of themselves in all representations of humanity at times, that they only notice it when it’s taken away from them.”
To myself and to many readers, one of the main strengths of this book is the focus on intersectionality of race and gender. Eddo-Lodge describes her experience facing a “white feminist distaste for intersectionality.” She was puzzled by the alacrity with which some white feminists criticised the patriarchy but remained silent on racism, opting instead for ‘colour-blindness’. Eddo-Lodge reminds us that race and gender are both important parts of identity, and we should not silence or separate either: “My blackness was as much a part of me as my womanhood, and I couldn’t separate them.”
To many people of colour in the UK, Eddo-Lodge is not saying anything new, but rather she concisely articulates aspects of their everyday experiences that are alien to white people. Eddo-Lodge’s aim is to go beyond asking for equality and to deconstruct the societal structures that demarcate non-white people as ‘other’. Such a feat is impossible without challenging white privilege.
So how can we work towards deconstructing systemic racism? I leave you with a few of Eddo-Lodge’s suggestions:
- ‘White support looks like financial or administrative assistance to the groups doing vital work. Or intervening when you are needed for bystander situations.’
- ‘Solidarity is nothing but self-satisfying if it is solely performative.’
- ‘We need to say racism as structural in order to see its insidiousness…to see how it seeps, like a noxious gas, into everything.’
Image: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona via Unsplash