Posted in 2018, Non-Fiction, Our Shared Shelf

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

This book, due to the content, inspires discussion. However, since racism is a controversial topic, I have to come to terms that my opinion will be contentious.

I tried to keep an open mind throughout but there were parts of the book I disagreed with. I should first mention though, that I am not black, nor am I British. Therefore, I have no way of knowing what goes on in Black British culture. Therefore, I can’t disprove any of her validity in this book, nor do I want to. I simply want to accept her perception of the truth, and acknowledge mine.

I will say that after reading this book, I started questioning everything in my society again. I questioned all aspects of my life again to see if I have been unknowingly racist, or if I had been a target of racism without knowing it. If you know anything about me, you know that I love books that make me think even after I’m done reading them. Therefore, this book was worth the time.

I would not recommend this book if you have a closed mind or a political agenda. Yes, racism is a matter of politics, but education is not (I mean it is, and that’s the problem). If you read this book, use it as an educational tool and not as a political rant, is what I mean. Otherwise, you completely miss the point. If you can’t separate yourself from your beliefs, even just to humor the author, you have no business reading this. You’re not ready.

Format

Reni Eddo-Lodge provided a brief, yet quite detailed, history of blacks in Britain. She then talked about the injustices in the system (both past and present) of Britain against blacks. Then defines and argues her case on “white privilege”, followed by the intriguing idea of the “black planet.” She also dives into feminism, class and our current situation of racism and how to overcome it.

She talked very little about religion (the only reason I bring this up is because the most controversial topics are race, money, sex and religion…she covered 3 of the 4) and how that affects black people. Maybe it’s not too big of a deal there as it is in the United States (so much so that we have separation of church and state. Or Maybe I’ve read too many books where religion is discussed by minorities and now I just expect it.)?

Quotes and Discussions (SPOILERS AHEAD) 

Who really wants to be alerted to a structural system that benefits them at the expense of others?

Sometimes stepping up means change. Change for your own security, change for your own habits and change for your own community. It’s hard to act when there are things at stake. This is why, the ones who do, are idolized and called heroes. Fighting for change is a courageous act. The willingness to change the system to right the wrongs takes strength and heart. Not everyone has what it takes to fight the good fight.

I have to tread incredibly carefully, because if I express frustration, anger or exasperation at their refusal to understand, they will tap into their pre-subscribed racist tropes about angry black people who are a threat to them and their safety.

I know that this backfires a lot. For example, if a woman is being “difficult,” everyone just assumes she is on her menstrual cycle. People who don’t want to take things seriously make joke of situations and blame it on exterior forces for why someone is upset instead of looking at the issue.

The options are: speak your truth and face their reprisal, or bite your tounge and get ahead in life.

This reminds me of the Hamilton musical where Burr is giving Hamilton advice.

I stopped talking to white people about race because I don’t think giving up is a sign of weakness. Sometimes it’s about self-preservation.

This is an insightful thought. I, personally, don’t know the difference between giving up and self-preservation (I dig myself in a lot of rabbit holes this way). To be able to understand the difference takes wisdom. I remember a teacher once telling me “you gotta learn how to pick and chose your battles, otherwise you will waste your time.”

To be white is to be human; to be white is universal. I only know this because I am not.

Interesting statement….

I’d only ever encountered black history through American-centric educational displays and lesson plans in primary and secondary school. With a heavy focus on Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad and Martin Luther King, Jr, the household names of America’s civil rights movement felt important to me, but also a million miles away from my life as a young black girl growing up in north London.

This really frustrated me. I couldn’t fathom the idea of learning about your history from a different country.

In a tutorial, I distinctly remember a debate about whether racism was simply discrimination, or discrimination plus power. Thinking about power made me realise that racism was about so much more than personal prejudice. It was about being in the position to negatively affect other people’s life chances.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

But I know now that I was resentful of her because I felt that her [a college friend who dropped the class because it wasn’t for her] whiteness allowed her to be disinterested in Britain’s violent history, to close her eyes and walk away. To me, this didn’t seem like information you could opt out from learning.

I know the feeling. There are topics that I have no choice but to hear, and there are topics that I can easily opt out of because it has little to do with me. For the longest, what 3rd world countries were going through didn’t matter to me because they were so far away and I had little power to do anything to help anyway. It’s easy to shut the world off with all these distractions of technology and good times around me.

‘I thought Black History Month was a great idea. What I wasn’t going to do was make it like the American one, because we have a different history…There’s so many people who have no idea–and I’m talking about white people–no idea about the history of racism. They don’t know why we’re in this country.”

Ansel Wong and Linda Bellos organised and hosted the first Black History Month event. I found it interesting that they wanted to do it differently. In the States, Black History Month is when you celebrate the tenacity, innovation, and overall impact black people had/have in our country regardless of the odds they faced and the racism they’ve encountered. However, our history with slavery is so open that we do not need to spend the month explaining it. It’s in the school curriculum. It’s how, as a kid, I saw black and white people as Americans. Not, slave owner and slave. They were both given so much detail in their history, with our pioneering forefathers and our pioneering civil right movement heroes, that it didn’t occur to me how strong and alive racism really was until this past 2016 presidential election. I knew it still existed, but not to the extent of the KKK and Nazis coming back and taking a predominant say in our society. I miss the times when we all agreed they were too crazy.

This was an inadequate education in a country where increasing generations of black and brown people continue to consider themselves British (including me).

I can relate to this. I come from a hispanic household but since I learned all about American culture in my schooling, it never occurred to me that I was actually Hispanic, but rather, American. I feel like the history we learn is the culture we are a part of. That’s why when people travel and actually get to know different places and different histories, we call them “worldly.” I feel more in touch with my American heritage than that of my Hispanic hertitage.

‘Mugging’ was an American term, imported from police statements and press coverage in black-concentrated cities. The fear of mugging was imported, too.
Street robberies have always existed in Britain. But importation of the word mugging brought with it a coded implication that the perpetrators were overwhelmingly black, and that mugging was an exclusively black crime.

The power of words….

In a radio documentary broadcast on BRMB Radio Birmingham in 1982, PC Dick Board, a police officer working in the city, made his feelings about unemployed young black people clear. ‘Let’s be fair,’ he said.’We’re talking about a certain type of people now. We had all these reasons in the twenties and thirties, and we never had this. We never had the soaring crime rates, and what we now know as the American phrase “mugging”. Which is robbery with violence. We have a different sort of person, who by hook or by crook is going to get his own way at the expense of everybody else. Even his own kind. That’s the point. Never mind this unemployment business, we’ve got a situation here now that is being used deliberately and there’s no question about it, they couldn’t care less whether they’ve got a job or not, in fact they’re happier without them.’ He continued: ‘All this is complete twaddle about they’re looking for jobs and “I can’t get a job” and all this…A lot of them use their colour as leverage against us…they use it, and they use it very well. There’s enough people in this country prepared to listen, and turn a blind eye to what these people do.

Minorities face this in the United States.

I think there’s truth in both perspectives, and that the extremity of a riot only ever reflects the extremity of the living conditions of said rioters. Language is important – and the term ‘race riot’ undoubtedly doubles down on ideas linking blackness and criminality, while overlooking what black people were reacting against.

By making a fuss, disrupting the everyday, and pointing out the problem, they had become the problem.e

Similar to Black Lives Matter. They are protesting AGAINST unjust police brutality but the way it has blown up has made it feel like blacks against whites, regardless of circumstance. Instead of realizing that the “take a knee” approach was to symbolize the death of civility, the majority of people took it as a disgrace to the flag and that “these black people are ingrates!”

But I don’t think my ignorance was an individual thing. That I had to go looking for significant moments in black British history suggests to me that I had been kept ignorant. While the black British story is starved of oxygen, the US struggle against racism is globalised into the story of the struggle against racism that we should look to for inspiration – eclipsing the black British story so much that we convince ourselves that Britain has never had a problem with race.

I know so many people who never knew Britain had black slaves. Come to think of it, I only learned about it 4 years ago myself. It’s not surprising for me though since that is not my country; however, if  I were British and didn’t know, I’d feel like I’d been robbed of knowledge.

When passing the sentence, Judge Mr Justice Treacy described the crime as ‘murder which scarred the conscience of the nation’.

Deep.

I used to have feelings, a vague sense of security in the back of my mind, that if I returned home one day to find my belongings ransacked and my valuables gone, I could call the police and they would help me. But if the case of Stephen Lawrence taught me anything, it was that there are occasions when the police cannot be trusted to act fairly.

That’s a fear most minorities (of any kind) face.

People feel that if a racist attack has not occurred, or the word ‘nigger’ has not been uttered, an action can’t be racist. If a black person hasn’t been spat at in the street, or a suited white extremist politician hasn’t lamented the lack of British jobs for British workers, it’s not racist (and if the suited politician has said that, then the racism of his statement will be up for debate, because it’s not racist to want to protect your country!)

Growing up, I would have told you that racism is about calling people slurs. Or that racism was about laws about segregation. Or that racism was a two-way street,  that anyone can be racist. I probably would have said that words like the N word were worse than someone calling somebody a cracker, for example, but I would have said that cracker is still racist. Now, that sounds ridiculous to me, but that was my very simplistic understanding. That racism was individuals, and I would not have seen systemic things.

I was had this thought process. That’s what we were told racism was.

We tell ourselves that good people can’t be racist. We seem to think that true racism only exists in the hearts of evil people. We tell ourselves that racism is about moral values, when instead it is about the survival strategy of systemic power. When swatches of the population vote for politicians and political efforts that explicitly  use racism as a campaigning tool, we tell ourselves that huge sections of the electorate simply cannot be racist, as that would render them heartless monsters. But this isn’t about good and bad people.

I think maybe instead of using the words good and bad we can use mature and immature. Emotionally speaking, of course.

Structural is often the only way to capture what goes unnoticed – the silently raised eyebrows, the implicit biases, snap judgements made on perceptions of competency.

Don’t have much to say about this, just that I liked it.

A staggering 45 per cent of black sixteen-to twenty-four-year-olds were out of work in 2012 compared with just 27 per cent in 2002.

Talk about regressing. I wonder why that is.

A 2013 British report revealed that black people are twice as likely to be charged with drugs possession, despite lower rates of drug use. black people are also more likely to receive a harsher police response (being five times more likely to be charged rather than cautioned or warned) for possession of drugs.

What?!

In the same year, an inquiry into the death of David Bennett, a black man who died in a psychiatric unit, added ‘[black people] tend to receive higher doses of anti-psychotic medication than white people with similar health problems. They are generally regarded by mental health staff as more aggressive, more alarming, more dangerous and more difficult to treat.

Double standards!!

They are both in and of a society that is structurally racist, and so it isn’t surprising when these unconscious biases seep out into the work they do when they interact with the general public. With a bias this entrenched, in too many levels of society, our black man can try his hardest, but he is essentially playing a rigged game. He may be told by his parents and peers that if he works hard enough, he can overcome anything. But the evidence shows that that is not true, and that those who do are exceptional to be succeeding in an environment that is set up for them to fail. Some will even tell them that if they are successful enough to get on the radar of an affirmative action scheme, then it’s because of tokenism rather than talent.

I think a part of my innocence died when I first learned this fact about society.

Despite this, many insist that any attempt to level the playing ground is special treatment, and that we must focus on equality and opportunity, without realising that levelling the playing ground is enabling equality of opportunity.

See, I see this as the government version of being a mom, telling her children to play nice with each other even though no one wants to play with the youngest. Having the mom enforce the rules keeps the siblings connected and together, otherwise, why would they want to get along on their own terms? As we age, we start to automatically trust each other and hang out with each other but that wouldn’t have happened without mom’s interference. It’s why the movie “Remember the Titans” was so great! Two difference races get together and eventually become family but someone had to interfere and tell them they weren’t being nice and they had to grow up. As diversity and acceptance sets in as a norm, we won’t need to have these laws anymore.

If the current system worked correctly, and if hiring practices were successfully recruiting and promoting the right people for the right jobs in all circumstances, I seriously doubt that so many leadership position would be occupied by white middle-aged men.

Well, most jobs are found by networking. If white men have been dominated the work force for years, they will help their friends and family whom just happen to be white as well. Therefore the work force will be predominately white men.

My blackness has been politicised against my will, but I don’t want it wilfully ignored in an effort to instil some sort of precarious, false harmony.

Hm. I can see her point.

Colour-blindness is a childish, stunted analysis of racism. It starts and ends at ‘discriminating against a person because of the colour of their skin is bad’, without any accounting for the ways in which structural power manifests in these exchanges. With an analysis so immature, this definition of racism is often used to silence people of colour attempting to articulate the racism we face. When people of colour point this out, they’re accused of being racist against white people, and the accountability avoidance continues. Colour-blindness does not accept the legitimacy of structural racism or a history of white racial dominance.

I guess a good analogy to this would be you can pretend you don’t see people as handicapped, but if you ignore the fact that they need help, they might never get up the stairs. Build a ramp, so to speak. Instead of thinking it shouldn’t play a factor, figure out how to help.

Meanwhile, it is nigh-on impossible for children of colour to educate ourselves out of racist stereotyping, though if we accumulate enough individual wealth, we can pretend that we are no longer affected by it.

I used to think that. Mostly because of Will Smith. I grew up watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and he always seemed like this happy guy. And everyone seemed to love him regardless of race or gender or age, even.

In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon – earned or not – because of their race, their class, and their gender. Seeing race is essential to changing the system.

I think this is what is happening with the MeToo movement. We must see it no matter how uncomfortable it has been. But we have seen many changes because of it. We also see some changes because of Black Lives Matter. I remember reading this story in middle school where these people were treated so badly by their government that they were practically starved. This mother saw her baby and realized she didn’t him to live in this world. So she barbecued him and when the soldiers came around, they were upset that she had food and didn’t share (since that is what you were supposed to do, offer your food to the government first) and she said something along the lines of “go ahead, take a bite” and eventually told them that they just ate her son and that they reduced them to this.. The soldiers were obviously disgusted but she made her point. Not that I think that we should go around killing and eating babies, let’s not do that, but making the point as serious as possible can open people’s eyes. It’s like, killing the first born is how the Pharoah learned to cave to God. Sometimes it does need to be dramatic.

You might be surprised to learn that it was a white man who first gave white privilege a name.

Actually, I was surprised.

Some black people hold a burning hatred for white people, they will say, and it’s unacceptable. It’s ‘reverse racism’, they insist.

Thank you! I think hating any kind of race is racism. I remember Deepak Chopra told a lady that by refusing to date men of her own race was still a form or racism.

There is an unattributed definition of racism that defines it as a prejudice plus power. Those disadvantaged by racism can certainly be cruel, vindictive and prejudiced. Everyone has the capacity to be nasty to other people, to judge them before they get to know them. But there simply aren’t enough black people in positions of power to enact racism against white people on the kind of grand scale it currently operates at against black people.

This is why the idea of mutiny is so intriguing in utopians and dystopian societies. In the end, it’s always the same. The people without power got power and used it to abuse the people who originally had power and nothing ever changed. The huge parody to life. We never learn our lessons.

‘Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.’

This reminds me of a quote from Humans by Matt Haig where he says “love something or hate it, don’t insult it by being indifferent.” That’s probably not word for word, but that’s how my memory remembers it.

‘who are used to having people of all backgrounds in their midst, race already matters far less than it did for their parents. In a generation or two more of the melting pot, it may not matter at all.’

I feel like that’s the direction it’s going. I mean we are already accepting gender-neutral and transexuals in our society. Pretty soon, none of the labels we’ve felt the need to use will matter to the future generations.

‘Race was something I was always aware of, just not in relation to myself,’

I know the feeling. In Southern California, diversity is a big thing so it’s not uncommon to see a myriad of ethnicities scattered about. I would have never pegged the world as racists if all I had was SoCal to influence my decision.

It’s the people who control the mass media, the big corporations, big business that wants cheap labour, to undermine the power of organised unionised labour. They’re the people to blame, not the immigrants.

Very true.

Forget the Daily Mail, it’s the soap operas that decide how people work in their heads.

Media brainwashing is a real thing. Media influence is alive and powerful. I remember someone telling me that we learn to accept the difficulties of life once we see it on a sitcom. Therefore, once we started having black people on sitcoms (as main characters, not as props), blacks were accepted more in society. Same thing happened with gay people. Pro-choice vs pro-life. Anything controversial can seem not-so threatening behind the screen. We can learn with our guards down.

They would have engaged with the ideas being put forward rather than using intellectually dishonest tricks designed to circumvent taking the protesters seriously. I think that there is a fear among many white people that accepting Britain’s difficult history with race means somehow admitting defeat.

The dangers of pride.

The real test of this country’s perimeters of freedom of speech will be found if or when a person can freely discuss racism without being subject to intellectually dishonest attempts to undermine their arguments.

 

Freedom of speech means the freedom for opinions on race to clash. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean the right to say what you want without rebuttal, and racist speech and ideas need to be healthily challenged in the public sphere.

I can see that. It’s what support groups do. Safe spaces, so to speak…only…think globally.

As an adult Harry Potter fan, I’d begun to think of Hermione Granger, with her house-elf liberation campaign, as a well-meaning but guilty-feeling white liberal, taking on a social justice cause with gusto without ever really consulting the views and feelings of the people she was fighting for. Outside of the wizarding world, Hermione would be working at an NGO or a charity, or slowly climbing the bureaucracy of the United Nations. With her strong moral compass, she’d be educated and adamant about animal rights or global warming.

I just think this is cute since Emma Watson recommended this book for her book club.

I suppose we will all have to wait in suspense until 2066 – the projected year when white people will be a demographic minority in Britain – to find out.

The curiosity in me wants to witness this faster. I hope I’m alive then.

the only way to foster any shared solidarity is to learn from each other’s struggles, and recognise the various privileges and disadvantages that we all enter the movement with.

I feel like this should be in a library wall somewhere.

‘I is for identity politics.’

I is also for intersectionality, the tearaway offspring of identity politics, where you must constantly wonder how your various personal identities intersect with each other.

This reminds me of another quote along the lines of “a dog doesn’t need to prove that he’s a dog, a cow doesn’t need to prove that he’s a cow but a human needs to define himself to be a man.” (I might have butchered that quote entirely).

The trouble is, it has become a faddish among people who don’t read books or essays but merely tweet and Internet comments, and they don’t know what they are talking about.

Funny!

Women of colour were positioned as the immigrants of feminism, unwelcome but tolerated — a reluctantly dealth-with social problem.

Wow…

If the last five years have taught us anything, it’s that feminism is a broad church that has less to do with the upkeep of your appearance, and more to do with the upkeep of your politics.

Love that!

Each time a celebrity stakes her claim on feminism, a little bit of the stigma surrounding the word is shattered.

Yes!

White feminism is a politics that engages itself with myths such as ‘I don’t see race’. It is a politics which insists that talking about race fuels racism — thereby denying people of colour the words to articulate our existence. It’s a politics that expects people of colour to quietly assimilate into institutionally racist structures without kicking up a fuss. It’s a politics where people of colour are never setting the agenda.

Yeah *sigh*

Feminism is not about equality, and certainly not about silently slipping into a world of work created by and for men. Feminism, at its best, is a movement that works to liberate all people who have been economically, socially and culturally marginalised by an ideological system that has been designed for them to fail. That means disabled people, black people, trans people, women and non-binary people, LGB people and working-class people. The idea of campaigning for equality must be complicated if we are to untangle the situation we’re in. Feminism will have won when we have ended poverty. It will have won when women are no longer expected to work two jobs (the care and emotional labour for their families as well as their day job) by default.

She does admit that these demands are unrealistic.

I should recognise that we live in a world in which women are constantly harangued into being lusted after, but punishes sex workers for using that situation to make a living.

YES! TRUE! UGH!!!

‘your silence will not protect you.’
-Audre Lorde

*Shivers*

Forget politician-speak about Britain being a tolerant country. Being constantly looked at like an alien in the country you were born in requires true tolerance.

That should be a shirt.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33606119-why-i-m-no-longer-talking-to-white-people-about-race

Author:

My name is Griselda (I also go by Gray or Gris…they’re easier to pronounce). I am a book reader with a lot of opinions and need for discussions. My hope is that I will be able to have interesting conversations based on the passages I’m reading, and if possible, book recommendations on what to read next.

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