Sunday, January 14, 2018

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Hardcover, 249 pgs, Pub June 1st 2017 by Bloomsbury Circus, ISBN13: 9781408870556, Lit Awards: The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction Nominee for Longlist (2017)

Reni Eddo-Lodge no longer wants to talk to white people about race because white people always manage to make the conversation about themselves. Isn’t this the original definition of a bore? This would actually be funny if it didn’t have such deadly consequences for people of color everywhere.
“Discussing racism is not the same thing as discussing ‘black identity.’ Discussing racism is about discussing white identity. It’s about white anxiety.”
Eddo-Lodge is British and this book evolved from an explosive blogpost of the same title that she wrote in 2014 and which is reproduced in full in the Preface to this volume. Contrary to her explicit desire to stop talking to white people about race, she has become a national and international spokesperson and spends most of her time talking to white people about race. Is there a lesson here?

Eddo-Lodge divides her commentary on the subject of race into seven chapters, the first of which, “Histories,” details her awakening to the realization that she knew very little about black British history until her second year at university. That moment of awakening, the moment Ta-Nehisi Coates also details in his own book, Between the World and Me, is a thrilling one in the life of an writer/activist. After that moment comes the hard work of study and making connections.
“We tell ourselves that good people can’t be racist…We tell ourselves that racism is about moral values, when instead it is about the survival strategy of systemic power.”
Chapter 2, “The System,” tries to describe the way racism looks today from the point of view of those discriminated against in Britain, and the excuses made to paper over any actual discussion of the problems. This is where the insistence upon merit and the way the conversation always turns to white anxiety is most apparent. Chapter 3, “What is White Privilege?” surprises us with the assertion that
“White privilege is never more pronounced than in our intimate relationships, our close friendships and our families… Race consciousness is not contagious, nor is it inherited. If anything, an increase in mixed-race families and mixed-race children brings those difficult conversations about race and whiteness and privilege close to home (literally) than ever before.”
I’d always assumed that mixed race families had the advantages of understanding around issues of race, but Eddo-Lodge tells us that many families are not having the conversations they need to have, difficult and raw though they may be.
“It makes sense that interracial couples might not want to burden themselves with the depressing weight of racial history when planning their lives together, but a color-blind approach makes life difficult for children who do not deserve this carelessness.”
There is so much in this short book that I have to urge everyone to get their own copy. The insights come fast and furious from this point on. For some white people, Eddo-Lodge asserts, “being accused of racism is far worse than actual racism.” That resonates in today’s America, and could as easily be said about sexism. When addressing feminism and racism in Chapter 5, "The Feminism Question," Eddo-Lodge may present her most eloquent arguments, including a discussion about the need for black feminists to meet separately:
that [white gaze] “does so much to silence you...And there's an element of just speaking the truth of what it means to be a black woman in the UK that it would be ridiculous, as a white person, to not read that as implicating you."
In direct relationship to the cogency of her arguments, her shortest chapters are the most fluent, insightful, and well-argued. At the end, Eddo-Lodge uses a Terry Pratchett statement as her final chapter heading: "There is No Justice, There is Just Us." In this chapter she reflects our questions right back out at her audience.
“White people, you need to talk to other white people about race….white people who recognize racism have an incredibly important part to play. That part can’t be played while wallowing in guilt.”
Apropos of this exhortation, a racial justice educator based in Boston, Debby Irving, wrote a book on race primarily for white people, called Waking Up White, detailing her experiences waking up to an unconscious racism. I agree with her that we need to learn to speak this new vocabulary of race if we want to enjoy the benefits of diversity. Eddo-Lodge, despite her exhaustion talking about race with white people, is doing her part.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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