My review of “Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017)

The award-winning black novelist Bernardine Evaristo has described the title of this non-fiction work – the first by Eddo-Lodge – as “gloriously provocative” and “marketing gold”. The truth is, of course, that the whole book is a conversation with white and non-white readers, by a young black woman born in north London and raised by a Nigerian mother, and it has achieved massive sales and caused a storm of comment. 

Timing is important. “Why” was published the year after the Brexit referendum and the election of Trump and spoke to liberals wondering why so many people were so fearing of ‘the other’. Then, in the summer of 2020, the book soared to the top of the best-seller list. The worldwide reaction to the appalling death of George Floyd in the United States, and a global pandemic which underlined the different life chances of black and non-black people and provided more time to think about these things, ensured that Eddo-Lodge’s book had a whole new readership, including me checking my white privilege.

Although the book has been the subject of a fair amount of research and contains plenty of information and facts, this is not an academic work and the content is not novel to those who have been paying attention to the debate about race, but the style is very accessible and, for many readers (especially white ones), it presents the argument in a compelling and forceful manner than cannot be ignored. The tone is anger, but people of colour have much to be angry about.

“Why” begins with a short history of the experience of black people in Britain. Of course, a seminal event was the arrival of the 492 Caribbeans on board the “Windrush” in June 1948 (the week I was born). Eddo-Lodge underlines that the reason why the United Kingdom received immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia was because Britain had colonised these parts of the world and promoted the slave trade before, after the devastation of the Second World War, encouraging them to travel to the ‘mother country’ to take up low-skilled work as the economy revived. 

The next section of the book explains that racism is not simply about prejudice by individuals but about the nature of the system. She prefers the term structural racism rather than institutional racism because “it is built into spaces much broader than our more traditional institutions”. This is why, whether we look at education, employment, health, housing, income or wealth, the life chances of people of colour are so much worse than those of white people. 

There are two hard-hitting chapters examining the relationship between anti-racism on the one hand and feminism and class respectively on the other. Eddo-Lodge refers to “feminism’s race problem” and highlights “the overwhelming whiteness of feminism”. For black feminists and black socialists, a key issue is what is called “intersectionality” – a recognition that some people can and do suffer from two (or more) forms of discrimination and that we should not prioritise one to the exclusion of the other. Eddo-Lodge notes that “So much of politics is just middle-aged white men passing the ball to one another” and refers to “what writer bell hooks called ‘the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy'”

The final chapter – entitled “There’s No Justice, There’s Just Us” – is the shortest and the weakest. There is no manifesto of political change, but simply a call to white individuals to change the conversation. She declares “racism is a white problem. It reveals the anxieties, hypocrisies and double standards of whiteness” and urges “White people, you need to talk to other white people about race”. Of themselves, feminism and socialism will not eradicate racism, but feminism and socialism have massive roles to play in combatting the effects of racism and radicals from different corners of the fight for social justice need to beware of denigrating or disrespecting each other.


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