It is the fact that journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge has given up wasting time and energy talking to white people about race that makes her 2017 book, the aptly titled Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, so darn good. Nothing is held back; there are no niceties to save precious white feelings and the book is intellectual, personal and factual, all at once.
Using Britain’s history as the backdrop (although this book will provide interesting reading to anyone, anywhere), Eddo-Lodge discusses structural inequities, white washed feminism, politics and power including the so-called “merit” system, and the arguments posed by white people who actually don’t want to talk about race.
Or, more correctly; those who don’t want to listen. Being a white person who has lived and worked with many openly racist white people (I’m sure we all have, if we’re paying attention), it’s her discussions around these racist arguments that I rejoiced in the most. For those interested, here are just a few of the many conversation points.
“I don’t see colour”
This platitude is tossed around by white people who want to avoid a discussion about race and would rather point out that they personally aren’t to blame. Eddo-Lodge explains that this line of conversation does little to dismantle what is ultimately a structural issue.
“Not seeing race does little to deconstruct racist structures or materially improve the conditions which people of colour are subject to daily. In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race,” she writes.
“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’ve experienced reverse racism”
This is a common argument among white people who feel hard done by because of specific examples they’ve observed in the real world where they feel they’ve been unfairly treated because of their whiteness. The missing ingredient they are overlooking when they start talking about “reverse racism” is, as Eddo-Lodge explains, is power.
“There is an unattributed definition of racism that defines it as 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. Are black people overrepresented in the places and spaces where prejudice could really take effect? The answer is almost always no.”
“I believe in merit”
Eddo-Lodge explains how the “merit system” in the workplace “ignores the familiarity that warms an interviewer to a candidate”.
She states: “You’d have to be fooling yourself if you really think that the homogeneous glut of middle-aged white men currently clogging the upper echelons of most professions got there purely through talent alone. We don’t live in a meritocracy, and to pretend that simple hard work will elevate all to success is an exercise in wilful ignorance.
“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 positions would be occupied by white middle-aged men.”
Here in Australia, I hear the “merit” argument when people discuss politics, as though those who are in these powerful job roles have worked their way there. In reality, the preselection process has absolutely nothing to do with “merit”, but more to do with cronyism and connections. After the preselection process, with our options already limited, the public operates like the workplace to perpetuate old cycles.
“I’m not privileged, I had a very hard life”
There are those who state that white privilege does not exist simply because they themselves have led difficult lives, refusing to acknowledge a problem if it does not directly affect them. To this Eddo-Lodge clarifies that when she talks about “white privilege”, she doesn’t mean that white people have it easy or have never struggled, or lived in poverty. “But white privilege is the fact that if you’re white, your race will almost certainly positively impact your life’s trajectory in some way. And you probably won’t even notice it.”
For anyone wanting to learn, willing to do better, and hoping for an improved dialogue around race, this book is a great read.