The solution starts with us

Nadia Craddock reviews 'Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race' by Reni Eddo Lodge.

Prompted by a viral response to a blog post of the same name, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race is a collection of seven essays by award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge exploring the role of race and racism in modern Britain. Eddo-Lodge walks the reader through a snapshot of British civil rights history (which is notably absent in school curriculum) and gives a comprehensive 101 on systemic racism and white privilege. She then proceeds to critique white feminism and unpack the inextricable link between race and class. In the final essay, Eddo-Lodge urges white people to talk to other white people about race (because, 'they have so much less to lose') as a vital part of a collective movement against racism. She quotes the late Terry Pratchett, 'there’s no justice, just us' to stress that 'the solution starts with us' – all of us that is, who are in despair of the status quo concerning systemic racism.

Contrary therefore to the provocative title, neither the book nor the blog post is set out to exclude white people from conversations about race. In the blog post, which is included in the start of the book, Eddo-Lodge qualifies the title statement with 'not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the existence of structural racism and its symptoms.' She describes the emotional exhaustion and frustration people of colour experience following conversations with white people about race and racism when these conversations are quickly dismissed or left unheard. Inevitably, this toil is compounded with the wide-reaching psychological impact of racism and associated micro-aggressions that serve to oppress people of colour in the first place. 

The book expands by explaining why educating others on structural racism cannot fall solely on black and brown shoulders. For example, Eddo-Lodge highlights how well-meaning ‘colour-blindness’ expressed by white people – that is, the refusal to knowledge difference in experience based on skin colour – serves to uphold systemic racism. Similarly, Eddo-Lodge outlines how virtue signalling or tokenism are at best, inadequate and reductive, and at worst, dangerous. Imagine being asked to speak on behalf of your entire race, to explain the actions, behaviour, or thoughts – however questionable or out of sync with your personal value-system. This is often the reality for people of colour on panels and boards, who are often asked, not only to speak on behalf of their own racial group, but to speak to the entire spectrum of black and ethnic minority experience.

We are increasingly seeing calls for inclusion, diversity, representation, and equality within the research, practice, and teaching of British psychology. However, without a deeper understanding of some of the themes discussed in this book, these calls can lack a sense of potency or urgency.

Conversations on race and racism are undoubtedly complex and uncomfortable. Although no one text can be all-encompassing, this book is a good starting point for anyone who wants to learn more on systemic racism, white privilege and intersectionality, and the experiences of people of colour in Britain. As Eddo-Lodge states, 'we cannot escape the legacies of the past, but we can use them to model our future'.

- Nadia Craddock is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Appearance Research and is producer of the centre’s appearance psychology podcast, Appearance Matters: the Podcast!

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race, by Reni Eddo Lodge, is published by Bloomsbury Circus.

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