With the tragic murder of George Floyd, multiple book lists have been reproduced on social media platforms as we try to inform each other and make sense of the existing system of structural racism. A book that has been recommended time and again is Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. The book has been described as “essential reading” and it is certainly so for those seeking to understand structural racism, white privilege, class and feminism in a British context.
Whilst we, in the UK, might view racism as a historically bigger problem in America, Eddo-Lodge points out that it is simply wrong to believe that Britain has not had a problem with race. Having been through the British education system myself, I recall elements of my history classes covering the transatlantic slave trade and the American Civil Rights Movement. The history of British imperialism and colonisation is brushed over, hence this petition to the Department of Education to reform the history national curriculum. We are kept ignorant of Britain’s recent history of race relations which include the Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 and the UK’s own experience of a Civil Rights Movement which Eddo-Lodge sets out in the first chapter: “histories”.
Each chapter explores a key theme - from structural racism to whitewashed feminism and the often overlooked, but inextricable, link between class and race. Each chapter is essential. “Structural” racism, a somewhat fuzzy term, is succinctly explained by Eddo-Lodge as the system being rigged against people of colour. In Eddo-Lodge’s words: “Structural racism is dozens or hundreds or thousands of people with the same biases joining up to make one organisation, and acting accordingly. Structural racism is an impenetrably white workplace culture set by those people, where anyone who falls outside of the culture must conform or face failure.”
The way to go about tackling structural racism is not, however, to not see race. We are far from entering a ‘post-racial’ society. Eddo-Lodge highlights that not seeing race does little to deconstruct the racist structures that people of colour are subject to on a daily basis. Instead, “seeing race is essential to changing the system.”
The resurgence of interest in Eddo-Lodge’s book has led to her becoming the first British black author to top the UK bestseller chart. In an interview in the Guardian, her only interview in response to topping the books chart, Eddo-Lodge emphasises that she is not interested in telling people what to do. Instead, she states: “I guess what I’m trying to do is prompting people to take responsibility for racism.” This takes initiative such that “if you’re really interested in creating anti-racist change, you have to look around you and see where you hold the influence and that is very different from one person to the next.” Indeed, we can all have a role to play in the movement towards racial justice.