This Black History Month, I wanted to read a novel that was written by a Black British author that also spoke about Black British History.
Which is why I decided to pick up ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge.
I’ve heard so many great things about this book, especially during the biggest global Black Lives Matter Movement in June. This book made Reni Eddo-Lodge the first Black British author to reach the no1 spot on the UK official book charts.
Put it this way, this book has such a big reputation that I couldn’t help but feel apprehensive.
Ever since, I read Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala, my eyes were opened to how much the British government cover up when it comes to racism – something they’ve been doing for centuries. And I’ve had a burning desire ever since to unearth the Black British history that is never discussed or brought up in this country.
I always struggle to review non-fiction books but I’ll do my best with this one.
For only 250 pages, Reni Eddo-Lodge manages to incorporate so much knowledge into this small book that I was left astounded by the time I finished it reading it. The writing is so beautifully easy to understand that you find yourself flying through it. If you’re looking for a novel that introduces you to Britain’s history with racism, then this book is the best start point I can think of.
She explores Black British history, classism, privilege, feminism and so much more throughout this book. She scrapes back the layers Britain has built around itself to hide the structural racism underneath. Reni Eddo-Lodge identifies how racism has been the backbone of this country and simply unveils the hidden truths. You’re left puzzled as to how you left education without learning a single thing about anything she mentions – especially because a lot of it frames how society is today.
I’ll be honest, as a Black person reading this novel. To begin with, I felt a sense of despair. Humanity is built on understanding that if something unjust happens to you, it is your right to seek justice for yourself or whoever the person affected may be. But if the justice system is flawed to work against you, you’re left with an undeniable and inevitable acceptance that you are on your own. You can’t trust the justice system will do right by you because time and time again it’s proven that it also does the exact opposite.
Reni Eddo-Lodge starts by talking about Black British history, which is a beautiful foundation to start with. The entire time I was reading it, I just kept thinking ‘Why don’t I know this already?’ and ‘Surely, this is something that I should have been taught at school?” She speaks on the police and their long-standing relationship with their Black British citizens. We touch on the Notting Hill Riots of 1958, Cherry Groce and Stephen Lawrence. It was here that I came to my realisation of the justice system as she points out that instead of Britain examining how flawed their justice system is, they diverted the attention elsewhere. They did what they knew best and covered up the racism in this country.
But what Reni Eddo-Lodge points out that by covering it up they only reaffirm that racism very much exists in this country and it’s integrated into the system.
“Structural racism is dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of people with the same biases joining together to make up one organisation, and acting accordingly…” – p.g 64
Reni Eddo-Lodge talks about how structural racism affects not only the justice system but also, the workplace, health institutions and even football.
“In British football as of 2015, the numbers on race were pitiful. Despite overall black and ethnic minority representation of 25% in both leagues, there was only 1 Black manager in the Premier League, 6 in the Football League. No Black managers in Scotland’s top 4 divisions, and just 1 black manager in Wales Elite League.” – p.g 74
I hope these numbers have improved because this is just appalling.
There’s so many disparities that I was often left wondering why or how Britain is consistently trying to cover up what we already knew. Why is everyone so eager to push the colour blind narrative – the ‘I don’t see colour’. I promise you, if you can claim that narrative that is your privilege talking.
“But indulging in the myth that we are all equal denies the economic, political and social legacy of a British society that has historically been organised by race.” – p.g 83
Now obviously, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s paragraph on Black representation in fiction resonated so deeply with me. She puts into words exactly how I feel whenever someone says ‘I can’t identify with the main character’ when speaking about a predominantly Black focused novel. Ethnic minorities have spent most their lives being forced to identify with white main characters or protagonists in TV, film and books. But yet, the moment the tables are turned it’s an issue?
“This line of thought demonstrates a real struggle to identify with black humanity in any conceivable way…they don’t believe that black characters have the capacity to be sophisticated like James Bond or sophisticated like Hermione Granger…” p.g. 140
It reminds me of what Akala spoke about in Natives in regards to Rue in The Hunger Games being played by Amanda Stenberg.
He mentions how fans kicked up an uproar because they couldn’t cultivate sympathy for a young Black girl despite Rue being described as a having brown skin in the original novel.
“Seeing non-white characters relegated to sidekick or token status has been routine for so long that, for some, attempting to try and relate to black skin in a main character is a completely alien concept. We’ve been positioned as the ‘other’, only taking centre stage to portray subjugation or provide comic relief.” – p.g. 140
I won’t go into too much detail about the issues of feminism because it’s the same thing so many Black feminists have been screaming for time. Hood Feminism is a great non-fiction novel that explores this in greater detail.
Reni Eddo-Lodge does talk about the stereotype of the ‘angry black girl’, which I promise you the majority of Black girls have been perceived as growing up. The minute we express our passion, assertiveness or excitement about something we’re told we’re being ‘aggressive’. Anyone who’s met me knows I’m the least aggressive person you can imagine so the fact I’ve been casted as this more than once says a lot about society than it does about me.
I loved the paragraph about solidarity especially because sometimes it can be very performative. Understanding that solidarity should be heartfelt and meaningful, it shouldn’t be something that is considered when someone else is doing it. I think I saw it the most in June because I couldn’t fathom that people who I hadn’t posted a single thing about Black Lives Matter were now posting Black squares on Instagram – the same people that have removed those Black squares from their feeds. I mean let’s be real, no-one forced you to show fake solidarity but you did it anyway. I would have had more respect if you didn’t post anything at all.
Don’t pretend to care. Black Lives Matter was and is not a trend.
“We need to claim the entirety of British history. We need to let it be known that black is British, that brown is British and that we are not going away.”
I don’t think much else needs to be said about this book. Reni Eddo-Lodge makes her statement clear on that Britain’s society needs to change. There needs to be more inclusivity and an acknowledgement of the structural racism that plagues society.
Whether Britain likes it or not, it has to change because the diversity of the country is not going away.
I finished this novel with a sense of hope. A hope for the future that is to come with the awareness that is being raised. As more of society are determined to speak out about injustices happening around them.
To finish this book with hope when I started with despair…is only a testament to the journey Reni Eddo-Lodge takes you on with this novel.
Aka. Read this book.