Reni Eddo-Lodge on understanding race and white privilege in the UK

I have been involved in several social media conversations over the past couple of weeks which have started with someone in the UK sharing a helpful US perspective on understanding and responding to racism/white supremacy, and have gone on to ask where the equivalent British analyses were.

I received Reni Eddo-Lodge’s new book, Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race (London: Bloomsbury, 2017) yesterday lunchtime, and finished reading it before lunch today. It is at least one answer to that question, and a compelling one at that.

I want to write a decent summary, but here are the quotations I took down as I read:

[On slavery]

’…unlike the situation in America, most British people saw the money without the blood.’ (5)

‘…many Brits lived comfortably off the toil of enslaved black people without being directly involved in the transaction.’ (6)

‘But the recipients of the compensation for the dissolution of a significant money-making industry were not those who had been enslaved. Instead it was the 46,000 British slave-owning citizens who received cheques for their financial losses.’ (6)

[On Black British history]

‘But most of my knowledge of black history was American history. This was an inadequate education in a country where increasing generations of black and brown people continue to consider themselves British (including me).’ (9)

‘…until I went actively digging for black British histories, I didn’t know them.’ (54)

‘While the black British story is starved of oxygen, the US struggle against racism is globalised…’ (54-5)

[On systemic racism]
‘It seems that the root of the problem of both the under-representation of race and gender is essentially the same, but the solutions proposed for each are radically different.’ (78)

‘Colour-blindness is a childish, stunted analysis of racism.’ (82)

‘Colour-blindness does not accept the legitimacy of structural racism or a history of white dominance.’ (83)

‘In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by the negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon [sic] … Seeing race is essential to changing the system.’ (84)

‘I don’t want to be included. Instead, I want to question who created the standard in the first place. After a lifetime of embodying difference, I have no desire to be equal. I want to deconstruct the structural power of a system that marked me out as different … The onus is not on me to change. Instead, it’s the world around me.’ (184)

[On white privilege]
‘How can I define white privilege? It’s so difficult to describe an absence. And white privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, and absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost…’ (86)

‘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.’ (87)

‘The idea of white privilege forces white people who aren’t actively racist to confront their own complicity in its continuing existence. White privilege is dull, grinding complacency.’ (87)

[On ‘reverse racism’]

‘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 … [b]ut there simply aren’t enough black people in positions of power to enact racism against white people…’ (89)

[On race and class]

‘We should be re-thinking the image we conjure up when we think of a working-class person. Instead of a white man in a flat cap, it’s a black woman pushing a pram.’ (201)

[On ‘urban’]

‘The word “urban” here was coded … [u]rban here, as it is so often used (in music particularly), was code language for “black people live here”.’ (195)

[On racism as a white problem]

‘Discussing racism is not the same thing as discussing “black identity”. Discussing racism is about discussing white identity. It’s about white anxiety. It’s about asking why whiteness has this reflexive need to define itself against immigrant bogey monsters in order to feel comfortable, safe, and secure.’ (215)

‘…racism is a white problem. It reveals the anxieties, hypocrisies and double standards of whiteness. It is a problem in the psyche of whiteness that white people must take responsibility to solve. You can only do so much from the outside.’ (219)


I should note that the longest and angriest chapter is on intersectional feminism; I’ve not excerpted that at all here.

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