Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race
Category: Social Sciences
Published: 6/1/2017
In 2014, award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote about her frustration with the way that discussions of race and racism in Britain were being led by those who weren't affected by it. She posted a piece on her blog, entitled: 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race' that led to this book.

Book Summary - Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Key Insights

Racism still exists in Britain today. But many don’t realize how deep its roots in British society are. The history of racism in Britain goes back more than two centuries.

If you are one of the majority of white British people who believe racism is not an issue, it’s because you have the luxury of not seeing it. You can ignore the racist rhetoric aimed at minorities. While it may not be as overt as it was in the past, racism is still deeply embedded in British society.

If you want to be part of the solution, a better understanding of the challenges that face non-white Britons is needed. This requires you to understand Britain’s history of racism and how it affects the people who live there today.

Key Points

While challenging, you have to engage more people in the conversation.

Trying to engage everyone on the subject of race can be tricky. It can lead to further tensions between white and non-white Britons. If you’re white and get defensive when asked your view on racism, this is mostly due to your white fragility. It’s important to remember this is not about your feelings. This about the bigger issue of racism in Britain.

You are probably like many Britons and don’t believe that you are racist. Perhaps you are someone who believes you are “colorblind”. Believe it or not, this does not equate to racism. In fact, by not acknowledging someone’s race is the equivalent of not recognizing their identity.

If Britain’s racist tendencies are going to be addressed, an open dialogue is the only way to do it. Most people agree that a real conversation about racism is the best way to move forward. Despite the frustration implied by the title, talking to white people about race is essential if things are to progress.

Britain’s racist history is often overlooked or swept under the rug.

The Atlantic slave trade is often discussed with a focus on America’s participation in it. Britain, however, was also a key player in the trade and many of its ports were used for the transporting of slaves to the new world.

While it is true the Abolition of Slavery Act ended Britain’s trade in the 19th Century, it had been in existence for nearly 300 years. Even after its end, the British Empire used racist ideology to rule over its colonies.

During wartime, the colonies were treated as Britain’s own disposable army surplus. In World War One, Britain bolstered its ranks with soldiers from Asia and Africa, yet continued to view them as less than equal. Soldiers were segregated in the base camps, and white soldiers were given preferential treatment.

You may know that Britain suffered large numbers of casualties during the war. But you may not realize that more than 70,000 Indian soldiers died fighting for Britain. India did not join the fighting out of loyalty to Britain, but with the belief that Britain would end its colonial rule after the war. However, Britain refused to honor the deal and denied India its independence.

Despite their heroic sacrifices during wartime, Black and Asian soldiers who settled in Britain experienced discrimination and hostility. Crucially, the racism was not just from right-wing supporters but also from police who would harass them in their own homes.

This part of Britain’s wartime history is often omitted from books on the subject. But, if you want to really effect change, it is necessary to understand that much of Britain’s underlying racism is rooted in its history.

Britain has a history of discrimination against immigrants.

If you’ve read about the history of civil rights, it’s likely you have read about it in the context of the United States. However, Britain has its own civil rights history that is too often forgotten.

In post-war Britain of the late 1940s, immigrants from the Commonwealth found themselves in a tense situation. The government actively encouraged the arrival of immigrants. But upon their arrival, they found the welcome was short-lived in many places.

New arrivals found themselves unable to find housing accommodation in many areas of Britain. Those who did find places to rent were often paying far more than white Britons and the property was usually in terrible condition.

The government also failed to prevent racist attitudes or discrimination towards immigrants. In fact, after years of racism and abuse towards immigrants, the government decided the best solution was to make Britain a harder place to live.

When immigrants from the Commonwealth were first welcomed to the country they were given the same rights as white British citizens. In the late 1960s, some of these rights were rescinded. Now immigrants would need to have work permits before they were allowed to become residents.

The restrictions made it difficult for immigrants to successfully assimilate and stoked racial tensions. Racism was prevalent in the police force and non-white Britons found themselves routinely targeted. Over the years this has led to riots and protests against institutional racism.

Yet, there has been very little change over the years. Racial disparities still exist and the immigration restrictions remain in place, perpetuating the cycle of racist behavior. The government is still reluctant to admit that Britain has a racist culture. Until it does, things look like they will continue the same way.

Developing opportunities means addressing past disparities.

If you were a hiring manager with a list of prospective employees, do you think you would be biased in your interview process? Research shows a majority of companies invariably select candidates with white-sounding names for interviews.

What this means is that many qualified non-white Britons are being overlooked for opportunities based on their ethnicity. But this kind of discrimination does not just happen in the professional world. In education, the majority of white students are given preferential treatment and often awarded higher grades for the same work.

Even outside of academic and professional environments, racism is still prevalent. You are more likely to be observed and your actions judged in public settings if you are Black. These small acts of discrimination are just as damaging as more overt racist treatment. They feed into a society view of white Britons as superior and create a hostile experience for non-white Britons.

One way you can help to eradicate this behavior is by providing equal opportunities. This means implementing changes to academic and professional institutions that result in a more balanced approach.

For example, have a third party mark the results of school exams. This would prevent in-built prejudices influencing exam grades. When interviewing people for a job, make sure that at least one ethnic minority is interviewed for every job posted. This would ensure that people that are often overlooked are given the same opportunity as others.

It is really a simple approach. If you treat everyone equally and without bias, you are making incremental changes towards a better society. The more institutions take on this approach, the greater chance there is to dispel ingrained racist tendencies.

White-centric British society creates white privilege. It stays rooted in the culture because of the inability or unwillingness to confront it.

If you’re white, you already have an advantage over minorities in Britain. You may not know it British society has always been centered towards white culture. Without even intending to, by taking advantage of those privileges, you continue to feed into that culture.

The problem is that there is a lack of awareness about the issue. If someone points out an example of white privilege, it is often taken as an insult and many white Britons feel they are subject to reverse racism. The reality is that white people are often prioritized for opportunities, or treated more leniently by police.

These are prime examples of white privilege, yet many do not realize it. If this behavior is to end, white people need to acknowledge it exists and make an effort to educate themselves on how they contribute to its existence. For many people of color, the lack of awareness is just as detrimental to an equal society as hardline racism.

Our white-centered culture seeps into everything. On television, the positive role models are mostly white. Conversely, people of color are often cast in roles that have negative connotations. The result is an endless stream of white role models for children of color.

One of the reasons for this lack of diversity is the fear that diversity will minimize white influence. This of course is an unfounded notion but one that is steeped an irrational fear of the white majority losing its power.

It is the reason that many progressive ideas face heavy criticism. For example, when a Black actress wins a role that was previously played by a white actress results in online petitions. For all of the talk by liberal whites of equality, the reality is that many only want equality on their terms.

This goes back to the lack of positive roles for people of color. If there were more than a handful of opportunities on television, stage, and in movies, the perceptions may change. The plethora of negative roles for people of color feeds into the racist rhetoric of anti-immigrant hardliners and speaks to the fears of those who listen to them.

If there were more positive roles and more positive representation, it would be harder to disparage people of color. If Britain is to move away from a white-centered culture, then diversity in media and the arts is essential. Despite arguments against diversity, an increase of positive opportunities for people of color would be a truer representation of Britain’s demographic.

Feminist movements are usually focused on white women, failing to represent women of color.

In recent years there have been a number of highly acclaimed shows that celebrate feminism. Yet, for all of their female empowerment, many of these shows only speak for one demographic, the white feminist. There still remains a lack of diversity and a central focus on white people.

One of the biggest issues the feminist movement has faced is its lack of representation of all women. In the media, the majority of feminist leaders are white and this is an indicator of how feminism helps to feed into a white-centered society.

The fact of the matter is that women of color have different experiences to white women. White women and women of color have to fight against sexism in society. But only women of color have to endure racism in addition to sexism. Many white feminists fail to acknowledge this experience and ultimately fail to fully address the experiences that affect women of color.

To make the problem worse, many white feminists take issue with this accusation and do not agree their agenda prioritizes their race. However, taking race into account is the only way to fully address the need for equal opportunities. Without addressing the issues of all women, then the fight is not really for an equal society.

The categorization of classes in Britain focuses only on the white experience, reinforcing race-based exclusion.

The class system in Britain has been instrumental in making sure racial disparities remain. The traditional view of class in Britain has working-class whites on the lowest tier. However, this three-tier approach excludes all non-whites.

People of color are less likely to achieve economic wealth as white people. In addition, when austerity measures were passed in Britain, it was not the working-class whites that suffered the most, but people of color. Yet the narrative of the working-class whites is still used by many.

This is primarily to maintain the identity of Britain as a white nation. Britain still thinks of itself as a white country and therefore, the class system is only in reference to white Britons. The exclusion of Britain’s other citizens speaks volumes.

The Main Take-away

For the majority of Britain’s white population, the racist rhetoric of the Empire is rooted firmly in the past. The truth is somewhat different. While Britain’s society today is more progressive and diverse, its past continues to inform its present.

If the racist influence of Britain’s colonial past is to be put to rest, then effective measures need to be implemented. This means white people need to be prepared to acknowledge their own white privilege and be open to a discussion about it.

Culturally, people of color need to be given the opportunity to become positive role models. The continued prioritization of whites leads to perpetuating negative stereotypes that contribute to society’s structural racism.

For Britain to become a truly progressive nation with equal opportunities for all, white Britons need to make serious changes. Recognizing privilege is a start but being engaged in rectifying many other aspects of society is also essential. If Britain as a nation can address its racism, then it can take the necessary steps to erase it.

About the Author

Reni Eddo-Lodge is a British journalist, author, and podcaster. She has earned critical acclaim for her work and is a Sunday Times bestselling author.

Eddo-Lodge is the recipient of numerous awards including the 2018 British Book Award for Narrative Nonfiction, Orwell Prize for Political Writing, Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction, and the 2018 Jhalak Prize.

As a journalist, Eddo-Lodge has written for The Guardian, The Independent, and The New York Times. Her podcast, About Race With Renni Eddo-Lodge, was named one of the best podcasts of 2018 by British GQ magazine. In 2020, Eddo-Lodge was in the Powerlist top 100 most influential people in the UK. She lives in London.


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