Ideal for: White People. Especially those who do not think they are racist. White People that are racist, you're going to need more help.
Avoid if: You're a racist and proud. You're lost already.
Age: YA and above
Chapters and pages: Seven chapters and 247 pages.
This book is incredibly honest, accurate and hard hitting. In all honesty, there are moments I felt uncomfortable reading this. Because it addresses so many issues that I, as a white woman, would never have acknowledged.
Reni Eddo-Lodge presents a thoroughly researched account of black history, politics and feminism. With interviews from the creator of Black History Month to Nick Griffin, Reni explores all aspects of Britain's racism.
I’m ashamed to admit that prior to seeing this book on Our Shared Shelf, I wouldn’t have picked it up. I would have thought “but I’m not racist! Racism doesn’t affect me, I don’t see colour, etc.” And for all of you who think that, that is exactly why we need to read this book. We refuse to acknowledge racism in our society because we think by ignoring it, that by viewing everyone as “just humans”, the problem will go away. It won’t.
Each chapter discusses a different aspect of racism; history, system, white privilege, fear of a black planet, feminism, class, and the future. So I will review this book by its chapters as each raises so many discussions, of which I shall summarise each chapter in bullet points with my views alongside.
Like most people in Britain, my education with Black History started And ended with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Not that this part of history is invalid, its just not the full picture.
I knew Britain had a sinister history in regards to people of colour. From the slave trade, to the British Empire ans to the more recent Brexit and BNP/UKIP parties. But there is quite a jump between those periods, thus missing our own civil rights movement.
"Racism does not erupt from nothing, rather it is embedded in British Society. It's in the very core of how the state is set up. It's not external. It's in the system". This history is vital to our understanding of racism in Britain. Here are some of the key facts I discovered from this chapter.
• Abortion of slavery introduced 1833, less than 200 years ago, It had been operating for 270 years.
• 1987 London begins to celebrate black history
• The Windrush Generation of 1948
• Over a million Indian soldiers fought for Britain in WW1. Despite the war having nothing to do with India. They were told India would be freed from the colonial rule. This was revoked.
• Newport Riots 1919: rumours of a black man slighting a white woman circulated.
• In 1919 Charles Wootton, a black sailor, was thrown into Kings Dock and pelted with Bricks until he died. This followed by any black person in Liverpool being attacked by white people on site.
• League of Coloured Peoples established 1931
• Dr Harold Moody; a black doctor who was in a relationship with a white woman of whom he had children with.
• Anthropologist Rachel M. Fleming researched "hybrid children" aka, mixed race children.
• British Nationality Act 1948: a law that gave all commonwealth victims the same rights as British subjects.
• LandLord Peter Rachman, creator of "Rachmanism" a concept which is still around today in which landlords exploit their tenants and subject them to slum like living conditions. Black people were mainly subjected to Rachman as he was the only landlord who would let property to them.
• 1958 Notting Hill Teddy Boys begin rioting, hunting and attacking any black person they saw.
• In 2002, government documents revealed that the police had successfully convinced Home Secretary Rab Butler that the Nottinghill riots of the late 50's was nothing to do with race.
• Labour MP Archibald Fenner Brockway and the Race Descriminations Act 1960.
• Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists, returns to politics.
• 1962, Commonwealth Immigration Act, essentially revoking the British Nationality Act of 48. Those from the Commonwealth and beyond who wished to live in Britain had to have a job secured.
• 1965 Britain's first ever Race Relations Act. Stating that overt racial discrimination was no longer legal in public spaces -but excluding shops or private housing.
• 1965 Guy Bailey and the Bristol Omnibus Company.
• 1970 Police Officers often wielded a section of the 1824 Vagrancy Act, of which they could harass anyone who looked "suspicious". Nine times out of ten, this meant anyone of colour.
• 1982 John Fernandes, a black sociology lecturer attempted to teach the police force how their behaviour was racist.
• 1985, police officers burst into the Groce Family home, shooting the mum, Cherry, in the chest whilst proceeding to shout at her for information on her son. Cherry Groce was left paralysed from the waist down. Needless to say at this point the Groce Family is black.
• 1985, Floyd Jarrett, a young black man is arrested for having an out of date tax disc. The Police search his home, which he shared with his elderly mother, sister and niece.
• They let themselves into his home with his keys because they suspect he has stolen goods. An officer pushed Floyd's mother, causing her to fall, have a heart attack and die. Her death was labelled "accidental".
This book taught me so much about British History I felt incredibly embarrassed to not know. From the Bristol Bus Drivers to the various laws in place that have deprived justice to victims of racism, I knew none of it. And I'll bet not many other people do too. We are all vaguely aware of black history in Britain. Much like we are aware of events around the world but realistically know nothing. Being aware and knowing are two very different states I have learned.
• Stephen Lawrence, 1993
• 2012, nineteen years after Lawrence's murder, his killers are finally punished.
• Systematic Racism; how our relationship with racism has distorted and infected equal opportunity.
• How laws have not benefited but work against people of colour.
• We live in a world that is against non-white people. That's the truth.
We have always associated racism with white extremism and nationalism and use of the N word. But the harsh reality is, its in our every day lives. We assume that because the N word hasn't been used, the action cannot be called racist. We cannot recognise racism because we have trained ourselves to ignore it. If it does not affect us, we will not care.We think that by eliminating racism, by refusing to acknowledge it, it will go away. It is a childish, stunted way of tackling racism. But sadly it is the approach that so many of us are taking.
"I don't see colour"
Prior to reading this book, I thought it was the best method. I thought that if I didn't discuss race, if I didn't see it, it would cease to exist. Yep good one Harriet.
But seeing Race is what we need to change the system. Like we want men to acknowledge we are women who are different to men, yet we should be celebrated as different, I believe this is the approach we need to take to ensure that racism is changed.
• What we, as white people, take for granted. The opportunities that we are offered, the lives we lead, the choices we are able to make.
• Fact: white people have not, and cannot experience racism.
• White privilege is the automatic sense of trust that is extended to you in any situation. Reni draws on an experience in a job interview, of which she was interrogated over her tweets about racism. I on the other hand, routinely tweet Donald Trump a whole variety of insults and political questions. Yet I have never once been questioned over it.
• White privilege is being seen as "diverse" and "intersectional" when we talk about race. Whilst anyone who isn't is seen as the "angry black man/woman".
• White privilege is feeling angry when the "race card" is played.
• Reni says that racism and black identity are very different things. Racism is a white identity. Racism is this bizarre fear white people have inherited over the centuries against people of colour. If there is one thing to take away from this book it is this distinction. White people are racist. It is a white identity.
"Racism's legacy does not exist without purpose. It bring with it not just a dis-empowerment by those affected by it, but an empowerment for those who are not." I went to university with a guy whose family was from Pakistan. He had a "foreign" sounding name and couldn't get a job. Thus he began the process of legally changing his name to a more western sounding one. At first, I found this baffling. Surely, surely in 2015, this was not the case? This is London! The home of diversity! In my white privilege, I could not imagine a world in which my name would exclude me from opportunities. But in hindsight, I understand his concerns and I wish I could have understood sooner.
"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."
An aspect that this book heavily discusses, and has indeed been discussed many times before is, can white people be on the receiving end of racism?
Once upon a time I would have thought yes. To me, racism was discriminating against someone because of the colour of the skin. In one very basic form it is. But, and this is a big but, as a white person, you can be treated with prejudice, malice, and unkindness, but at no point in your life will you ever experience racism. It is not as simple as being judged and treated differently based on the colour of your skin. Racism is a whole system. It is a system that has been brewing and evolving for years against anyone who isn't white. Therefore, you cannot ever experience racism. Also, the only time you can take offence from being called a cracker is if you are in fact a biscuit, and even then, you need to reevaluate your life.
• Enoch Powell, 1963 "The black man will have the whip hand over the white man".
• An Interview with Nick Griffin
• Token Characters and those who are assumed to be white.
• Black Hermione Granger
• Black representation
• Black representation is something I have become acutely aware of recently. In light of an all girls Ghost Busters remake, a new Oceans film with an all female cast, and Daisy Ridley the first ever female jedi/protagonist. It's been an exciting few years to be a woman. Finally we are being represented as dynamic individuals! Yet, these are almost all white women.
"White people are so used to seeing a reflection of themselves in all representations of humanity at all times, that they only notice it when its taken away from them." I get annoyed as a woman when I don't see other women in positions of power. I feel let down and misrepresented. I get excited when I read a book and the protagonist and I have something in common. I was elated to read Tricia Levenseller's Daughter of the Pirate King and discover the protagonist was a red head. Since delving into the world of book bloggers and thus discovering more and more fandoms, I have discovered how white this all is. At first, I thought, why? Reading is something anyone should enjoy. But, I soon discovered that this is because so many authors write white protagonists. These past few years have seen a huge increase in women who write fantasy. They have spawned thousands of devoted fans. From SJMaas and her ACOTAR series to Marissa Meyer and the Lunar Chronicles. I explored the fan art of these fandoms and was taken aback by how white their interpretations are. These fandom's are excluding people of colour from them through their lack of identifiable characters!
As a book blogger, I like to live the lives I physically cannot live. Yet I probably own a grand total of five books by women of colour. Why do I not actively or even subconsciously gravitate towards books that discuss race? A part of me is scared. A part of me thinks that reading books by people of colour will make me confront my own role within this very racist society. I'm not out there being your generic slim head, yet I'm not out there protesting at black lives matter either. It's also shame. I am ashamed at the fact I haven't explored or made an effort to learn more about the black literature. It's like how I said with feminist reads a while ago, they aren't hard reads, they are accessible to all. So why should reading a book by a woman of colour be any different? Maybe because I know the premise is one in which I won't be able to physically identify with the narrator. Yet I've managed to read far too many series with a white straight man leading when I have more in common with a woman of colour than I do a man. It's a mess. A confusing mess.
• White feminism
• "Feminism, at its best, is a movement that works to liberate all people who have been economically, socially and culturally marginalised by an ideological system that has been design for them to fail. That means disabled people, black people, trans people, women and non-binary people, LGB people and working class people"
• Intersectional Feminism
• The topic of White Feminism is what drew me to this book in the first place. Emma Watson was dubbed a white feminist and thus set out to explore that entire concept. As someone who religiously follows Our Shared Shelf, and who looks to women like Emma Watson for guidance on her feminist literature, I knew I had to follow suit.
White feminism is the horrible part of feminism that doesn't fight nor acknowledge the rights of people of colour.White Feminism sees racism as another issue, something that feminism shouldn't be involved with. It's the "We will come back to that one later...". White Feminism is concerned with a very narrow minded view of what women's rights means.
Reni draws on experiences where she has been in feminist discussions and has pointed out the lack of black representation in the world of modelling. The white women in the room awkwardly bumbled over the subject and tried to make it out like it wasn't an issue. They later took offence at Reni and some other women of colour having their own separate feminist group. It is in my personal opinion that these white feminists do this because they are naive. Like many of us, they assume that if they don't talk about race, racism will cease to exist.
"Your silence will not protect you. Who wins when we don't speak? Not us."
For a long time I really resented the notion of "intersectional feminism". This means that you support the rights of all humans from all corners of the world. I hated that the word feminism wasn't for everyone. I hated the flaw in such a beautiful word. But as Reni says, feminism has a long way to go. It is still learning, still evolving, still adapting to this world. As a result, we feminists must go with it. We must learn more, we must keep up and be aware. So, I am an intersectional feminist and I am proud.
• Examining the relationship between working class people who are black and those who are white.
• "white working class communities"
• The offence white people have taken over the increasing people of colour in industries and the opportunities they receive.
This chapter really highlighted how many people associate working class and white to be the same thing. When in actual fact, the majority of working class people are black. This is because Britain still associates working class with the 1940's rose tinted lenses view. They are seen as the backbone of the country, which they are, but what they aren't is exclusively white. Given how our society has organised itself against all non-white people, it is no surprise that the majority of our low earners are people of colour. They are simply not given the same opportunities. White privilege at its finest again.
Reni also highlights how the assumption of rich immigrants coming here and stealing "our" jobs is actually a very very low percentage. This also draws attention to the frequent confusion by a lot of white people that the world beyond ours isn't all tribes tents and medieval garb. There was a lot of upset when some white people saw refugees from Syria with Iphones. SMH.
• How to end racism
• Racism cannot be countered by white guilt.
• Stop wallowing in self pity.
• Get out there and do something.
• This book isn’t a blue print on how to stop racism 101. That’s down to us, the readers, the bystanders, the people who are blinded by their privilege. But this book will educate you more than a class room ever can.
To everyone who has taken offence by this books title, you are the exact person who needs to read this. Once upon a time I probably would have thought along the same lines as you; “not all white people are the same FYI” or “please don’t give up on white people”. but the harsh reality is that we are all guilty of turning a blind eye to racism. Racism isn’t just the verbal and physical abuse we associate the word with. It is a system. It is something so entrenched in our society it’s maddening! We have all benefited from being white, whether we want to admit it or not. That is what has happened. You might think you have never stood by and watched but you probably have and you probably haven’t acknowledged the scenario let alone watched.
Reni emphasises the importance in talking about race. The moment we brush it under the carpet, we become an enabler of it. Yet at the same time, this doesn't mean asking insensitive questions. Nor does it mean heaping on the white guilt in conversation. Just talk. Discuss the topic. Ask questions. Be a normal person.
But as Reni also says; stop feeling guilty. Stop wallowing in the self pity of white guilt. Get out there and be angry. Talk about race. No matter how scary it might seem at first. Don’t shut down conversations, explore them.
Just do something!
I am far from perfect, my education is far from over. I am nowhere near being the perfect feminist. My ideas and beliefs are still evolving. Reading this book is not admitting defeat, you are not resigning yourself to being a racist or a bad person. You are opening yourself to the possibility of being a better person.
So please, give this book a chance.