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Flagrant Racism Posing as Social Justice

1 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-09-18

I was recommended this book by a great Nigerian friend I’ve know since I was 16. Given nature of the title, I was ambivalent but decided to give it a go all the same. I did my best to engage the book in good faith, giving the author credit when she made good points, and not strawmanning those with which I disagreed (however strongly).

Here is the crux of my problem with this book. Eddo-Lodge frames her argument in such a way that it’s impossible for a “white” person to have an honest disagreement with any of her premises without reinforcing them, i.e. “See? You just don’t get it because you’re white. You just proved my point”. It’s the intellectual equivalent of “You’re in denial”, “Why are you so defensive?”, or “You always want to have the last word” (or even the classic last resort that Christian fundamentalists use when confronted with a good faith argument, “That’s exactly what Satan would say”). In other words, if there is no possible good faith retort that wouldn’t reinforce the very point of contention in the eyes of the other person (e.g. “I’m not in denial”, “I’m not defensive”, “I don’t always want to have the last word” etc.) you have rendered your inoculated your argument against criticism. This is the sign of a bad argument, not a good one.

Incidentally, I’m Hispanic, I have lived in three continents, have belonged to both the majority and the minority group for years at a stretch, and as the latter have experienced prejudice, profiling, and discrimination, as well as immense privilege, and whether I’m “white” depends on who you ask, where and when. The fact that my life story doesn’t fit neatly into Eddo-Lodge’s essentialist picture of “white” people gives me a different perspective on many of the issues she raises, and no doubt some of my disagreements (but also some agreements) are born out of that. However, my gripe with the the book is deeper than that the sum of my experiences.

In analytic philosophy you’re taught to detect both the explicit premises stated in an argument and the tacit premises that underpin them. The latter are the unstated assumptions that would have to be true in order for the explicit premises to make sense. Generally, the more assumptions there are, the more vulnerable the argument is. Eddo-Lodge’d book is laden with such assumptions, generalisations, and rather embarrassingly for a supposed anti-racism activist, essentialist claims about race.

This is not to say that there isn’t also some sharp analysis of the issue of racism in modern Britain, but it’s undermined rather than strengthened by her style of argument, which is a shame given the real need to address racism across multiple levels of society.

I’m frustrated by a glaring contradiction in her book that she seems to be oblivious to. This is, on the one hand, the notion presented in her last chapter that the conversation about race will be necessarily messy and uncomfortable, and that we should overcome that in order to address racism. Yet, on the other hand, she tells readers only talk to people who already agree with them about these issues, and confirms this in her own experience of breaking out of white feminist circles simply because of their disagreements with her. In others words, we are at once implored to have a “messy conversation” while seeking out and remaining inside echo chambers, avoiding confrontation with opposing view points. The whole point of a messy conversation is that, by nature, there will be uncomfortable disagreements, and you should be prepared to face them, not run away because you “can’t be bothered with white people”.

The climax of this diatribe is in equal parts depressing as it is dangerous. Don’t seek unity, she says. Power must be taken by force, and there is no end in sight to the struggle, so don’t bother asking me about what my goal is. Doing so, according to her, will only confirm her suspicions that you are not a genuine advocate of progress but instead would rather just put a lid on the whole racism thing and continue to sweep it under the rug. This type of rhetoric has echoes of the Communist Manifesto, and has more in common with a Malcom X than with Martin Luther King (the latter’s call to judge people by the content of their character rather than by the colour of their skin derided early on in the book).

Her worldview, seemingly born out of Marxist conflict theory, is not just incompatible with dialogue, but positively hostile to it. In her eyes, the liberals flying the flag of Martin Luther King are more dangerous to her movement than the BNP because while the former are a stifling and insidious form of opposition, at least you know where you stand with the latter.

When this is the style of argument invoked, there is no possible disagreement that could be seen as being in good faith. Every bad argument I protest against is merely a confirmation of her original view. Forget the fact that black intellectual heavyweights such as Glenn Loury, Thomas Sowell and Coleman Hughes also disagree with her views vehemently.

Despite occasional citings of research, this is not a scholarly book. It is a political manifesto written by an activist. The lazy argumentation, strawmanning of opposing views and outright calls for echo chambers that reinforce
– rather than challenge – confirmation bias demonstrates this. If you’re looking for sharp political theory, this is the wrong book. Anyone from Russeau to Rawls or Nozick would be more appropriate. If what you’re after is the writings of a radical political activist á la Owen Jones, you’re in the right place.

With that said, and in spite of the low rating (mostly due to quality rather than content) I still recommend people read it. The reason is that it’s important to familiarise oneself with this style of argument, particularly as it gains prevalence in schools, universities, the media, and increasingly, mainstream society (particularly on the Left). If you can borrow the book from someone, do so. If your only choice is to purchase it, I still begrudgingly recommend you do it.

Next I plan to read “Brit(ish)” by Afua Hirsch, which deals with similar issues but which (given what I’ve seen of her on TV) I hope will be more carefully argued.

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