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

Narrated by: Reni Eddo-Lodge
Length: 5 hrs and 53 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (2,409 ratings)

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Summary

"I couldn't have a conversation with white folks about the details of a problem if they didn't want to recognise that the problem exists. Worse still was the white person who might be willing to entertain the possibility of said racism but still thinks we enter this conversation as equals. We didn't then, and we don't now."

In February 2014, Reni Eddo-Lodge posted an impassioned argument on her blog about her deep-seated frustration with the way discussions of race and racism in Britain were constantly being shut down by those who weren't affected by it. She gave the post the title 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race'. Her sharp, fiercely intelligent words hit a nerve, and the post went viral, spawning a huge number of comments from people desperate to speak up about their own similar experiences.

Galvanised by this response, Eddo-Lodge decided to dive into the source of these feelings, this clear hunger for an open discussion. The result is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of colour in Britain today, covering issues from eradicated black history to white privilege, the fallacy of 'meritocracy' to whitewashing feminism, and the inextricable link between class and race. Full of passionate, personal and keenly felt argument, Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race is a wake-up call to a nation in denial about the structural and institutional racism occurring in our homes.

©2017 Bloomsbury (P)2017 Audible, Ltd

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Flagrant Racism Posing as Social Justice

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.

456 of 543 people found this review helpful

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Some good facts about UK

overall the book is acceptable and it is noticeable that the author did some research.
How ever the view is strongly biased and one sided. 2 words could sum up this book - Victim mentality.

13 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Not great

Racism disguised as social justice was what one comment said and I agree completely. Listening to some of the arguments Reni put forward I found it hard to understand how you could possibly reason with her.

The narration could do with a little livening up, some passion would be nice. You don’t have to sound like you’re reading from a script, even though you are.

38 of 55 people found this review helpful

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A difficult read for an older white woman

I've just finished listening to this audio-book. My daughter recently went out for a while with a young black African man, and so I thought I should be better informed on current politics (being nearly 60 years old myself). I went through a range of emotions as I listened - from empathy, to resistance and anger, to realisation that I was feeling threatened because of my white privilege, exactly as the writer described. So for me this has been a very uncomfortable and challenging read, but one which has immeasurably widened and deepened my understanding of current race and gender politics and of the importance of intersectionism (not sure I got the terminology right there...). The areas covered and the structure of the book seemed to me to be highly relevant. Not sure what I'm going to do about it yet, but the last chapter was useful in this regard. and I'll discuss it with my (all white and female) book group tomorrow.

93 of 138 people found this review helpful

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Write like a journalist

Full of strawmen and know social science understanding. She does not deal with any counter argument in any serious way.

32 of 50 people found this review helpful

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It's certainly interesting...

Any additional comments?

What I can say is that this book was certainly interesting to listen to. Ms. Eddo-Lodge begins by detailing Britain's involvement in the black slavery of the past; a period that I have been meaning to learn more about, and she provides a good introduction that has convinced me to learn more. I was surprised, though, to find that the British blockade of western Africa was left out, which I thought was a shame. As the chapters continue, she covers such topics as police brutality and white privilege in occupations, education, and the law; topics which are also covered by writers such as Malcolm Gladwell in his book, "Blink". Unlike Malcolm Gladwell, however, she does not give any suggestion of potential solutions. There is only one reference to this, in the last chapter, where she claims that we are so far away from the solution that there is no point in discussing what could prove racism's final death... Personally, I look forward to names being removed from job and university applications, to account for any gender and race biases... I much prefer when a writer, who identifies a problem, will then suggest ways to rectify it. Ms. Eddo-Lodge does not do this, which unfortunately, is a little reminiscent of those who make there money by identifying these injustices; the permanent removal of which would not necessarily be in their best interests...Overall, the book was interesting, and her reading of it was easy to listen to, despite some intentional mispronunciations of words, which I didn't really understand the purpose of. It should keep your interest even if you do not agree with the things that she is saying, and I would certainly suggest it for anyone. As is suggested by the very title, it seems that Ms. Eddo-Lodge is under the impression that white people either won't or can't understand what it is to be black, and so it would be interesting to see her in a debate with individuals such as Candace Owens, Larry Elder, or Tommy Sotomayor. Appreciatively, they are Americans and so will have had different experiences, but still...

28 of 45 people found this review helpful

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  • Dee
  • England
  • 13-07-19

Describes structural racism for me very well

The words to describe the discrimination lived through is expressed wonderfully in this book. Recommended. Share with those that find it difficult to see how in some small or large way contribute to this issue.

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There is no such thing as justice, just us

This makes for uncomfortable listening for a person such as myself who is white and, I suppose, privileged. I say "I suppose" because I have never, as Reni Eddo-Lodge suggests "checked my privilege". It is easy for us to be colour blind when it comes to race. I certainly think I am and judge people by their actions rather that the colour of their skin. This book encourages us all to consider race rather than try to ignore it and it has certainly given me food for thought here. I had not thought about the concept of "intersectionality" either which is the combined impact of race, gender and class. I was surprised that the author had actively engaged with those form the far right including Katie Hopkins, Nick Griffin and Louise Mensch and quotes them verbatim here to demonstrate how far we need to go to eradicate racism from the United Kingdom. White people are, on the whole, terrified of being branded as racists, me included but so much of it is structural that unless awareness is raised by people such as Akala and Reni Ebbo-Lodge, then no progress can be made. As Terry Pratchett is quoted in this book "there is no justice, just us".

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Eureka

So good to hear the many thoughts I've had over the years echoed in this informative book. Now I know that my thoughts and feelings are pure.

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Enlightening, enjoyable and honest.

I've finished it in one day, couldn't put it down. Concise summary of historical and modern evens combined with authors experiences explain the statement in the title. Highly recommended for white readers like myself, who wish to learn rather than judge.

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  • Buretto
  • 08-03-18

In truth, I don't have THAT particular privilege

What did you love best about Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race?

I loved the author's power and passion about the subject. There is no doubt that she is sincere in her beliefs. I concur with nearly everything she presents here, save for a few flights of speculative fancy and the citing of some extremist views as mainstream. But as a white American male, I recognize that I am a guest in Ms. Eddo-Lodge's realm here, and respect the chance to hear ideas and learn from sources previously unknown to me.

I acknowledge the privilege I enjoy. My personal morality is based on that recognition and respecting that it is not universal. I have alienated family and friends with this worldview, and have done so without remorse. And I continue, at every chance, to chastise, scold, and occasionally, if I'm lucky, educate those who speak, hint or embolden racist ideas. Hence, the headline. It is my duty, and I accept it.

I don't write this to present myself as one of the "good ones", and to be honest, it doesn't overly concern me if Ms. Eddo-Lodge likes or respects me. I've taken my responsibility, and she's taken hers. I believe these are both positive steps, and I think she'd agree.

What other book might you compare Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race to and why?

I won't list them, but this is much better than many books of this type. She pulls no punches and makes her case. My only, cautious, exception is to the occasional supposition, perhaps unintentionally, of a monolithic black view. She acknowledges differences, primarily American and British, and even, ever so slightly, her own shortcomings. But it never descends to into victimhood.

Have you listened to any of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

It's the only book on Audible by her, but I'd be more than willing to listen to anything else she may produce.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes and, in fact, I did. It was refreshing to hear a reasoned, quite determined, presentation of views. All too often these kinds of discussions are grotesque shouting matches.

Any additional comments?

The author mentions the origins of the term "white skin privilege", but I thought it was useful to mention that term had started to gain momentum in 1999 and 2000, in the person of Bill Bradley, a presidential candidate (who lost the Democratic primary to Al Gore, who subsequently "lost" to George W. Bush in the general election). It seemed like a fair compromise which gave white people the opportunity to take a step back and see the big picture without immediately acknowledging complicity in active racism. It didn't seem to take, though.

Also, I'm curious whether the author didn't know, or didn't care, to give Public Enemy the credit for the name she gave to her worldview. It was a huge album back in '90.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Duane J.
  • 15-06-17

Jesus took the wheel...

and chauffeured Ms. Eddo-Lodge through a dynamic thought-provoking yet humbling piece of work. This book challenges you to challenge the idea of what 'normal' is. Whether it relates to race, sex, or gender and the intersectionality of it all. Bravo!

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Kevin Gallagher
  • 09-03-18

Extremely eye-opening, disheartening truth

As a white privileged male from America who is constantly wanting to learn about racial inequality, systemic and structural racism, and learning how to navigate my conversations with my friends of other races and ethnicities, I am so appreciative of this book! Not only did I expand my knowledge about the roots of racism, but also learned a great deal about racial inequity and inequality, cultural prejudices and gender inequality in the UK. Thank you Reni, you are a star.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Keith R. Smith
  • 15-12-17

Great study and insight on racism

This books does an excellent job of showing the history and structures of racism that exist beyond the American struggle. A must read to learn about race in the UK

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-06-18

Clear, comprehensive, British

Well researched with clear guidance, simply written and easily understood, free from activist jargon and therefore wonderfully accessible. Utterly thought provoking. A must read. Particularly poignant if you grew up in Britain during the 80’s as I did. I can’t recommend this book enough.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 16-05-18

awkwardnora

It helped me frame the ideas that I had into way that I could discuss with others. definitely recommend it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 15-05-18

ACCURATE

Finally! Someone has put into words how I feel. She is an AWESOME writer and narrator. Looking forward to more from her.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Demetria
  • 07-03-18

Race Relations in the UK

Would you listen to Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race again? Why?

Yes, I would listen to this book again! I'm actually buying the physical book because there was so many great points in it. I've recommended this book to several colleagues who have an interest in diversity and inclusion.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

It is interesting hearing the history of race unfold in the UK around the same time as the US went through the Civil Rights Movement. There were many similarities, for better or worse.

Have you listened to any of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not listened to any of performance before.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

There were several moments that moved me, that's why I'm buying the book. This is one book I'll read over and over again!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-10-17

Essential enlightening listening

Never have I come across a book that so succinctly lays out the context for racism in the UK.

will be giving this multiple listens. as this might as well be set as a taught text !

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 16-07-19

One of the most important books of the decade,

If not the most. Everyone should read, or in this case listen to, it. Especially white people. The lessons of this book are the ones we need to learn from in order to make our world a better place for all of us. So a very warm recommendation for this!