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

Back in June, amidst the resurgence of the Black Lives Mater movement, Reni Eddo-Lodge became the first black, British author to top the UK book charts. Although I purchased the book a few years ago, I felt like there was no better time to read it than now. This post is a little long but bear with me, because it is an important book with lots to unpack. You can fast forward to the snapshot pros and cons if you wish!

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

Reni-Eddo Lodge

Bloomsbury, 2017

Genre: Non-fiction

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The long review

I’m going to start with the content, as I feel this really makes the book excel. Reni Eddo-Lodge takes a thematic approach to frame her argument and the entirety of the book. Essentially, she argues that the types of conversations we have about race in Britain need to drastically change. Instead of just acknowledging racism, white people need to realise the extent of their own unconscious bias and how deeply embedded this is within the parameters of British society.

Eddo-Lodge explores this argument with many different angles, including a brief historical overview of race in Britain, the criminal justice system, and analyzing the weaknesses of traditional feminist and class frameworks. Creating a thematic approach really enables the reader to understand how racism has been so built into our present system and what me must do to de-tangle it.

I particularly enjoyed reading the feminism section as it was truly eye opening and made me realise the limitations of its traditional white origins. Eddo-Lodge argues, “Feminism needs to demand a world in which racist history is acknowledged and accounted for, in which reparations are distributed, in which race is completely deconstructed.” I also really benefited from her explanation of white privilege, “Neutral is white. The default is white” and know that I will use this understanding to frame my own discussions I have with people about race.

Image: Women’s march, 2017, via Wikimedia

I also particularly enjoyed the section exploring race and class and how they are so interlinked. In Britain, the working-class paradigm is often presented within a dominant white framework, excluding people of colour. When importantly, people of colour share these struggles, but also are even more disadvantaged than the white working class, because of the colour of their skin. Someone who is white and working class, is more likely to get an interview for a job, than the same black candidate who applied – and Eddo-Lodge shows this through her use of alarming statistics. Thus, it is essential to include race within working-class discussions and identities because it is so relevant to Britain’s political consensus (Brexit, for example) and widening the debate.

Eddo-Lodge writes with clarity and a wealth of knowledge which makes the book incredibly digestible. Her argument is clear and carried throughout all the chapters, and it’s hard to come away not feeling completely compelled by it and further, questioning everything you have learned about race and the history of this country. It’s a book that undeniably makes you think at every stage and will cause you to re-assess everything about your own identity and attitude towards race.

The book was born from an initial blog post which was given the same title, but the argument remains the same. Eddo-Lodge argues that until we change the way we talk about race, due to the lack of ’emotional disconnect’ fostered from white people, and their refusal to accept structural racism, the types of conversations about race had are simply not worth having. The book was born from this frustration and I can see why she chooses to frame it in this way. In the first instant that the reader lays eyes on the title, they are encouraged to question their own potential bias and misunderstandings about race.

Image: Cover of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s podcast, that can be found via Spotify

The narrative of struggle outlined by Eddo-Lodge is laced with emotion and frustration and this becomes evident with the direct language she uses. It makes the reader unable to hide from the realities that she presents and is in many ways, a good thing. However, I do not think this approach would be preferable to every reader and fear that those who could perhaps benefit from reading this the most, are left out of the conversation. Of course, I understand that she is frustrated about talking to white people about issues they can never understand and how one sided this can be, however, not all white people are like this and I think this polarisation does not benefit the importance of widening the conversation.

Nevertheless, everything is explained in such a clear way, that I completely see why so many people have been drawn to this book and used it as a starting point. It is very accessible but at the same time, full of detail and complexity. Above all, she provides an essential and nuanced framework for discussing race and what it is like to be a person of colour today, but particularity living in Britain. Britain very much needed this book – and everyone could benefit from reading it.

Image: Pixabay

Pros

  • The structure provides a clear overview of Britain’s racial history and the problems faced today within every aspect of society
  • The language and approach is easy to follow, making it an accessible read for everyone
  • It provides an explanation of the best language to use when making these important discussions about race which I found very useful
  • It is a book which will always be relevant – and is framed in a way that is timeless and essential for people to understand how Britain got where it is today
  • It’s short and concise so will not take that long to read
  • It’s bold language and statements will make you challenge everything you know about race and your own privilege – it will make you think, re-assess and make changes

Cons

  • Although I understand the purpose of the title and the reasoning behind it, I don’t necessarily feel it is the best way to get more people to read this book. It is deliberately inflammatory and I can appreciate why, but not everybody will. Some people will just refuse to read the book, based on the title alone
  • Her bold and assertive approach will not be for everyone and may not work for those who perhaps could benefit the most from reading this book

Key quotes

“We tell ourselves that racism is about moral values, when instead it is about the survival strategy of systemic power.”

Colour blindness does not accept the legitimacy of structural racism or a history of white racial dominance.”

Feminism will have won when we have ended poverty.”

Like many others, I am still learning about the best ways to talk about race. As always, If you think I need to phrase something differently or I’ve said something out of line – please let me know. I won’t take offence but will be thankful you have pointed it out.

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Currently reading ~ 21st July

Just a quick mid-week catch up from me. There won’t be any reviews this week as I don’t think I am near finishing a book. Last week I whizzed through An American Marriage, and finished A Tale of Two Cities, however, this week I have started two new books that have been on my TBR pile for a very long time.

Image: Violet Daniels

I read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch last year and completely fell in love with the writing. A few years before I had read The Secret History and really enjoyed it, but The Goldfinch was really something else.

The Little Friend is the first book Tartt published back in 2003, before she had received so much literary acclaim. Being a fan, I of course wanted to pick this up. It is written in the same fashion as The Goldfinch, as Tartt centers on one narrator’s intimate perspective to tell the story. This time it is told through the perspective of twelve year old Harriet, living in Mississippi in the 1970s.

One day when Harriet was young, her brother was found hanging from a tree in the family’s yard, and ever since his murder hasn’t been solved. Harriet sets herself the task of solving the murder despite her family’s hesitancy. Harriet is bright and observant – making her an excellent narrator for the intricate story that follows.

I’m only around 200 pages in out of 624, but I am really enjoying it so far. It’s definitely a slow burner, as to be expected, but it already contains so much suspense and intrigue that will inevitably keep me reading. Tartt has such an eye for detail and ability to write literary and poetic prose, which is what I love so much about her writing. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this! Although I feel like I should savor it as Tartt usually takes 8-10 years to write a book!

Also how beautiful is this cover? 🙂

Image: Violet Daniels

This has been one of the most sought after books since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and I can totally see why.

Although I’m only about 1/3 of the way through, Eddo-Lodge writes in such a clear and concise way, making even the most complicated issues easy to understand. She provides a well informed account of black history in Britain and how our education system has typically left the worse parts out (Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, colonialism and the race riots of the 1980s to name a few examples) and makes a case for a revolution in how British people understand racial inequality.

She goes on to tackle other sections to uncover how racism is embedded within our institutions and takes a look at white privilege – however, I haven’t got that far yet! It’s safe to say I’ve learnt more in these first 100 pages about black history than I was ever taught at school.

I would highly recommend this! Really accessible but super informative.

My July TBR as it stands

  1. An American Marriage
  2. A Tale of Two Cities
  3. The Little Friend
  4. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
  5. How I learned to Hate in Ohio (e-ARC/NetGalley)

General update

This week I’ve been having a bit of a break from writing, last week I churned out quite a lot of stuff and now feel a bit burned out. I think I’m going to focus on reading instead, and just jotting down writing ideas when they come. I’ve been getting back into running this week, not doing anything crazy but just easing myself back in.

I recently hit a milestone of 100 followers and am feeling very grateful for this little online space I have crafted for myself.

I’m still pitching to other publications and having no luck… but I am not giving up and still trying so that’s the main thing! Many places, including big ones like The Guardian have been hit really badly by Covid-19 and it’s not surprising that their commission budgets have been slashed. I think it’s going to be really hard for me to get things published, so I’m going to focus on my blog and other smaller, student/graduate ran places.

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing reviews and uploading them to YouTube, but I am really not sure. I love the idea of it and think they could potentially reach more people but I also know that the platform is flooded with other people doing the same thing. If you have any thoughts on this, let me know!

That’s it for now. Hope you are all keeping well and safe.

Violet xxx

Book Review: An American Marriage

This is probably going to end up being a very ‘gushy’ review so forgive me if it reads that way! I was blown away by this book and can’t believe I had waited so long to read it.

As I’m now part of the online book community (feels weird saying that as I have such a small following!) I have a responsibility, like so many others, to make sure I am reading a diverse range of books. Back in June I pledged to read at least one book a month written by an author of colour. It certainly isn’t going to change the world I know, but it’s a step in the right direction.

An American Marriage

Tayari Jones

Genres: novel, domestic fiction

Book 41/50

My rating: ★★★★★ 

Synopsis (Waterstones)

“Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of the American Dream. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. Until one day they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit.

Devastated and unmoored, Celestial finds herself struggling to hold on to the love that has been her centre, taking comfort in Andre, their closest friend. When Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, he returns home ready to resume their life together.

A masterpiece of storytelling, An American Marriage offers a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three unforgettable characters who are at once bound together and separated by forces beyond their control.”

My review

An American Marriage is a profound work of storytelling with an imperative message about the ongoing, racial injustices that ensnare American society. It follows the lives of a newly wed black couple, Celestial and Roy. On the surface their life seems perfect and fulfilled, as they both have careers and a house to call their own- it is the beginning of a life together.

However, their whole life and relationship is turned upside down when Roy gets falsely accused of rape. Despite a lack of evidence to justify his conviction, Roy is automatically assumed guilty due to the colour of his skin and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What follows for him is five years in prison, serving time for a crime he did not commit. Somehow, Celestial also has to try and continue with her life – the dilemma of wanting to put her life on hold for Roy’s sake, and wanting to move on, is at the heart of her sections in the novel.

Jones explores the undercurrent of systemic racism which is ever present in America’s judicial system and how black men in particular, are still the dominant scapegoats within American society. The forces that strip Roy’s life apart are completely beyond his control, which exposes the endless sense of injustice that so many black people have to live with.

Image: Oprah.com

Within the exploration of racism and the criminal justice system is also the exploration of a relationship falling apart. Celestial and Roy write each other letters to try and make their relationship stay afloat. All the while, Celestial is pursing a relationship with her lifelong best friend, Andre. Roy has the suspicion that she is seeing someone else, but cannot confront it until he is released. The use of letters throughout the novel was incredibly poignant and well crafted, as readers, you really see an insight into the undercurrents of their relationship and their individual thoughts, feelings and perceptions.

Chapters alternate between the perspective of Roy, Celestial and Andre which I think really adds to the complexity. This multi layered perspective gives a real insight into how one event, predominantly affecting one individual, has a wider impact. Both Celestial and Roy’s actions made me angry in a variety of ways, but you know you’re reading a good book when it forces you to feel something.

Image: Pinterest

I can’t say too much without giving the plot away but Celestial and Roy are both flawed beings and the time spent in prison perhaps shows how their marriage was always futile. When Roy is released, he and Celestial have to try and rebuild their lives and bridge the gap between them that five years spent apart created. The last section of the book is harrowing, as Roy has to adjust to all the changes that have happened since his time inside.

In An American Marriage, Jones manages to craft a compelling story, a set of likeable and investable characters as well as an imperative message about the racial injustices so prominent within American society. It forced me to reflect on my own privilege, as being a white woman, I don’t have to live with the threat that one day I could be stopped for something I didn’t do, just because of the colour of my skin.

I consumed this book so quickly and was completely mesmerized by the writing, the characters and the message. Jones manages to combine an exploration of class, race, gender and all the surrounding injustices with so much poignancy and ease of delivery which makes it a masterpiece of its own kind.

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Like many others, I am still learning about the best ways to talk about race. As always, If you think I need to phrase something differently or I’ve said something out of line – please let me know. I won’t take offence but will be thankful you have pointed it out.

Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities

I could write an essay about the eternal greatness of this book, but I thought I would keep it simple.

I think a lot of people are put off by classics because of their density and complexity. A Tale of Two Cities is both these things, but once you get beyond that, it is a truly remarkable story. In my opinion, classics are always relevant, and in starting this blog I was on a mission to try and write about books in a more accessible and down to earth way, but haven’t really gotten round to focusing on classics.

Ever since I came across the famous opening line, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…” I have known I wanted to read this.

In a way, I think this current climate is one of the best times to read it. We too, are living in a time of great change and upheaval, but obviously, in many different ways.

Synopsis

Written in 1859, this is a book divided between London and Paris, set in the period between the French Revolution of 1789 and the Reign of Terror which followed.

It centers on these characters: Lucie Manette, her father, Alexandre Manette, who is rescued from imprisonment, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carlton, who are both in love with Lucie, Jarvis Lorry, who rescues Lucie in bringing her back to England, and finally, the Defrages, owners of a ‘radical’ wine shop situated at the heart of the revolution. Darnay is wrongly accused of being a traitor and is imprisoned in the Bastille. During his time on trial, Dickens documents the spirit of post Revolutionary France and the constant state of terror that dominated. No one was exempt from the threat of the Guillotine, or the repressive State under Robespierre.

In a lot of ways, it is a historical novel, but also one of universal hope. Dickens speaks about the importance of humanity arising from the darkness and striving for betterment. During our own uncertain times, it seemed an apt novel to read. Indeed, Dickens’ words of wisdom have the power to transmit through generations, and they certainly do here.

Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Image: Violet Daniels
  • Dickens paints a picture of this particular moment, which is why I loved it so much. I have always been fascinated by this period, and therefore it’s incredible to see it reflected on, in an absorbing and visceral way.
  • Unlike other Dickens novels, there aren’t too many characters to keep track of. There are a handful of main characters that feature more than others and often, each chapter features a new character and perspective, which I liked.
  • The language is beautiful, timeless and utterly immersive. But Dickens is also analytical, and a provider of historical and social commentary, which is fascinating.
  • The metaphors are well thought out and consistent. I particularly liked the comparison between the Revolutionary fever, crowds and the endless blood created from the Guillotine, to the sea and forces of nature. Nature is unpredictable, and so is the Republic in its slaughter of civilians, this illustration is stark and uncomfortable, but conveys so much feeling.
  • I found the plot at the start hard to follow and did have to do a bit of Googling just to make myself more familiar with the story.
  • It contains an important message which can be applied to our time. Despite tough periods in history, we have always arisen from it and retained the sense of hope for a better future. In this Covid-age, I couldn’t help but feel this sentiment was significant.
  • Despite the horror that is depicted throughout, it ends on a positive note, “I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss” in other words, people (and more widely, humanity) is always capable of changing and a better world is always possible. This pandemic is global and the fight is real, but one day we’ll look back on it and be better for the experience.

My favourite quote

Aside from the opening passage, I feel this quote sums up the novel and draws upon that clever comparison between the feeling of the revolution and the oppressive state, and the unpredictability of nature,

“With a roar that sounded as if all the breath in France had been shaped into the detested word, the living sea rose, wave on wave, depth on depth, and overflowed the city to that point.”

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Book review: Broadwater

Many thanks to Net Galley and Fairlight Books for providing me with an e-ARC copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review. Broadwater is due to be published September 3, 2020. I hope you enjoy the review!

Genres: Short story, literary fiction, multicultural interest

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Image: Fairlight Books

Broadwater is a collection of short stories, told through a variety of different perspectives from the inhabitants of Broadwater Farm, an area in Tottenham, North London. The area is home to multiple generations and nationalities – all sharing a common experience of living in the high density housing that regularly graces some of London’s most deprived areas.

Each story, told through a different inhabitant, features the struggles of everyday life – be that the lingering impact of Windrush and the hostile environment policy, economic struggles, difficulties in family life and relationships, living with mental health problems, and the ongoing battle to just stay afloat. Every story is told in such a raw, human centered way, that the reader cannot help but fully empathise with each individual. It truly reveals the sense of the “cope and hope” style of life that the many individuals included in this book, seem to subscribe to.

Written in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster and during the Coronavirus epidemic that has highlighted the ongoing racial inequality in the UK, Broadwater is a collection of stories so suited to this time and one that will always be relevant. The promises of regeneration projects across deprived areas of London in recent years, have consistently failed to live up to expectations, as echoed by the portrayal of living conditions in these stories and by the characters themselves,

“Look, however you dress it up Ricky, so-called regeneration is just a pretty word for social cleansing.”

After a series of riots in the late 1980s, Broadwater was given a bad reputation, but in recent years has been revived. Despite the hardship woven throughout this book, told through a myriad of different stories and perspectives, what unites them all is the shared experience of community. Every character is connected to the next and there is a common bond of solidarity that defines the feeling of this book. Each story is short and sweet, but connects to the larger picture, which is the commonality of human experience.

The book largely centers on the struggles caused by long term racial inequality, as Broadwater is home to one of the most ethnically diverse areas in London. Each story and the variety of character experiences, really reflect this in such a harrowing and eye opening way. In light of recent events in the US, and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, these stories feel all the more important and relevant for everyone to read.

But the stories also speak to everyone regardless of race, on a human level. In her writing, Jac Shreeves-Lee demonstrates the beauty in the everyday which corresponds so jarringly with an unavoidable sense of suffering. In the many stories featured in the collection is the sense of lost dreams, but channeled beautifully with a sense of hope and wonder for life.

Broadwater is a community joined together by a variety of backgrounds, races, ethnicities and the individuals that tell its story are amalgamated by a shared sense of commonality due to the endless strive for hope and the promise of a better life.

It lingers with an unavoidable sense of the harsh realities of life that so many people living in deprived areas of London face, despite the endless promises of something better to come. But on the flip side, reveals the power in the shared community, which ultimately, is the driving force that keeps so many individuals afloat.

A powerful collection of short stories that enlightens the mind and soul – it is as honest as it is captivating, and the characters will linger with you long after you finish the final pages.

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