RAD Book Club review: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

14 Nov 2018

RAD Book Club’s second read in our fourth series was the non-fiction work by Reni Eddo-Lodge Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, an insightful and personal account of race and ethnic relations in contemporary Britain. Eleven of us met to talk about this book.

The journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge’s first book is based on her blog post of 22 February 2014 in which she explained the reasons why she would not talk to white people about race any more. The author uses the book to expand on that original idea as a way to explain race and ethnic relations in contemporary Britain. In particular, she dwells in the concepts of privilege, white guilt and fragility, structural racism, unconscious bias, and the intersection between race and gender and race and class, among others.

Those of us who did not already know much about the subject already, found the long introduction about British black history educational and interesting. It was useful in setting the scene and providing context for ideas developed later in the book. Many thought that the strength of the book resided in the original blog post, which was recreated as the preface, and was described by one member as having the intensity of a manifesto. This tone was exactly what caught the attention of many of us, who felt very curious about how the author’s discourse would unfold, however a few felt it was extreme and accusatory and therefore alienating. Particularly when it came to discussing ideas about race in relation to feminism, an authentic, original voice emerged. That the tone was direct and accessible, rather than academic and whether this was a good thing was a hotly debated point, with some feeling that the line between personal anecdotes and evidence was too blurred to make the book a reliable basis on which to build an opinion about race and racism.

Whilst some enjoyed the accessible round-up of ‘issues’, for others the book didn’t unpack the core of the issues, maybe that the sweep of the book was too broad to cover everything adequately. Some said that parts of the book and the sources used were ill-informed and noted that a too simplistic or reductionist presentation could not only lead to misunderstandings but also be potentially dangerous or polarising. The suggestion was made that the personal nature of a blog did not translate well into a book and those that have seen them confirmed that Eddo-Lodge’s tendency to present her opinion as if having universal validity came across better in her podcasts. We also noted that some examples and statistics presented in the book felt disjointed and at times contradictory or confusing.

Our discussion demonstrated the complex nature of the issue at hand, the difficulty, and appropriateness of discussing this book at a book club where an interest in the subject matter may not be the primary reason for reading the book, topics can only be superficially touched on and some people may not feel comfortable sharing their views on this topic. Therefore, whilst people may have felt a personal reaction to the views expressed in the book, those that were voiced were mainly to do with the structure and the tone of the book rather than its content.

Our final verdict was that most of us appreciated the book more for what it tried to do rather than for what it actually achieved. As a group we gave it 5/10.