In the past 24 hours I have inhaled two books from cover to cover. I don't remember the last time I read a book in one sitting, let alone two!
'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race' (WINLTTWPAR) by Reni Eddo-Lodge and 'Trans Like Me' by CN Lester. I urge you to buy both and to read them one after the other like I did.
These books - both published in 2017 by Londoners younger than me - have a lot of similarities. While written from the perspective of blackness and trans-ness respectively, they hold a mirror up to those of us who see our whiteness and our cisgenderedness as so normal, so unremarkable, so 'neutral' (sic), as to not actually be worthy of our own attention. In holding up this mirror they enable us to see - if we hadn't already cottoned on! - that racism (not blackness) and the gender binary (not trans-ness) are the real problem, and help us to see how these oppressions are STRUCTURAL (and what that actually means).
Both manage simultaneously to offer an easy-to-understand '101' on (anti-)racism and gender (and, importantly, how these intersect with other forms of structural oppression such as class) and new insights for those of us who've been living and/or reading about this shit for many years.
Both provide at least a chapter of well-researched British and international history from which I learned a lot. 'WINLTTWPAR' recounts the history of racism in Britain up to and including 'Brexit', while 'Trans Like Me' includes examples of the existence of non-binary genders throughout history and (to a lesser extent - a shortcoming of the book in my opinion) across cultures.
Both authors share extensive reflections on their own intersectional feminism, and rejoinders to white feminism and trans-exclusionary radical feminism respectively.
Both also offer some practical suggestions for being part of the solution instead of wallowing in denial, defensiveness or guilt.
This week I've been thinking a lot about how when we live with structural privilege, we not only prefer to remain unaware of or actively to deny it, we also seek to discredit and close down those who stick their heads above the parapet to speak about and expose structural oppression. I had an experience of this just recently, which I'll talk about in a subsequent post.
Below are some extracts that particularly resonated with me from these books. All of the following words are direct extracts, which I have typed here not to appropriate the ideas but to encourage my friends to BUY and READ and TALK ABOUT these books.
'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race' - Redi Eddo-Lodge
From the original blog post on which this book was based:
'I'm no longer talking to white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms... I just can't engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do. They've never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white, so any time they're vaguely reminded of this fact, they interpret it as an affront... The journey towards understanding structural racism still requires people of colour to prioritise white feelings... at best trivialising it, at worst ridiculing it... Who really wants to be alerted to a structural system that benefits them at the expense of others?'
'Amid every conversation about Nice White People feeling silenced by conversations about race, there is a sort of ironic and glaring lack of understanding or empathy for those of us who have been visibly marked out for our entire lives, and live the consequences... I cannot continue to emotionally exhaust myself trying to get this message across, while also toeing a very precarious line that tries not to implicate any one white person in their role in perpetuating structural racism, lest they character assassinate me... I don't have a huge amount of power to change the way the world works, but I can set boundaries. I can halt the entitlement they feel towards me and I'll start that by stopping the conversation...'
'... Their intent is often not to listen or learn, but to exert their power, to prove me wrong, to emotionally drain me, and to rebalance the status quo. I'm not talking to white people about race unless I absolutely have to... I'm no longer dealing with people who don't want to hear it, wish to ridicule it and, frankly, don't deserve it.'
Some other extracts from the book that particularly resonated with me:
'While the black British story is starved of oxygen, the US struggle against racism is globalised into the story of struggle against racism that we should look to for inspiration - eclipsing the black British story so much that we convince ourselves Britain has never had a problem with race.'
'I appreciate that the word structural can feel and sound abstract. Structural. What does that even mean? I choose to use the word structural rather than institutional because I think it is built into spaces much broader than our more traditional institutions.'
'We don't live in a meritocracy, and to pretend that simple hard work will elevate all to success is an exercise in wilful ignorance... Opposing positive discrimination based on apprehensions about getting the best person for the job means inadvertently revealing what you think talent looks like, and the kind of person in which you think talent resides... We placate ourselves with the fallacy of meritocracy by insisting that we just don't see race. This makes us feel progressive. But this claim to not see race is tantamount to compulsory assimilation.'
Dr Kimberlé Crenshaw on the politics of colour-blindness: 'It's this idea that to eliminate race, you have to eliminate all discourse, including efforts to acknowledge racial structures and hierarchies and address them.'
'Colour-blindness is a childish, stunted analysis of racism that starts and ends with 'discriminating against a person because of the colour of their skin is bad', without any accounting for the ways in which structural power manifests in these exchanges. With an analysis so immature, this definition of racism is often used to silence people of colour attempting to articulate the racism we face. When people of colour point this out, they're accused of being racist against white people, and the accountability avoidance continues. Colour-blindness does not accept the legitimacy of structural racism or a history of white racial dominance.'
'What is white privilege? It's so difficult to describe an absence. And white privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination... 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... You have to be careful about the white people you trust when it comes to discussing race and racism.'
'Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection... It seems there is a belief among some white people that being accused of racism is far worse than actual racism.'
Audre Lorde: 'Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of colour to educate white women - in the face of tremendous resistance - as to our existence, our differences, our relatives roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.'
'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 designed for them to fail. That means disabled people, black people, trans people, women and non-binary people, LGB people, and working-class people... The mess we are living is a deliberate one. It was created by people, and it can be dismantled by people.'
Eddo-Lodge also provides a thorough history and analysis of race politics in Britain including the way talk of
'the white working class... plays into the idea that these people face structural disadvantage because they are white, rather than because they are working class... And so we find ourselves focusing on imaginary reverse racism, rather than legitimate class prejudice... rather than questions about where wealth is concentrated in this country, and exactly why resources are so scarce'.
'If you're committed to anti-racism, you're in it for the long haul. It will be difficult. Getting to the end point will require you to be uncomfortable... If you feel burdened by your unearned privilege, try to use it for something, and use it where it counts... The perverse thing about our current racial structure is that it has always fallen on the shoulders of those at the bottom to change it. Yet racism is a white problem. It reveals the anxieties, hypocrisies and double standards of whiteness. It is a problem in the psyche of white people that white people must take responsibility to solve. You can only do so much from the outside.'
Please click here to read more about 'Trans Like Me'.