From it’s brilliantly designed cover – the work of Greg Heinimann – this book insists we read, think, engage and ultimately act. We are told in the final chapter ‘Aftermath’ about some of the range of, sometimes outrageous, reactions to the cover alone, Eddo-Lodge has witnessed or been told about. Which goes to prove the central thesis of her book, and explains the title, that in a predominantly white society, white people react badly, and for ‘badly’ you should read anywhere along a continuum from politely trying to change the topic to virulent racism and threats of violence, we react badly to the idea that our societies are deeply, structurally racist and that we – the white people living in them – are the beneficiaries of countless biases that work in our favour, every day of our lives. She also notes, acknowledging the irony, that since the bold declaration of the title, she has done little but talk to white people about racism.
Think of it another way for a minute: we are slowly coming round to acceptance of the idea that everything that we have set up and established as ‘society’ has been done from the male stand point. Only now are women and/or feminists finding space for their voices to be heard…because we live in a patriarchy, a very successful patriarchy that has perpetuated its hold on power for centuries. If, from a feminist point of view, this dominance (and its obverse, subjugation) is finally becoming glaringly obvious to most, along with the need to change it, why then is it so much more difficult to accept that white society has ‘othered’ and effectively disadvantaged anyone who is non-white? It isn’t. It is putting the telescope to the blind eye and saying you see no problem, to deny this.
It is human instinct to feel most comfortable with the familiar, that which most closely resembles what we see every day, but that is not a basis for lawmaking, opportunities in education or work.
Eddo-Lodge chooses her chapter headings well: Histories; The System; What is White Privilege?; Fear of a Black Planet; The Feminism Question; Race and Class; and There’s no Justice, There’s just Us. Under each she gathers evidence, discusses what she has found and then tells us why what we might have previously believed to be a reasonable conclusion is wrong, before telling us her conclusion. Her research appears rigorous and she writes lucidly. And she is not afraid to confront the normally unpalatable, in one chapter she transcribes a phone conversation she has with Nick Griffin, odious former leader of the British Nationalist Party, in order that his arguments be heard in all their ridiculousness and horror. She notes in the preface that it took a lot of soul searching to decide to reproduce this conversation, for fears about giving him a platform, concluding that she hopes she handled it responsibly. I think she did and that it was a brave choice but one that was justified.
And why shouldn’t we Britons know all of our history, rather than just the selected bits we got told at school. Why shouldn’t we know that in the twentieth century in this country, a black man was pelted with bricks until he drowned in the King’s Dock, Liverpool, simply for being black, or that a white woman believed to have slept with a black man was stripped naked by a group of white locals and made to walk though the streets of their town.
Part way through reading the book I happened to have a conversation with a white female friend of mine who is also a staunch advocate of feminism and the need for a space for ‘the woman’s voice’ to be heard, she told me of a challenge to this chain of thought along the lines of ‘intersectionality’, a phrase that I know little about and although Eddo-Lodge covers it at some length in this book, it is still too new to me for me to have properly processed what I think about it. However, briefly, the argument is that what we traditionally understand as feminism, is being criticised as being a movement that comes from a mainly white and often white middle-class place. It has little to say to the entirety of the experience of non-white women in a predominantly white society who will necessarily experience racism and sexism, in different measures and ratios as they go about their lives…and thus there is a need to consider the ‘intersections’ where their experiences coincide with those of traditional feminist thought and be aware of where they do not coincide. It is a strong argument.
There are far too many good quotes or interesting facts in this book to be reproduced here, Eddo-Lodge’s main point seems to be that we shouldn’t just be moved or appalled by her book but that we go out and act to change things once we have read it or else the exercise will have been in vain.
To do this it is necessary to try to see the world from others’ viewpoints, to ‘think outside yourself’.
This is a fantastic book, extremely accessible, and if you have given any thought to these matters during your life this book will probably change what conclusions you thought you had reached: it has for me.