Thursday 20 August 2020

Slow Reviews | literature | 2017

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

Nikesh Shukla on a book that challenges our society and ourselves

I remember, in early February 2014, reading a blog post by the writer Reni Eddo-Lodge. Its headline was, ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race’. And it discussed how conversations about race and racism in the UK were utterly pointless. People either ridiculed you or they weren’t listening or they wilfully played down the importance of what you had to say, as Reni described.

It was a brilliant piece of work, battling with its own fatigue, articulating what so many people of colour felt about having “the talk” (you know the one, the “what you said was racist and here’s why…” talk about everything from systemic racism to everyday, seemingly casual occurrences). I read it and thought, I feel this a lot and this person has personally written that frustration.

Little did I know that it would go on to become expanded in one of the most culturally significant books about racism in the United Kingdom that I’ve ever read.

Writing about race and racism in the UK is nothing new. Through the years, there have been incredible, seminal pieces of work that interrogate the experiences of people of colour; pieces of work that understand and analyse Empire and colonialism, microaggressions and politics, superiority and supremacy. But it had been a while since something had come along and presented a case for why the racism conversation itself is rigged. Then, in 2017, Reni Eddo-Lodge released Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race in book form – and everything changed.

It’s a book that centres the Black British experience, the Black woman’s experience, and it lays out the groundwork for decentring white people in conversations about race. It was never a polemic. It was never a rant. It was expertly researched and beautifully written. Eddo-Lodge’s style is one of calm and balance, it is literary and it is academic. In all the conversations about the impact of the book, not enough is said about her brilliance as a writer, one with the ability to hold so much information and clarity in the simplest of sentences. It’s a brilliant skill.

The book is culturally significant because it forced people to have conversations. It found its way on to prize lists, into festivals, on to bestseller charts. It reminded us of the fatigue it takes to have these conversations, and of what we need to hold dear.

Crucially, it became a line in the sand: this is how we talk about race now. It challenged white people, and non-Black people of colour, to feel uncomfortable and to challenge our perceptions.

What’s more, the book is still having an impact today. After the murder of George Floyd, during the Black Lives Matter protests, when there was a surge in sales for books about anti-racism, Eddo-Lodge became the first Black British author to have ever topped the books charts. Her response? “Let’s be honest…. that it took this long is a horrible indictment of the publishing industry.”

It’s a book that will be studied for years to come. A book that acted as a balm for so many Black people and people of colour in general, but also as a clear and present call to white people to read, reflect and reconsider themselves.

Illustrations by Phillipa Warden Hill  

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Nikesh Shukla

Nikesh Shukla is a writer whose books include ‘Coconut Unlimited’ and ‘Meatspace’.