Preface and Chapter 1 Summary
In 2014, the author, Reni Eddo-Lodge, published a blog post titled “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.” Eddo-Lodge includes the blog post in the preface; in the post, she expresses frustration at the “emotional disconnect,” defensiveness, and “barrier of denial” that she encounters when talking to White people about racism. She feels that the conversation about race is impossible “if they don’t even recognize that the problem exists.” By attempting such a conversation, she drains her own emotional reserves and risks attacks on her own character. Instead, she decides to “set boundaries” and simply stop having the conversation.
The post “took on a life of its own” after publication. It was shared across the Internet, echoing the feelings of many readers of color. Surprisingly, it also provoked “an outpouring of emotion” from White readers, who felt grieved by Eddo-Lodge’s experience and her decision to withdraw from discussing race with White people.
Ironically, since publishing the post, Eddo-Lodge has “done almost nothing but speak about race.” Realizing that the conversation “shows no signs of subsiding,” Eddo-Lodge decided to turn the post into a book, to discuss both the explicit and the “slippery side” of racism.
Before launching into the book, Eddo-Lodge reviews key definitions she uses in the book and her purpose in writing it. She states that she writes and reads in order to connect herself with others who have felt the same. Her purpose in the book is to share her perspective “as an outsider” analyzing “invisible whiteness,” to offer the historical and political knowledge needed to “anchor your opposition to racism.” She hopes readers will use the book as a tool and emphasizes the importance of speaking against racism.
In this chapter, Eddo-Lodge reviews British Black history. She begins by explaining that, growing up, she’d only ever learned about Black history through an American-centric lens. As a university student, she took courses that shifted her perspective to British Black history. While she was both intrigued and sickened by the history and realities of racism in Britain, her White friend and classmate lost interest in the course. Eddo-Lodge resented her for this, for the fact that “her whiteness allowed her to be disinterested in Britain’s violent history, to close her eyes and walk away.”
Eddo-Lodge reminds readers that the seemingly distant past of slavery is truly not at all distant in the scheme of history. She reviews the scope, duration, and economic impact of the transatlantic slave trade. Unlike in the United States, “most British people saw the money without the blood”; English Whites amassed generations of wealth while maintaining distance from the harsh realities of slavery.
While slavery was abolished by Parliament in 1833, the “damage is still to be undone.” Eddo-Lodge explains that “an Act of Parliament was not going to change the perception overnight of enslaved African people from quasi-animal to human.”
The post-slavery history of Black people in Britain is hard to find, however. In 1987, spearheaded by Linda Bellos, British Black History Month came into existence to counter the widespread ignorance about the history of Black people in Britain. Reni Eddo-Lodge admits that “for an embarrassingly long time,” even she did not know that Black people had been slaves in Britain; she assumed that most Black and Brown people were recent immigrants, and she knew little of the history of colonialism.
Eddo-Lodge explores this history, beginning with the contributions of Black and Brown people during World War I. Despite these contributions, various riots erupted in post-war Britain, triggered by anti-Black sentiment. In an effort to respond to “acts of vicious race hatred,” the government repatriated hundreds of Black people. Although Britain had created a global empire, “it wasn’t ready...
(The entire section is 1,473 words.)