Chapter 3 Summary
In chapter 3, Reni Eddo-Lodge explores the concept of White privilege.
Eddo-Lodge begins by recalling how, as a child, she expected to “turn white eventually.” She explains that “neutral is white” and “blackness . . . is considered the ‘other’ and therefore to be suspected.”
Defining White privilege is difficult because it is “so difficult to describe an absence.” White privilege, Eddo-Lodge explains, is “an absence of the negative consequences of racism.” The term “White privilege” was coined by a White man, Theodore W. Allen. As an American born in 1919, Allen was moved by the 1960s civil rights movement and the writings of Black authors. From there, Allen started “exploring what he called ‘white-skin privilege.’ ”
White privilege does not mean that “white people have it easy, that they’ve never struggled, or that they’ve never lived in poverty.” White privilege is the fact that your race has not been used as an additional obstacle against you.
This misunderstanding of White privilege, Eddo-Lodge says, is one of the key reasons she decided to stop talking to White people about race. Often going unnoticed, White privilege “forces white people who aren’t actively racist to confront their own complicity in its continuing existence.”
Beyond race, Eddo-Lodge notes, we could all benefit from examining our own often-unnoticed privileges. She recalls how riding her bike to work opened her eyes to the inaccessibility of public transportation for people who use wheelchairs. Eddo-Lodge acknowledges that, as a university-educated and able-bodied person, “there are factors in [her] life that bolster [her] voice above others.”
Racism and prejudice are often seen as synonyms and used interchangeably. White people, uncomfortable in discussions about race, sometimes point to the “racism” of Black people toward Whites. Eddo-Lodge acknowledges that “prejudice is real across communities of colour.” Racism, however, is “prejudice plus power.” A Black person who is prejudiced against White people cannot hinder their life chances and opportunities. There “simply aren’t enough black people in positions of power to enact racism against white people on the kind of grand scale it currently operates at against black people.”
Eddo-Lodge tells the story of her conversation with a White French woman. Thinking that they had common ground, Eddo-Lodge told her about losing a job opportunity to a White woman. While Eddo-Lodge felt stung by structural racism, the White woman quickly responded that perhaps it hadn’t been racism at all. Accusations of racism, she explained, can be used “to stop white people talking.”
Eddo-Lodge became frustrated by the woman’s subsequent responses. She considered continuing the argument but, after stopping to recognize the social risk she would be taking, decided to fall silent instead.
These types of conversations, where raising the topic of racism “is like flicking a switch,” demonstrate the pervasive power of White privilege. “White privilege,” Eddo-Lodge describes, “is a manipulative, suffocating blanket of power that envelops everything we know, like a snowy day. It’s brutal and oppressive, bullying you into not speaking up for fear of losing your loved ones, or job, or flat.”
Speaking out against White privilege is a real risk. In one job interview, Eddo-Lodge was questioned about unrelated tweets she had written about race.
White privilege is “insidious,” making it more difficult to spot and the boundaries of conversation unclear. “You come to expect it,” Eddo-Lodge writes, “but you can never come to accept it.”
(The entire section is 1,335 words.)