Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race Themes
The main themes in Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race are White privilege, reclaiming Black history, White fears, and redefining racism.
- White privilege: White people are often unaware of their own racial identity and privilege in a system that assumes Whiteness to be universal.
- Reclaiming Black history: An understanding of Black British history is necessary to the effort to dismantle systemic racism.
- White fears: “White victimhood” and “fear of a black planet” perpetuate racism and often derail discussions of race.
- Redefining racism: Racism is systemic, permeating every aspect of society in ways both subtle and overt.
In the book’s preface, Reni Eddo-Lodge articulates a theme that runs throughout the subsequent chapters. She writes: “To be white is to be human; to be white is universal.”
Over and over again, Eddo-Lodge demonstrates that a key blind spot that White people have is seeing their very own Whiteness. The “quiet dominance” of White privilege often goes unseen by White people because they fail to even notice their own race. Structural racism empowers Whiteness by setting it as the assumed standard.
In media, Whiteness becomes a “faux neutral, objective power.” Whiteness in the press positions itself as a “self-appointed, self-referential arbiter of racial problems”; White members of the media analyze racial issues “without a shred of self-awareness.” Unless a character in a film or novel is specifically designated as a different race, Whiteness is often assumed by audiences. In the realm of feminism, Black feminists began using the term “White feminism”— a term that many bristle at—to highlight the Whiteness of the movement.
Eddo-Lodge points out Whiteness and White privilege. She asks, “Why don’t white people think they have a racial identity?” She repeatedly reminds her audience that White people are not outsiders to the discussion of racism; they are directly affected, benefitting from the current system of structural racism and White privilege. Racism, she argues, is about White people. White people should not have the option of being uninterested in dismantling racism, as this attitude denies their own involvement in it.
Reclaiming Black History
The first chapter of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is a sizable section devoted to reviewing Black British history. Throughout the book, however, the importance of this history becomes an important theme.
“It’s easy to convince yourself that the past has no bearing on how we live today,” Eddo-Lodge writes. Yet history is critical to understanding and dismantling the current system of structural racism.
Repeatedly in British history, the British government shifted its policies around people of color to meet its own needs. The British Empire spanned the globe and provided labor and resources, yet Britain was not prepared for “the repercussions and responsibilities that came with its colonising of countries and cultures.” During World War I and World War II, Britain relied on “black and brown labour” from its colonies to ensure victory. Yet after the wars, “black people themselves [faced] extreme rejection in the decades that followed.”
After World War II, Britain needed waves of immigrants to help rebuild the country after the war effort. When this need changed, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act “drastically restricted immigration rights to Britain’s Commonwealth citizens.” Instead, the focus was shifted to skilled workers and work permits. Once again, British legislation toward its former colonies shifted based on Britain’s interests and social attitudes.
For many British people, however, the details of this history are entirely unknown. This lack of historical knowledge allows people to be swayed by narratives of “greedy immigrants.” White British people do not understand that people of color made...
(The entire section is 1,136 words.)