This was an important book to me, because it clearly articulated questions I’ve had about race in America. Eddo-Lodge is British, born and bred, but in contemporary Britain, marginalized as an outsider. “What history had I inherited that left me an alien in my place of birth?” There is no summary I can write that would do justice to her narrative about race in Britain. What I can say is how convincing her writing is in supporting her assertions, mainly, that racism is structurally embedded in British society. “I choose to use the word structural rather than institutional because I think it is built into spaces much broader than our more traditional institutions… Structural is often the only way to capture what goes unnoticed- the silently raised eyebrows, the implicit biases, snap judgements made on perceptions of competency.” Reni Eddo-Lodge stopped talking to white people about race, because, even when she found like-minded white people in the context of feminism, for example, she always hit a wall when the white person tried to change the course of the narrative to black people’s failure to assimilate, or black people’s inability to demonstrate equal capabilities to their white peers competing for the same capital. In short, even sympathetic white people could not see that white privilege had afforded them a leg up that was not available to people of color. Simple. And profound. I urge you to read this book with the caveat that if you are white, prepare to be uncomfortable.
In “The Feminism Question” chapter, Eddo-Lodge recounts an interview with Naomi Campbell in 2013, where she was using her voice to get more models of color on the runways of Fashion Week. At that time in 2013, 82% of the models were white. She was confronted by a Channel 4 news reporter who told her, “you have a reputation, rightly or wrongly, for being quite an angry person.” The phrase “angry black woman” resonated with me, in part because I remember something like it from Americanah. I had written a note when I read that book that said the best parts were in the blogs, where Ifemelu mused about being an African black woman in America. She said, “strong-minded black women are scary.” At the time it made me laugh, but in the context of this book, I realize its power. So here’s to “angry black women.” Keep on being angry. May you use your power to effect change.
There was no food in this book, but plenty of food for thought. I hope that these thoughts out of context don’t mislead or lose their power. I wrote them down as I was reading because they seemed relevant or important to me. You’ll have to form your own opinions when you read the book yourself.
The author began researching the history of black people in Britain when she was nineteen, in an attempt to uncover the historical context of Blacks in Britain, and found a history of slave trading. Most of the slaves were in colonial West Indies where they were put to work on sugar and cotton plantations, for no pay, of course. With the intimation of political reform on the islands in return for their service, thousands of West Indian slaves signed up to fight for Britain in WWI and WII. When many of these soldiers chose to settle in England after the wars, racial unrest reached explosive levels, revealing a tradition of suspicion of black people in England. The author was surprised that she had never heard about this in her history classes.
Some random statements:
“Prejudice needs power to be effective.”
70% of the professors in Britain are white men.
We don’t live in a meritocracy, and to pretend that simple hard work will elevate all to success is an exercise in willful ignorance.
Seeing race is essential to changing the system.