Book Review from the August 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. by Reni Eddo-Lodge (Bloomsbury. £8.99.)
Most people will be familiar with the idea of institutional racism, whereby some organisation (the police, maybe) discriminates against part of the population on ethnic grounds. Eddo-Lodge widens this to the concept of structural racism, which goes far beyond traditional institutions to cover much of society: ‘It is not just about personal prejudice, but the collective effects of bias.’
So black children do less well at school and are more likely than the general school population to be permanently excluded. Black university students are more likely than others to receive the lowest grade of degree. This discrimination continues into employment, with higher rates of unemployment among black people. Research has shown that applicants with African- or Asian-sounding names are less likely to be invited for a job interview. In contrast is white privilege: ‘if you’re white, your race will almost certainly positively impact your life’s trajectory in some way.’
The author also deals with the concept of intersectionality, which may involve black women being subjected to two kinds of discrimination, racism and sexism. Some object to this as a piece of useless jargon, while Eddo-Lodge sees the backlash against it as ‘white feminism in action’, which claims not to see race but in fact positions whiteness as the norm. Feminism, she says, should not leave anyone behind, and the most popular current versions of feminism may not able to achieve this.
A chapter on race and class sounds as if it might be interesting. It starts off by considering the Marxist analysis of class, but completely misunderstands this by saying that, if you are paid monthly and own your own home, you are middle class. But then it adopts the seven-class analysis of the Great British Class Survey, with black people mainly found in the more impoverished groups. The author says: ‘if you are born not white in this country, you probably haven’t been born into wealth.’ But this misses the obvious point that the vast majority of the population are not born into wealth. There is nothing here about the capitalists and the privileges they and their children enjoy.
Eddo-Lodge records that when she gave a talk about racism at a sixth-form college, one (white) girl asked, ‘When do you think we’ll get to an end point?’. Her response is that you cannot skip to the end point without having the difficult conversation first. But this is a very unsatisfying dismissal, and it is not even clear what she means by skipping to the end point. After all, you have to have an idea of what to aim for before having the difficult conversations that will help to get you there.
There is no doubt that racism is an important part of current British capitalism. This book says a great deal about how this plays out, but it does not go far in criticising the whole system.