Nick Nakorn’s reaction to ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge
About five years ago I was in my workshop listening somewhat idly to BBC Radio 4. I was in the middle of preparing the body shell of my MG Midget project and, between the noise of the MIG-welder, angle-grinder and the sundry other power tools I was using, I heard the name Reni Eddo-Lodge. I had heard her name before, or at least read about her somewhere – probably via the social media I had been following at the time; perhaps she had been mentioned by Sunny Singh or Sam Ambreen. I turned off the tools, rolled a cigarette and leaned myself against the work-bench to listen.
I don’t remember paying much attention to the content of the piece but I was acutely aware of the tone of the show. I felt an immediate pang of recognition for the position that Reni Eddo-Lodge had been forced into. As a person of colour it felt all too familiar to me; the need to become defensive to defend an issue that would otherwise have been an aside to the main event; the way in which one’s expertise is almost immediately thrown into doubt; the almost immediate attempts to avoid substantive issues – the relentless, yet subtle, nudges suggesting that one’s point of view is probably not viable.
I was also aware that I was not in the least surprised. A lot was going on in my personal life at that time and so it was, I think, about a year later when I got around to looking up Reni Eddo-Lodge on-line and found her blog piece ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’. I found the piece so accurately to portray many of my own feelings and experiences that I confess I wept as I read it.
For all sorts of reasons (life has been complicated lately), I didn’t get around to reading the book until now – but I had been following reactions to the book’s launch, the on-line spats between anti-racism activists and white liberals, and the inevitable interviews that Reni Eddo-Lodge had to contend with to promote and defend the book. So in many ways, the urgency to read it had subsided – not because I didn’t want to read it but because I knew that very little in it would surprise me but everything in it would have a profound emotional effect.
People of colour of my generation, born in the 1950s and raised in the ‘60s and ‘70s, have seen it all. We witnessed Powell’s speech in ‘68 on the television and on the radio and through print media having already been verbally and physically attacked by our white peers simply for being a different colour. We had been beaten up at school by white kids, ridiculed and dumbed down by our teachers, spat at in the street, and, when older, been refused to be served a drink in a bar, been unable to rent a flat, been refused work, been stopped on ‘Sus’ and have had to defend our every move and work harder than all our white peers – not because we were in error or lacked merit or were otherwise disreputable – but because we were not white. We know this, it’s our life history. And those of us who were of an academic bent would look at the data and see that we were not isolated cases; accusations of making shit up, of exaggerating our experiences, of inviting problems because we had a chip on our shoulders or were trying to make trouble or were simply, to use modern parlance, phony social justice warriors, made us examine and re-examine our experiences and hope, somehow, to avoid the next refusal, the next sleight, the next attack. But such things have been unavoidable – it’s exhausting.
So, a year late, I’ve just I’ve just finished reading ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’ and the book really delivers. On all fronts. For me, the emotion was of recognition – on every page I could relate the issues being examined to events in my own life and to the academic time I’ve put into reading about those issues over the decades. So I was right, there were no surprises – well there were one or two. It’s one of the best books about race I’ve ever read and it’s probably the most beautifully written non-fiction books I’ve read about anything – strong, utterly cogent and with truth writ large on every line.
If you’re a person of colour you’ll be ever grateful for this wonderful book and if you’re white you might well be shocked, even appalled, perhaps defensive or maybe inspired to start doing more than simple virtue-signalling when it comes to supporting anti-racism. White people, buy it and learn.
31st December 2018