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Reni's book on race has everybody talking Part 1

LET’S GET TALKING: Reni Eddo-Lodge,
left, speaks to an audience in Waterstones, Birmingham, and
right, with Dr Nicola Rollock

THERE IS A rich irony surrounding Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – because that’s exactly what she has been doing since it was published at the start of this month.

The freelance journalist’s newly published work, which she expanded from a blog post what went viral in early 2014, is taking the book world by storm – it has already topped the non-fiction list at Foyles’ flagship London Charing Cross Road store.

When The Voice caught up with her, she was busy doing the book-signing rounds, and had been invited to Birmingham’s Waterstones store to be interviewed by Dr Nicola Rollock, deputy director of the Centre for Research in Race and Education at the University of Birmingham.

The free event was packed, buzzing with excited young people keen to meet someone of their own generation who was speaking out about the unspeakable. Some said they felt empowered by the book because Eddo-Lodge had written the back story of every black person’s life from the Windrush days and way before.

It is definitely a call to action. It is is a clever mix of well-researched historical fact, political analysis and social observation, including some examples of Eddo-Lodge’s own experiences as a person of colour growing up in London.

WEARY

She’s clearly not another angry black woman – more a weary one. She lays bare what every black person already knows – that white people would rather not talk about race, and she gives the reasons for this in seven succinct essays.

After reading out her original blog to the Birmingham audience, she explained how she experienced ‘hostility off the charts’ when she had earli- er tried to speak about the race issue to white, middle class, progressive feminist groups, and this led her to write the blog three years ago.

Eddo-Lodge, who revealed her own political awakening began at university as a feminist activist, said: “I was called aggressive, a bully, and was accused of trying to silence white people. There was no space to discuss race among these women. They felt personally attacked – there was a strong, deeply held belief among them that even mentioning race was racist."

“Conversations quickly moved from challenging rac- ism to protecting their feelings. I find with a lot of white people who consider themselves to be progressive, they feel: ‘How can I be racist be- cause I’m a good person?"

"On the one hand when I was growing up, I was told I had to work twice as hard as white people, while they in turn were being told: ‘Don’t worry, everyone’s equal now, but don’t mention race as you might of- fend black people’."

“As far as I’m concerned, this is a very juvenile and childish analysis of racism – a lot of white people have a commitment to colour-blindness.”

The idea for the book came to her after she found it tough trying to do some investigative journalism about race issues in the British media. But Dr Rollock asked if she really feels brave speaking up on these matters, as she observed Eddo- Lodge at a recent gathering on her book, noticing that she seemed uncomfortable when thanked by a black woman in the audience for having the courage to speak up.

Eddo-Lodge explained that she feels in a privileged position herself, not having to toe the line in a ‘nine to five’ job, worrying about climbing a corporate ladder, with the burden of a mortgage. This has enabled her to say what she thinks. Her job as a journalist is to challenge people in positions of power, giving her a unique advantage in tackling issues people simply don’t want to talk about.

She said: “As I attempt to try to illustrate in the book, talking about structural racism tends to make white people feel personally attacked, and maybe they might even start saying that you are actually the real racist. This could put your livelihood at risk – there is so much to lose. I don’t begrudge anybody for not speaking out.

“A repeated debate that happens usually in The Voice Newspaper is: ‘Why is so-and-so celebrity only speaking out now about racism 20 years into their career? I think Lenny Henry has been subjected to some of this criticism, and I’m like: ‘Well, why would you?’

“No, I’m not brave – my precarious circumstances meant that I could say what I wanted. It allowed me to do, hopefully, what people consider to be some really radical writing. I just hope that those who have financial incentives in the system – no-one want to upset their boss – find some catharsis and solace in this.”

To read part 2 of this piece, check back tomorrow (Sunday June 25 at 7am GMT.

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