The New Mills Transition Reading Group meets monthly, currently on Zoom, to discuss a book, watch a film/video or host a speaker. This month we discussed Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Racism by Reni Eddo-Lodge. We are all white but some have close family members and friends who are people of colour.
Participants liked the book, found it readable and appreciated the author’s use of her personal experiences and anecdotes to explain well, in a few words, the situations and double binds that black people find themselves in when talking to white people about racism.
We found useful her explanation of the difference between prejudice and racism (prejudice plus power) and the discussion of institutionalised and structural racism. We found useful, if uncomfortable, her critique of the liberal approach which says ’everyone is equal’ but denies the existence of the power imbalance.
The chapter on black history was good and led to a discussion about the slave trade, the development in the 19th century of a pseudoscience of racism, and the ways in which groups are deliberately ‘dehumanised’ in order to allow exploitation, discrimination, mistreatment or justify war. We looked at how the definitions and categories of racism have changed over time and place.
We discussed the powerful role of the media and culture in shaping and supporting racist ideology but noted that this reflects the structures of power in our society. Living in a small, predominantly white town whiteness is easily seen as the norm and we need to make more visible the diversity of backgrounds that we already have in order to challenge that assumption. We discussed the section on feminism, racism in the women’s liberation movement (several of us are watching Mrs America) and the issue of intersectionality of different oppressions.
Being white and looking at racism from the position of privilege is uncomfortable but inaction is collusion. She puts it to white people to talk to each other and take action. We discussed experiences of interrupting racist comments and the Quaker response ‘I wouldn’t see it that way myself’. Change needs to happen in tandem between personal change together with social and institutional changes. Other suggestions from the group were – be friendly to counteract the hostility of white racism, get comfortable acknowledging mistakes.