DISCLAIMER: This post alludes to the black community in Britain, particularly in London and yes I know this doesn’t apply to all black people but it reflects my opinion in light of my personal experiences.
I’m pleased to say that I finally have my review up of the book; “Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Please click here to read it. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
In my review I briefly mentioned that I felt like the author failed to acknowledge the complexities of the black community. I thought elaborating on that point in my review would take away from its neutrality so I decided to write a separate article.
I was basically raised by my parents to never use my race as an excuse for anything. Not when a teacher appeared to be meanest to me, not when a group of kids bullied me, not when I didn’t get that job or promotion and not when that one colleague seems to constantly make snide comments about me or my work; so basically ‘Never play the race card.’ Despite this upbringing it came as no surprise to me when a recently former colleague recounted to me an incident of a young black woman whom he tried to assist but was unable to due to company policy and such; she angrily concluded that he was refusing to help her because she was black.*
This account reminded me of the propensity for particularly black people to play the so-called race card at every opportunity (and usually angrily at that). This seemingly widespread attitude on the part of my community left me largely disillusioned to the racial issues that black people still face today. Those who embody the stereotypes of constantly playing the race card, essentially endow the accused with a get-out-of-jail card in turn. The onus is no longer on the accused to confront their own complicity. By concluding that the reason you’re being antagonised is because you’re black, it dulls whatever guilt they may possess because they now have the power to dismissively write you off as playing the victim, which is another stereotype we’ve come to associate with black people. Constantly playing the victim, unable to let go of the past.
Growing up I was constantly labelled a bounty or a coconut and that has carried through to my adult life. People are amazed, and some people find it quite funny, that I talk devoid of colloquialisms and slang (I have my moments) and my somewhat acquired or rather varied taste in music. It annoys me that people expect me to act and talk a certain way as dictated to me by my race. This too left me feeling disillusioned and displaced from my community as I seem to fall outside the generic norms on almost every occasion, save for the hair woes.
All around me, I keep seeing black people playing into certain stereotypes as with mixed race people with a greater affinity to their black side perpetuating these behaviours and thus claiming that they are blacker than me. These predominantly negative behaviours made manifest in the form of aggressiveness, criminality, over-assertiveness and anger coupled with my upbringing to ‘not see race,’ made me unsympathetic to black complaints of racial discrimination and the like.
It seems like there is always some angry black person doing one thing or another to give us a bad name and I constantly get judged off the back of these negative portrayals. For instance, even though I’m known as a bounty or a coconut, when I try to assert myself or respectfully disagree, suddenly all people can see is the surface and I start to take on the label of being negative. It was such that at times I resolved to just remain silent. The reality is people still compare me to the expectations they have of the black community.
Incidentally, Eddo Lodge in her book discusses this latter point perfectly in light of the Stephen Lawrence tragedy. Those four criminals were not judged relative to their race, but rather they were judged as individuals, evil people in themselves who committed a heinous crime. White people are generally viewed as individuals, the actions of one does not tend to permeate across the entire race.
Reading Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race was a revelation because it not only explained why training our children to not see race is a problem −in that it “does not accept the legitimacy of structural racism”− but it also dissected and analysed the British constitution, giving highly credible evidence of “structural racism.” This wasn’t just a good book in my eyes; it dispelled many of my previous reservations about my own community and gave me a better understanding of their plight in trying to thrive in structures that have been “rigged” against them.
Though some of my reservations were dispelled, this matter which I have come to understand as; The Black Problem still continues to be a grey area. Is structural racism to blame for the anger and resulting anti-social behaviours in the black community? National statistics confirm that those of ethnic minorities are more likely to be exponents as well as victims of crime with black people making up the overwhelming majority. Is the covertly unjust system designed to favour those of a particular race and class the catalyst to the negative stereotypes in the black community giving rise to more crime, aggression and victim hood? Or do black attitudes justify structural oppression?
Martin Luther King was famously quoted as saying that “… a way oppressed people sometimes deal with oppression is to resort to physical violence and corroding hate.” This seems to underscore violence as an outlet in predominantly the black community as an expression of feeling oppressed by a system that adversely impacts their life’s chances. Aristotle said that “poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.” It should therefore come as no surprise that there is a positive correlation between those from impoverished homes or lower income working class households (who are, more times than not, black people) and criminality.
I have come away from this book and the subsequent research that ensued with a greater affinity to my culture and community and understanding of their complexities even though I disagree with them. In the end, I think Eddo-Lodge has the right idea. The best thing black people can do is to stop talking to white people about race (or anyone in general as I see it). Most other races and ethnic groups view the black community as a victim hood cult and by proving them right by putting everything down to; It’s because I’m black isn’t it? we ourselves actually legitimise structural and systemic racism.