What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

What happens when I try to talk race with white people

You can choose not to see the sky, but it exists. That’s how Reni Eddo-Lodge responds when somebody tells her they don’t see race. Trying to raise the topic in white-dominated social circles often led her to an immediate shutdown, one that might spring from others’ fear of being wrong, she says. Eddo-Lodge offers her Brief but Spectacular take on talking to white people about race.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to another Brief But Spectacular episode, where we ask people about their passions.

    Tonight, we hear from Reni Eddo-Lodge. She is a London-based journalist, whose thought-provoking book "Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race" was recently released in the U.S.

  • Reni Eddo-Lodge:

    When somebody tells me that they don't see race, I say, I mean, that's fine. You know, you can choose not to see the sky, but it exists.

    I'm told I was 4 years old when I turned to my mom and I said, well, you know, when am I going to turn white?

    I was consuming and engaging with media and culture around me, a lot of cartoons, a lot of kids TV, comics, et cetera, et cetera, and all of the good people were white. And I considered myself to be a good person.

    I realized at that early age that to be white was to be human. I was attempting to discuss race in white-dominated circles and really getting nowhere.

    I wrote a blog post. I titled it, "Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race."

    Let's say we were having a broad conversation about inequality. As soon as I tried to raise the topic of race, there was almost an immediate clamp-down, shutdown, denial from my conversation partner. They tried to find ways to convince me that, absolutely, no, race had nothing to do with it, that actually I had a chip on my shoulder, and that, why was I trying to make everything about race?

    I actually decided to have a conversation with a person who I can now confidently say is probably is a white anti-racist, a white critical anti-racist. And I spoke to her about her journey. And I said, well, what's led to you being somebody who is so aware of how race shapes inequality?

    She said that a lot of her defensiveness, initially, when it came to these conversations about race was a fear a being wrong, a fear of — she said a lot of it was to do with her ego, a fear of being implicated in existing inequalities, a fear that she actually wasn't doing enough.

    I know that I have not spoken out in the past, for fear of losing a job, or losing a friend or losing a space in a house share, because, when you discuss race in the conversation, you become the troublemaker, you become the problem.

    I dedicated a whole chapter in the book to discussing intersectionality. And it's really from the perspective of my doomed encounters with white British feminism. And they were really doomed, because I was surrounded by very nice white middle-class women who just didn't want to hear about race.

    And I was told I'm splitting the movement, I'm being divisive, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And that was really a galling time for me, because I don't really have the option of separating these two issues.

    In Britain, power is still very white here. Black and minority ethnic people are about 14 percent of the population, but that definitely is not reflected in the corridors of power, in who shapes culture, who shapes politics, who shapes the arts.

    No one's asking the gatekeepers to examine their own prejudices and ask, well, why aren't you recruiting people who are not like you and not from your background?

    I heard a great quote, and I can't remember who said it. But the person said, you know, you can't ask me why I haven't been invited to the party. You have to ask the host.

    My name's Reni Eddo-Lodge, this is my Brief But Spectacular take on talking to white people about race.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you can find additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/brief.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest