Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race – by Reni Eddo-Lodge

12 07 2020

I’m only one of many many people who have bought this book this summer after George Floyd’s death – there were recommendations for it everywhere. The author herself has said she doesn’t “like the idea of personally profiting each time a video of a black person’s death goes viral”, and so asked people to get it from libraries and/or donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund along with their purchase. This spike in purchases made her the first black British person to top the paperback non-fiction chart in the UK, something which she responded to, saying, “The fact that it’s 2020 and I’m the first… is a horrible indictment of the publishing industry”. I’ve become acutely aware over the last month or two of how white-based my British history education was at school, and how pretty much everything we learnt about our history was in a positive light. So this was a book I wanted to pick up.

Eddo-Lodge wrote a blog article in 2014 which had the same title of this book which was published three years later, and the post is included in the book’s preface. The gist of the sentiment behind the title is that most (not all) white people won’t admit there’s a problem, and won’t listen to engage further in that. I’ve noticed that a lot of people will tell you that while we may have a problem with race in this country, America is much worse, and leave it at that. (As an aside, when looking for books to read on this subject, I had to go into the blurbs to work out if the books were USA or UK based as they’ve give very different backgrounds, and for now I’m wanting to learn more about my country!)

The book is divided into seven chapters (and an eighth in editions printed after 2018). Below I’ve put key points and/or thoughts and/or summaries and/or quotes from each chapter. It was a really helpful book if you want to educate yourself more in this area.

  1. Histories
    A broad sweep of black British history (presumably kept high level as there was so much else she wanted to fit into the book!). It goes back as far as the slave trade and as recent as the London riots, and the vote to leave the EU. (Grenfell happened two weeks after the book was published, and is mentioned in the additional eighth chapter). This is what I feel highly uneducated in and want to learn more of (I’ve bought a couple of other books which I imagine may have a similar outline, so if anyone’s read anything that gives a fairly accessible history of Britain and the colonies, I’d be interested in recommendations).
  2. The System
    The chapters starts with the story of Steven Lawrence. Growing up I was aware of the name Steven Lawrence, and had a rough idea that he was a black boy that was killed, but didn’t know much beyond that. We hear here how his family had to battle and battle to get justice, and how it was nineteen years until anyone was convicted for his murder.
    It then looks at the flaws in our systems, for example the discrimination found when applying for jobs. There’s a great example of when the NFL were required to interview at least one Black of Minority Ethnic candidate for any management position, not to recruit, just to interview, and doing that alone meant that panels saw candidates they may not have otherwise considered, and over the next decade, 12 new black coaches were appointed.
    It also covers the failings in the concept of colour-blindness. “White children are taught not to ‘see’ race, whereas children of colour are taught […] that we must work twice as hard as our white counterparts if we wish to succeed.”
  3. What is White Privilege?
    She describes White Privilege as an absence of the negative consequences of racism, and explains that what some would describe as reverse-racism is just prejudice. The difference between racism and prejudice is that racism is prejudice plus power. She also speaks to a mixed race woman who was brought up without race ever being discussed and how that affected her.
  4. Fear of a Black Planet
    A lot of this chapter focuses on the fear of immigration. She goes for Nick Griffin, and then, because of British defamation laws, gives him a chance to go back, and so rang him. To quote her introduction to the interview: “Our conversation was so surreal that I publish it here in full.” It’s worth a read.
    Later in the chapter in relation to Katie Hopkins: “Freedom of speech means the freedom for opinions on race to clash. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean the right to say what you want without rebuttal, and racist speech and ideas need to be healthily challenged in the public sphere.”
    She also discusses the tendency towards white heroes and black baddies in film and television, and the uproar that came when in the stage show “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” when the role of Hermione was given to a black actress.
  5. The Feminism Questions
    The focus of this chapter is the overwhelming whiteness of the feminism movement, and the concept of intersectionality which is the crossover of two discriminations, racism and sexism.
  6. Race and Class
    I found this chapter really interesting. Traditionally the UK has had three classes: Upper, Middle (paid monthly and own your home), and Working (paid by the hour and rent your home). But in 2013 the Great British Class survey was commissioned by the BBC and discovered that we now have seven classes (which I put here for just general interest!):

    1. The elite
      Wealthiest and scoring highest economically, socially and culturally
    2. The established middle class
      Next wealthiest and love culture
    3. The technical middle class
      Have money but not very social
    4. New affluent workers
      Middle income, but high on socialising and culture
    5. Traditional working class
      On average, the oldest class
    6. Emergent service workers
      Lower in financial security
    7. The precariat
      The most deprived group

    But the focus of the chapter is on how race and class are intertwined: the proportions of people of colour are much higher at the bottom of this scale than at the top, and therefore more likely to be living in poverty. She discusses how the gentrification of poorer areas in London forces poorer folk out, and because of the proportions, therefore people of colour out. As well as the gender pay gap, there’s also an ethnicity pay gap.
    “There is a suspicion laid at the feet of people who aren’t white who succeed outside of their designated fields for black people, those fields are singing and sport.”

  7. There’s No Justice, There’s Just Us
    This chapter wraps up the original book. White people are wondering when there will be an end point to all this, but she says racism will be with us for a long time, any change is incremental – it’s gonna be a long haul.
    “The perverse thing about our current racial structure is that it has always fallen on the shoulders of those at the bottom to change it. Yet racism is a white problem.”
    “I don’t want white guilt. […] No useful movements for change have ever spring out of fervent guilt. […] Support those in the struggle, rather than spending too much time pitying yourself.”
    “If you are disgusted by what you see, and if you feel the fire coursing through your veins, then it’s up to you. […] It can be as small scale as chipping away at the warped power relations in your workplace. It can be passing on knowledge and skills to those who wouldn’t access them otherwise. It can be creative. It can be informal. […] It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you’re doing something.”
  8. Aftermath
    This chapter was added a year or two later, and covers the rise of anti-immigrant politics, and how so many things written about in the previous chapters had progressed since publication, and how the conversation has become so much more centre stage – and this is still long before the events of 2020!





Factfulness – by Hans Rosling

24 02 2020

There is a reason that on the front of this book is a recommendation from Barack Obama, and on the back, from Bill & Melinda Gates. It’s a very good, and very important book. I’d already heard of Hans from his TED talks, if you’re interested, some of his most viewed ones are at the bottom of the page.

We have a tendency to refer to the developed and developing world, but really the world is divided into more than these two categories, it’s more complicated. He gives us four levels, levels one and four are what we’d traditionally refer to as the first and third world, but this is the minority of the worlds population, he tells us that about five billion people actually live on levels two and three, maybe they have a camping stove to cook on rather than a fire, maybe a moped rather than getting everywhere on foot. He gives a thorough explanation of these levels, more than I can here, along with photos to help cement the idea. You can find a large selection of these on their Dollar Street website.

The subtitle is: “Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think.” Hans takes us through ten instincts we all have about the world, which are outdated, or were never the case at all. For example, the gap instinct, that the world is divided into the rich and poor and that there is no one in the middle, which as explained above is not the case at all, in fact, the majority are in the middle. Or that just because things are bad, it doesn’t mean they’re not improving; things can be bad but better than they were.

The book is filled with these really interesting ideas, and each chapter ends with a helpful summary page, highlighting what the issue with the instinct is, and tips to avoid it, which I’m sure I’ll be referring back to!

I have folded down so many pages of this book that I won’t list all the quotes here, but along with that I already have a queue of people to borrow my copy! I normally really struggle with non fiction and would expect this to take a good few months, but it was only 2.5 weeks! While it’s a data-y book, it’s got graphs (his favourite is here, and a live animated version like those in the videos below, you can play with on their Gapminder website) and things to help understand, and is written in a conversational style, full of anecdotes, and is very easy to read.

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in the state of our world, and facts to back that up, as well as those just wanting to be able to assess information they receive better.





The Infographic Bible – by Karen Sawrey

14 01 2020

Who doesn’t love a good infographic? And a whole A4 hardback book of them – lovely! The book works its way through the Bible from beginning to end, but with interludes for some that cross the whole book.

The font is very small in some places, I had to decent lamp if I was reading it in the evenings, and sit by a window in daytime, but I guess it was that, remove some of the information or release an A3 book, so I think this was the best option! But definitely remember your glasses!

I read the book from cover to cover, but you could easily just pick it up and open a random page. Definitely was more interested in some than others, I found when some were really text heavy I’d just read headers and take the gist, but all of them were so brilliantly presented and easy to understand.

They’re good at quoting sources at the bottom of each page, and there are always keys to help you follow what’s being shown to you. Also, I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but when it went from Old Testament to New Testament, the pages went from matt to gloss!

If you’re into infographics and the Bible, there’s not much to dislike about this!





A Short History of Nearly Everything – by Bill Bryson

14 06 2019

I remember wanting to read this book about 15 years ago, and have had this copy on my shelves for many years. Unfortunately, I’m a much slower reader when it comes to non-fiction, and the two months this took me to read has easily knocked my Goodreads target for the year out of the window, but I’m glad I finally read it!

The book takes you through a scientific history and breakdown of the world (no kings and queens in here), from the depths of space, down to what makes up an atom, from cloud formations to tectonic plates to neandertal man. But it’s all done in a chatty way that’s easy to follow 98% of the time – occasionally he lists a few too many long science-y words and I found myself drifting off, but you could generally skim through to the next paragraph in those situations.

A lot of it is told from the perspective of when each thing was discovered and it was fun to learn about the chemist who insisted on tasting every element he worked with (and so ended up dying pretty young), and the one who thought you could get gold from urine, just because of the colour! He also discusses how Pluto isn’t really like the rest of the planets, because of course, this was written while it still was a planet!

One thing that in a way I found kind of reassuring was the uncertainty of nearly everything in this book. Nearly every chapter or section finished with a statement about just how little we know about the area that had just been discussed – the best one was early on: “The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can’t quite computer, surrounded by stars whose distances from us and each other we don’t altogether know, filled with matter we can’t identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don’t truly understand.”

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite lines from the book:

“At an elemental level gravity is extraordinarily un-robust. Each time you pick up a book from a table or a coin from the floor you effortlessly overcome the gravitational exertion of an entire planet.”





How not to be wrong, the hidden maths of everyday life – by Jordan Ellenberg

30 03 2018

Over 2 months on a book isn’t going to help at all with my 30 books in a year, but I promise it was a good book!

It’s full of interesting thoughts on lotteries, perspective, statistics, music, correlation, voting systems, sports, all sorts! Complicated in places, but he always starts a section at a level we can all understand, and at some points I just had to just read the words to get to the point I understood the next bit, but it’s all written in a way that makes it fairly easy to read!

That all said, it was lovely to delve back into the world of maths, stretching my brain, seeing what I could remember, and enjoying some of the common sense that is shared.

As with any book of this sort it is of course full of gems, so here are some I particularly enjoyed:

  • “Dividing one number by another is mere computation; figuring out what you should divide by what is mathematics.”
  • “Improbable things happen a lot.”
  • “The natural logarithm is the one you always use if you’re a mathematician or if you have e fingers.”
  • “Mathematics as currently practised is a delicate interplay between monastic contemplation and blowing stuff up with dynamite.”
  • “In real life, mathematicians are a pretty ordinary bunch, no madder than the average.”
  • “I’ve found that in moments of emotional extremity there is nothing like a math[sic] problem to quiet the complaints the rest of the psyche serves up.”
  • “I encourage you to write directly in the book, if it’s not borrowed from the library or displayed on a screen.”
  • “An inelegant axiom is like a stain in the corner of the floor; it doesn’t get in your way, per se, but it’s maddening, and one spends an inordinate amount of time scrubbing and scouring and trying to make the surface nice and clean.”
  • “Genius is a thing that happens, not a kind of person.”
  • “[The stereotype is that mathematicians are] determined to compute everything to as many decimal places as possible. It isn’t so. We want to compute everything to as many decimal places as necessary.”
  • “Mathematics, the extension of common sense by other means.”





Paradoxology – by Krish Kandiah

3 11 2015

If you find someone who claims they didn’t initially pick up this book because of its cover, I bet they’re lying! The author even ended up talking to the public from a matching sofa! Yes, I did pick this book up because it was a brightly coloured, geometric pattern, but normally I’d have a quick look and put it down again. Instead, I read the back and thought, gosh this sounds interesting. And I wasn’t wrong.

I take forever to read non-fiction, so the fact this took three months isn’t a bad thing. If you saw the number of page corners I’ve folded down, that speaks for itself. For each chapter, the book takes a character (or occasionally a book) and the paradox tied in with it to look at, so the book could be dipped in and out of, chapter by chapter if you wanted to. The chapters are as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Abraham – The God who needs nothing but asks for everything
  • Moses – The God who is far away, so close
  • Joshua – The God who is terribly compassionate
  • Job – The God who is actively inactive
  • Hosea – The God who is faithful to the unfaithful
  • Habakkuk – The God who is consistently unpredictable
  • Jonah – The God who is indiscriminately selective
  • Esther – The God who speaks silently
  • Interlude at the border
  • Jesus – The God who is divinely human
  • Judas – The God who determines our free will
  • The Cross – The God who wins as He loses
  • Romans – The God who is effectively ineffective
  • Corinthians – The God who fails to disappoint
  • Epilogue – Living with Paradox

He highlights in his introduction how these aren’t questions every asks, but that a lot of people avoid asking, for fear of shaking our faith. At one point I was going to put in here the bit from each page that I folded down, but that would now be a tad excessive. But I’ll share two or three – Kandiah’s text is littered with citations, quotes and footnotes, so I’ve given credit to others where it’s due:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentence, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confessions.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“It was no accident, either, that God appeared to Moses as a flame. The movement of a flame and its bright colours attract us, and yet the heat of the flame pushes us away.”

“There is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” – D F Wallace

There’s a lovely story from a Royal Film Premiere when he didn’t quite get to meet the Queen, an excellent look at the hotel with infinite rooms problem, and wave particle duality and Schrodingers Equation. He also introduces us to some paintings and the significance in what they show – I felt quite well educated after reading this!

The only critique I’d give this book is that some chapters could have been helped by starting with either an overview of the story of the character we were looking at, the relevant bible passage, or at least a reference to the correct bible passage. I have to confess, when we jumped into Habakkuk, I didn’t have a whole load of background knowledge to go by!

paradoxology