The title of this book can obviously seem very provocative and that’s probably one of the reasons I added it to my TBR a few months ago, but I didn’t know when I was going to read it. For the past many months however, I have seen a version of this title play out in the bookish community discussions – where authors of color are tired of explaining their marginalization, how it affects their opportunities to get published or promoted, the inherent structural gatekeeping in the publishing industry and even the recent mess with the RITA nominations – all this really made me want to read this book and want to know what made the author title it so. I was also quite interested to know the British side of the story, because most of my reading on race is very US centric despite the fact that slavery started due to European colonization. And I’m so glad I picked this up.
I love how each chapter in the book deals with a different topic and the author gives her understanding of it. It begins with a brief explanation of the history of racism and while it doesn’t delve too much into the beginnings of slavery, we get an idea of how black population came to be a significant percentage of the country. The author takes more time giving information about the race relations in the 20th century, the anti-black rhetoric and blatant and systemic discrimination and it’s eerily similar to US history and somehow, not very different from the current anti immigrant vitriol that we hear everyday. There are also many conversations or situations that the author herself has been a part of, that she describes have shaped her views on racism and privilege and feminism etc and I really liked getting to know her personal thoughts.
The chapters that really affected me most were about white privilege and feminism. The idea that not seeing race (color blindness) and treating everybody as equal is enough to achieve a post racial society is a very privileged position to be in and only someone who has never had to consider their race while making every small decision in their life can believe that. And any talk about feminism which doesn’t take into account the intersectionality between gender and race (and even class which is very intertwined with race) is doing nothing substantial for the movement. While reading these chapters, I was quickly reminded of the recent controversy with the RITA nominations where there were hardly any marginalized authors represented. This is the bookish community we are talking about – the ones who pride themselves in being able to tell stories, bring happiness to their readers and maybe even change society through their words. But in a judging process conducted by the authors themselves, it’s both appalling and not at all surprising that in the romance genre filled with books about monsters and vampires and shapeshifters and many more unreal creatures, these authors found themselves not being able to relate to books written by authors of color and also found it it unbelievable that characters of color were accomplished or flawed or were able to find their HEA – all because these characters don’t fit into the stereotypes they hold about the people of that particular race. And then the authors get defensive when these systemic issues and their inherent prejudices are pointed out. If this is not a great example of the manifestation of white privilege and white feminism, I don’t know what is.
I don’t know if I have been able to explain why I liked this book, but it’s very well written, thought provoking and will leave you wanting to do something about the injustices happening around you. Don’t expect this book to be a very scholarly or academic style tome and while it has a huge list of primary sources referenced at the end, the book is still more of a personal journey and experience of the author and that’s why I liked it more. It’s also more of a starting point and might encourage you to read more about the topics that the author talks about. As I’ve done a very poor job reviewing this, I will end with some wonderful quotes from the book.
“Not seeing race does little to deconstruct racist structures or materially improve the conditions which people of colour are subject to daily. In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon – earned or not – because of their race, their class, and their gender. Seeing race is essential to changing the system.”
“White privilege manifests itself in everyone and no one. Everyone is complicit, but no one wants to take on responsibility. Challenging it can have real social implications. Because it’s a many-headed hydra, you have to be careful about the white people you trust when it comes to discussing race and racism. You don’t have the privilege of approaching conversations about racism with the assumption that the other participants will be on the same plane as you.”
“We are told that black actors and actresses cast as central characters in works of fiction are unrealistic. We are told that they are historically inaccurate, or that they are too far a stretch of the imagination. But really, this is about a belligerent section of society that refuses to think outside of themselves, who believe that everything must cater to them and the rest of us must adapt to their whims and wishes. And this is nothing but insulting when heard by the black fiction lover who, if they are to enjoy their chosen genre, have no choice but to empathise with a character who looks nothing like them.”
“Seeing non-white characters relegated to sidekick or token status has been routine for so long that, for some, attempting to try and relate to black skin in a main character is a completely alien concept. We’ve been positioned as the ‘other’, only taking centre stage to portray subjugation or provide comic relief. White people are so used to seeing a reflection of themselves in all representations of humanity at all times, that they only notice it when it’s taken away from them.”
“White feminism is a politics that engages itself with myths such as ‘I don’t see race’. It is a politics which insists that talking about race fuels racism – thereby denying people of colour the words to articulate our existence. It’s a politics that expects people of colour to quietly assimilate into institutionally racist structures without kicking up a fuss. It’s a politics where people of colour are never setting the agenda. Instead, they are relegated to constantly reacting to things and frantically playing catch-up. A white-dominated feminist political consensus allows people of colour a place at the table if we’re willing to settle for tokenism, but it clamps down if they attempt to create accountability for said consensus – let alone any structural change.”
“It’s clear that equality doesn’t quite cut it. Asking for a sliver of disproportional power is too polite a request. I don’t want to be included. Instead, I want to question who created the standard in the first place. After a lifetime of embodying difference, I have no desire to be equal. I want to deconstruct the structural power of a system that marked me out as different. I don’t wish to be assimilated into the status quo. I want to be liberated from all negative assumptions that my characteristics bring. The onus is not on me to change. Instead, it’s the world around me. Equality is fine as a transitional demand, but it’s dishonest not to recognise it for what it is – the easy route. There is a difference between saying ‘we want to be included’ and saying ‘we want to reconstruct your exclusive system’. The former is more readily accepted into the mainstream.”
“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.”