Racism (without the hatred)

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by Neil Godfrey

We have moved on from the days of racial hostility but we are still in a state of acute discomfort about racial difference. . . . There are far less interpersonal bigotry and abuse. People don’t hate other people because of their colour, as would have been the case 50 years ago. But that is different to saying: ‘Do I feel comfortable in the company of a lot of people who are not like myself?’ — Trevor Phillips, The Guardian 2014

Reni Eddo-Lodge in her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race makes it clear that racism today is not mostly about malicious and ignorant people who hate others who are different from themselves. That kind of racism still exists but it is easy to identify and condemn: it is continued in white supremacist, anti-immigrant and far-right groups. Further, when Reni Eddo-Lodge speaks of white people she is not referring to every individual white person but to whiteness as a political ideology or identity. I believe that concept sounds bizarre to most white persons when they first hear it. It is only after reading the details of how persons of colour are handicapped at every stage of their lives that one can begin to become conscious of the privileges we white people take for granted. The challenges facing coloured people from infancy and on throughout their lives all too rarely make themselves known among whites in a white society. The problem is not white hostility so much as white ignorance. I think white people do have a responsibility to make the effort to listen to the experiences of minorities in their midst.

More quotes from Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book:

But this isn’t about good and bad people.
The covert nature of structural racism is difficult to hold to account. It slips out of your hands easily, like a water-snake toy. You

In the same year that I decided to no longer talk to white people about race, the British Social Attitudes survey saw a significant increase in the number of people who were happy to admit to their own racism.4 The sharpest rise in those self-admitting were, according to a Guardian report, ‘white, professional men between the ages of 35 and 64, highly educated and earning a lot of money’.5 This is what structural racism looks like. It is not just about personal prejudice, but the collective effects of bias. It is the kind of racism that has the power to drastically impact people’s life chances. Highly educated, high-earning white men are very likely to be landlords, bosses, CEOs, head teachers, or university vice chancellors. They are almost certainly people in positions that influence others’ lives. They are almost certainly the kind of people who set workplace cultures. They are unlikely to boast about their politics with colleagues or acquaintances because of the social stigma of being associated with racist views. But their racism is covert. It doesn’t manifest itself in spitting at strangers in the street. Instead, it lies in an apologetic smile while explaining to an unlucky soul that they didn’t get the job. It manifests itself in the flick of a wrist that tosses a CV in the bin because the applicant has a foreign-sounding name.

The national picture is grim. Research from a number of different sources shows how racism is weaved into the fabric of our world. This demands a collective redefinition of what it means to be racist, how racism manifests, and what we must do to end it.

Those points in a black person’s life where the difficulties start:

  • In school a black boy is three times more likely to be permanently excluded compared to the whole school population;
  • By age 11, when preparing for his SATS, he will be systematically marked down by his own teachers (remedied only his work is anonymized and marked by other teachers);
  • Happily a greater proportion of black students progress from sixth form to higher education but access to Britain’s prestigious universities is unequal and the black student is less likely to make it into one of the leading research universities;
  • Black students are far more likely to finish their university education with a lower ranking pass than white students; (Recall that black students are more likely than white students to move into higher education so it is not likely that the gap is due to “lack of intelligence, talent or aspiration.” Almost 70% of university teachers are white, “a dire indication of what universities think intelligence looks like.”
  • Even with a good education, having a non-white sounding name can mean a less likely chance of being called in for an interview despite the applications containing similar education, skills and work history;
  • Black people are far more likely [links are to PDFs] to be unemployed than white people;
  • “black people are twice as likely to be charged with drugs possession, despite lower rates of drug use. Black people are also more likely to receive a harsher police response (being five times more likely to be charged rather than cautioned or warned) for possession of drugs” (Report – PDF);
  • British residents of African and African-Caribbean backgrounds are more than other ethnic groups to be sectioned into psychiatric wards; and to receive higher doses of anti-psychotic medication than whites; and more likely to remain as long-term in-patients;
  • As the black person ages he is less likely to receive a timely diagnosis for dementia than white counterparts.

Commenting on the above hurdles (with my own highlighted emphasis),

Our black man’s life chances are hindered and warped at every stage. There isn’t anything notably, individually racist about the people who work in all of the institutions he interacts with. Some of these people will be black themselves. But it doesn’t really matter what race they are. They are both in and of a society that is structurally racist, and so it isn’t surprising when these unconscious biases seep out into the work they do when they interact with the general public. With a bias this entrenched, in too many levels of society, our black man can try his hardest, but he is essentially playing a rigged game. He may be told by his parents and peers that if he works hard enough, he can overcome anything. But the evidence shows that that is not true, and that those who do are exceptional to be succeeding in an environment that is set up for them to fail. Some will even tell them that if they are successful enough to get on the radar of an affirmative action scheme, then it’s because of tokenism rather than talent. enough to get on the radar of an affirmative action scheme, then it’s because of tokenism rather than talent.


Structural racism is never a case of innocent and pure, persecuted people of colour versus white people intent on evil and malice. Rather, it is about how Britain’s relationship with race infects and distorts equal opportunity.

Eddo-Lodge, Reni. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. London Oxford New York New Delhi Sydney: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.


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13 thoughts on “Racism (without the hatred)”

  1. I don’t doubt that the book contains valuable historical and sociological information. The problem is, what does the author want to occur?

    “This demands a collective redefinition of what it means to be racist, how racism manifests, and what we must do to end it.” What is that remedy for this systemic racism? Is it “equity”, which means “equality of outcome”? If it is, the next step is diversity boards in all institutions, with the power to enforce equality of outcome. Goodbye equality of opportunity. Is there an endpoint at which the diversity boards can be dissolved? Do we want to live in a world run by diversity boards?

    1. “Goodbye equality of opportunity.”

      The whole point is that equality of opportunity does not exist NOW. I don’t know enough about ‘diversity boards’ to say if they are a good idea or not, but why suggest them as the only possible answer if you don’t like them?

      There are a very large range of possible solutions, and it is surely not incumbent on the black person pointing out the problem to solve it singlehanded.

    2. My experience with positive discrimination is in the university sector. I think every place I worked at had such a policy. What it meant was that where two applicants are equally qualified for a position then the decision would go in favour of the non-white applicant. It never meant that a less qualified applicant would be promoted in preference to a more qualified one.

      The aim is not equality of outcome, as in the sense of, say, coloured people in administrative positions being of the same ratio as in their wider population group. That’s merely tokenism, not equality — (that’s Reni’s judgement of it).

      Reni is unfortunately not detailed in suggested remedies. The closest she comes seems to be for people to become more aware of what white privilege means and to understand the experiences of non-whites. She does not bother to argue with white people about it because, she writes, those who want to do something about racism don’t need to be told. Trying to make anyone feel guilty is counterproductive anyway, for any number of reasons. The bottom line — she wants the experiences of racial minorities to be more widely understood.

  2. “black people are twice as likely to be charged with drugs possession, despite lower rates of drug use. Black people are also more likely to receive a harsher police response (being five times more likely to be charged rather than cautioned or warned) for possession of drugs” (Report – PDF);
    Would that be because they are much more likely to be dealing the drugs. (Not a slight on “it’s their fault for dealing drugs”, just an observation).

    1. Is there evidence that they are more likely to be drug dealers or is that image derived from a certain stereotype? Again, I don’t know either. My understanding of the drug situation in the U.S. is that a black person is far more likely to face court for a joint of marijuana than any middle or upper class white person using cocaine supplied through dealers originating in Colombia. That situation can surely be used as a symbol of systemic racism and injustice.

      1. Neil, Although I don’t have the stats, I do have 20 years of legal experience defending drug offenders in court, and I can tell you 2 things for sure. One is that law enforcement looks for crime where they are accustomed to finding it. This means they go to the same neighborhoods, watch the same people, catch the same family of criminals over and over. If you’re a middle class coke user, you’re less likely to get caught until you start going into the dirty neighborhoods to pick up your stash, then you’ll get busted. So this may affect who gets caught, to some degree. There are plenty of people of all races who both deal and use illegal drugs. On sentencing, I have seen a little bit of seeming discrimination; an 11 month sentence for a black first-time felony offender with mild facts, for example, versus probation in other cases.

  3. One step toward remedying racism would be to eliminate the notion of a white race. There is no such thing. There are ethnicities which are white, such as Norwegian-Americans, Italian-Americans, etc. and those identifications have some meaning. (The local Norwegian Hall near where I live has no notion of white supremacy about it either, even though it is a self-identified ethnicity which is white.)

    African Americans in the U.S. as a self-understood identity has meaning analogous to Norwegian- or Scandinavian-American or Jewish. “Black” as a synonym for African American also has sensibility in common use. But “White race” when claimed as a self-identifier in North America as if it is a legitimate ethnicity has no upside or legitimacy that I can see. It is used only, in about 100% of instances to my knowledge, in ways that are designed to contrast with and marginalize people of color, in a way that the local Norwegian-American hall near me does not do at all.

    And so although it was shocking to me the first time I read a call for the abolition of the white race–not of people who are white! but of the notion of a white race or cultural identity!–I realized it is like calling for the abolition of monarchy in the American colonies two centuries ago or in Australia today does not mean killing Queen Elizabeth. It means delegitimizing a structural way of thinking or doing things.

    I personally do not think healing will come to America from the still-festering legacy of the Original Sin of treatment of Native Americans and African slavery (even though the American colonies were late in the game on slavery in the arc of world history, it was at the latest stage after most of the rest of the world knew slavery was wrong, and it was an institution which fundamentally built America’s national wealth as brought out in Edward Baptist’s book) … until there is a realization of some form of formal national apology combined with reparations. Reparations matter–ownership of wealth and assets matters, more so than increases in income–and toward the end of his life, before he was untimely cut down by assassination, Martin Luther King called for reparations–but King’s vision was that the descendants of slaves would then share out such reparations to ALL poor people in America, black and white and everyone. What a vision of healing poor whites/blacks divide. No wonder King was killed. Ineffective voices, no problem, there is plenty of free speech in America for that. King was different. He was effective. He was changing America. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover considered King the most dangerous man in America. King was cut down. There was no national discourse leading to King’s vision of reparations, a poor-whites/black healing, and an end to poverty in America. King was too good for this world. Today there is a national holiday for him in America. But like candles in the darkness the dream lives on and I believe will one day come about.

    1. Two concepts you bring out overlap with Reni Eddo-Lodge’s discussion: whiteness is seen as an ideology, and it is perhaps through that perspective that there is room to eliminate the notion of the “white race”; and class injustice — at present the extreme right pits the “white race” against the “black race” by speaking of a “white working class” instead of maintaining focus on the injustices from “class-ism” itself, an area where your portrayal of King’s aspirations become relevant again.

    2. “One step toward remedying racism would be to eliminate the notion of a white race. There is no such thing.”

      I have seen it argued that there is no biological basis for the concept of race when applied to human beings. Is that what you mean?

      1. Yes Doug, that was what I meant. Ashley Montagu, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, an early formative book for me when I read it when 19 years old while at a fundamentalist Bible college in east Texas. The book was radical when it appeared but has long since become mainstream scientific understanding. For those not familiar with this title I cannot recommend it highly enough, a true classic in the history of scientific understanding.

        Speaking of science, and totally off-topic, I must say how overjoyed I am to learn yesterday that my second cousin, Jennifer Doudna, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Emmanuelle Charpentier, for discovery of CRISPR gene editing, so revolutionary in its implications and potential that Time magazine several years ago named Jennifer one of the 100 most significant persons in the world for her scientific work. My parents met each other in the home of Jennifer’s grandparents in Kentucky, a chemistry of a different kind which resulted in my being here to write this comment on Vridar this moment. End of off-topic! 🙂

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