Sunday, May 23, 2021

What White People Can Do Next - Emma Dabiri

I've been meaning to get, and read, this book since it came out (beginning of April, so I'm not doing badly), and as I got it just before damaging my knee as I walked downstairs (middle age sucks) I stuffed it into my bag before hobbling off to A&E on doctors orders to get an x ray. It was an excellent companion for a longish wait for results (longer because there isn't anything seriously wrong with my knee so I wasn't a priority). 

I've followed Emma Dabiri since her first appearance on Britain's Lost Masterpieces (it's an excellent show that I really recommend if you're unfamiliar with it), so there was already a good chunk of the ideas discussed in what is a lengthy essay that I was already familiar with. I'm already the converted to an extent, but there was also a lot more to think about and honestly, this is a book that I think pretty much everybody could do with reading - it a very good starting point for a whole lot of important conversations.

So much so that after going on at length about it yesterday to a friend I actually saw in person (this is still a novelty) she ordered 3 copies when she got home, 1 for herself, 1 for her brother, and 1 for a cousin. I had to gently remove my copy from my partner this afternoon and reclaim it until I've finished writing about it, because despite initial scepticism he started reading and kept going. 

I'm slightly wary of writing anything which even touches on identity politics right now online, an already volatile atmosphere has not been improved by the current level of pandemic fatigue, and that's a problem. It's a problem that started for me when the row about racism in knitting erupted a few years ago and so much of the language being thrown about, especially in reaction to being an ally was so profoundly alienating.

It's the insistence on self education in the midst of an online pile on that bothers me, the briefest moment of thought about conspiracy theories should be enough of a warning of how badly wrong that can go. It's a small thing to recommend something, any thing, any one thing, be it a book, a twitter feed, a film, a pod cast, a blog, an artist (the list could go on and on) when you've already taken the trouble to weigh in on a thread. Honestly, I'm quite busy just trying to get by, I'm prepared to do the work, but it's not a priority when it feels like it's being made harder than it needs to be. 

One of the things I really warmed to in this book is Dabiri's far more scathing, perceptive, and eloquent observations on the problems with a certain kind of demand for allyship - which more often than not is coming from other well meaning white people. 

Beyond that 'What White People Can Do Next' - the title is deliberately chosen to be provocative and to be something of a joke - is full of suggestions of where to go next in terms of reading, which in turn will undoubtedly lead to more suggestions, and makes a lot of sense in talking about coalition. Points about talking about class instead of race are a useful, and necessary, change of perspective too.

Maybe most important is the discussion of when we even started thinking in terms of race - and why it's undoubtedly a bad thing. I'd have liked to see a bit more discussion of the role religion has historically in de-humanising those we don't share a faith with. But then it's a short book and that's a big subject all on it's own.

And with further consideration the most important thing here is the idea of coalition to effect the kind of fundamental changes which will work for all of us. Anyway. It's a short book, it doesn't take long to read, and it has a lot to think about in it. I really recommend it.


  1. I've ordered a copy Hayley. You certainly piqued my interest in this book.

    1. I really think it's worth reading. I keep thinking about the whole concept of coalition as a way forward and it makes so much sense, it comes through in the way the book is constructed too. Getting to grips with all the ramifications of race as a relatively recent construct is a bit harder, but I definitely see it as an essay that looks to build bridges rather than simply smash things down.