October marks Black History Month, the annual celebration of the history, achievements and contributions of black people in the UK and Reni Eddo-Lodge is well worthy of attention.
Reni is the author of triple-award winning Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race and is also known for her ‘About Race’ podcast. Reni’s book and podcast boldly addresses the thought-provoking questions that would otherwise be tip-toed around.
‘The Big Question’ is the latest entry to her podcast series and she answers the question: “as a white person, what can I do to help race relations?” Reni, in conversation with the ‘High Low Show’ podcaster Dolly Alderton, says that in order to judge in what way an individual can help, they must “diagnose” where they hold “influence in [their] lives” and “assess where the institutional racism is really taking hold in [their] sector”. Reni goes on to say that she “can’t stand” the ever so common question of ‘what can I do as a white person?’ and says that the “Queensland Aboriginal activists group put it best: “if you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together”. This statement of solidarity is something that has particular resonance not just this month, but every day of the year.
Later in the podcast, Reni talks to Gabby Edlin about her work for ‘Bloody Good Period.’ Gabby mentions how after over a year of giving out basic shampoos, one of the women finally said to her “[I] could do with a bit of shea butter.” It was then that Gabby realised her ignorance. ‘Bloody Good Period’ provides sanitary products and toiletries to asylum seekers in the UK. 70 percent of which are people of colour and yet, the consideration of the different hair type was never made. This is because of the dominance of white people’s needs in the cosmetics industry. Obviously, Gabby should not be shunned for this because as soon as she realised her error, she implemented “much more demand for afro hair products”. But what can be drawn from this is the commonplace unawareness of white privilege. Going back to Reni’s answer that we must ‘diagnose’ and ‘assess’ where privilege lies in our everyday lives, it is important that in this month we not only celebrate the achievements, contributions and identity of black people in the UK, but that we be proactive in eliminating the things in our everyday lives that enforce the cultural dominance of white identity and prevent equality for black identity.
In Reni’s powerful introduction to ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race’ she states that ‘after university, [she] was hungry for more information. [She] wanted to know about the black people in Britain, post-slavery. However, this information was not easily accessible.’ As a diverse group of students at Queen Mary, let’s make this information accessible through conversation this Black History Month. As young minds, we have the opportunity to change the world and, like Reni, all of us should start tackling the tough questions. So, let’s begin!