"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
I must start this book review with a confession. I’m a middle-aged white man. There, I’ve said it. And thus, according to this book that bestows guilt on me. Apparently, my modicum of success is down to ‘white-privilege.’ This social position stamps me at birth.
For the author, Ms Eddo-Lodge, this is my ‘original sin’. To be born white and so pronounced with liability for all the bad stuff that’s happened to black folks down the ages. I was not aware of this status given my origins in a northern English working-class family. An outside toilet and a tin bath in front of the fire aren’t immediate signs of privilege. I may be wrong.
Thus, I’m most grateful to this middle-class author for pointing out my entitled position. Ms Eddo-Lodge is a journalist who works for several national newspapers and writes well. She’s also an avowed feminist, who appears on TV shows and lectures around the country.
Thanks to her, I can now atone for the sin of ‘white-privilege’ to accept responsibility for terrible things. Of course, I wasn’t alive or in any way controlling of those circumstances - but I should make amends.
OK, I'm disingenuous. This book is a must read if you wish to grasp the emotions around race relations. The book is weighty on feelings, alternating between states of fury and despair. It’s UK centric but has echoes across all societies. Despite the title - paradoxically - the author is talking a lot to white people about race. She now has a substantial platform for her views. Along the way, the author makes assertions that are unsustainable or dishonest.
It’s important to assert that I don’t accept a few of the concepts used to anchor the arguments against nasty white folks. For example, the male patriarchy is a fallacy of the feminist movement. If the male patriarchy is so dominant why are the majority of street sleepers men? Men fill the prisons and are three times more likely to commit suicide. The data is clear. Men are having a rough time.
The most bizarre position the book takes is around ‘white-privilege’. Again, it's not something that I can say I recognise. And by that admission, Ms Eddo-Lodge adjudges me a sinner. Because if I don’t see that, then I can’t reform. This castigation somewhat reminds me of the terrible dictates of certain religions. Born a miscreant, judged a wrong-doer, even as a babe. All zealots resort to such language and protestations.
The book narrative takes in much of black history in the UK. It's peppered with statements that if you switched the word ‘white’ for ‘black’, this could provoke outrage. In Ms Loyd’s world whites, especially men, are fair game for attack. Thus we get.
“ … glut of middle-aged white men currently clogging the upper echelons of most professions.”
She allows herself this vitriol because whites have had it too good for too long and even poor whites haven’t suffered like her people. This is whiny, regressive stuff.
It’s no surprise that in a majority white country middle-aged white men are in such a position. The bile here ignores the years of struggle and personal stories that these men underwent to get there. To batch them together in such a lazy manner and deduce their success is due to ‘whiteness’ is deceitful. There is much like this in the book.
Ms Eddo-Lodge is no fool. She doubles back on herself later in the book to shore up her defences. On page 115, about half-way through, “When I write about white people in this book, I don’t mean every individual white person. I mean whiteness as a political ideology.”
Well, that's fine having spent the first half of the book slagging off all white people. I suspect the realisation dawned on her that she’s also at fault for making sweeping judgements. She then gets into class issues to acknowledge that discrimination flows across ethnic lines, class and culture. She admits black people can be racist against whites. She then doubles back again. We get a wild theory that the white community is conspiring against blacks - “It like they [whites] all learn lines from the same score sheet.”
She documents instances of debating white people and faltering. Every one of her failures is a conspiracy. When she’s defeated it ‘the misappropriated use of freedom of speech’, while criticism of her is a ‘take-down’ - a word she uses a lot. Dare anyone to suggest her position is untenable.
Overall, the presentation of 'black' and 'white' people as monolithic blocks is counter-productive. It goes against the stated aim of the book of overcoming race-based prejudice and inequality. The title alone indulges in the same labelling process. It assumes all white people are ‘not sufficiently woke’ or receptive to ideas about race relations.
Towards the end of the book, Ms Eddo-Lodge develops another tirade. This time the target is white-feminists accused of using the movement for their purposes. Ms Eddo-Lodge asserts these ‘white-women’ won’t accept ‘intersectionality’ in the feminist movement. In the process, they deny her a double-whammy of prejudice; being black and a woman. This somewhat esoteric argument wins her no favours. To compare white-feminists to Enoch Powell, as she does, is nonsense.
Ms Eddo-Lodge talks of setting boundaries, because the debate has caused her emotional distress. We learn she suffers from depression. Well, here are my boundaries. Don’t come at me with ill-conceived labels based on your prejudices. You know nothing of my struggles, motivations nor sentiments. Thus to label me makes you as guilty as those who rant against black people.
No doubt Ms Eddo-Lodge and her supporters will dismiss my criticisms. First, I’m a white man and second, I don’t get it since my 'white-privilege' makes me blind. Likewise, I can fire back. Ms Eddo-Lodge views everything through the double-distorting lens of racism and feminism. In her world every motive, every agenda, every move dictated by a prejudice. Thus the argument circles around.
In the end, she offers no new solutions. Finally, she tells us some people opined the book didn't help the conversation around racism. I disagree with that sentiment. The book illustrates the irrationality of prejudice and the mirror reaction of hatred coming the other way.
If nothing else, Ms Eddo-Lodge’s book sparks a discussion. That’s a good thing.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.