Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

The book that sparked a national conversation. Exploring everything from eradicated black history to the inextricable link between class and race, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is the essential handbook for anyone who wants to understand race relations in Britain today.

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge is the book about race and Britain I didn’t know I needed.

So, a weird thing about the British education system – at least, back when I was in it – is that you don’t really learn anything about the history of race in the country. The UK’s colonialist history, the atrocities it has inflicted on other countries, how those wounds continue to be felt today were – and I am embarrassed to admit this, but I’ll be honest about it – things I learned entirely by accident through fiction.

I know how white I sound right now.

And yet even in the last few years, as I’ve learned chunks of a history that even now my country fails to be held accountable for, a lot of what I have learned about black history in particular has been through an American lens. It’s a phenomenon Eddo-Lodge describes in the book, the “heavy focus on Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad and Martin Luther King Jr., the household names of America’s civil rights movement felt important” to her, but far away from her own experiences as a black person in the UK.

Eddo-Lodge then sets up the history of black Britain in brief, from the slave ports dotted all over the country (one of them very near where I live that I had no idea about) to the black and brown soldiers who fought in World War One, promised the end of colonial rule in return for their service (a promise England broke), race riots and the utterly horrifying lynching of Charles Wootton – to which Britain responded by ‘repatriating’ (deporting, basically) 600 black people from the country.

In setting up the history of racism in Britain and its manifestation now, as a reader you can’t help but reflect on what’s changed – but more strikingly, what hasn’t. In 1900, the British government decided that the ‘solution’ to the problem of racist crime in the community was to send black people ‘home’ (to places they had been forcibly removed from by the British who enslaved them). Nowadays we deal with structural racism with a similar ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach – by pretending it doesn’t exist. As Eddo-Lodge says, white people “truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin colour can and should be universal.” And yet as she goes onto explain, with the stark disparities in educational opportunities, higher unemployment rates, harsher police responses (for example, black people are twice as likely to be charged with drug possession despite lower rates of use), disproportionate and inappropriate use of the Mental Health Act and generally worse health outcomes for black people, this narrative of equality we have invented quickly falls apart.

Every section of this book is fascinating and challenging, but none more so than the chapter about feminism – specifically Eddo-Lodge’s points about white feminism. That is, for the uninitiated, feminism that doesn’t take account of race. If you’re a white girl born in the nineties, in other words, the feminism that you were brought up on. Eddo-Lodge writes in detail about her experiences with white feminism, and in particular the way that white women often frame themselves as victims in a conversation about their own privilege (think Taylor Swift/ Nicki Minaj VMAs incident from a few years ago) in such a way that paints black women as ‘angry’ villains, effectively pushing them out of the conversation. As Eddo-Lodge puts it: “The white feminist distaste for intersectionality quickly evolved into a hatred for the idea of white privilege – perhaps because to recognise structural racism would have to mean recognising their own whiteness.”
White feminism perceives intersectionality as a threat to its identity. It’s the same old racism under new guise, and one that is rampant even in what many white people consider to be progressive circles.

Even if non-fiction isn’t your go-to, I think you should read this book. Eddo-Lodge’s work is important, powerful and deeply engaged with the political moment without pandering to the idea that racism is something that just happened in the last couple years – she’s very clear that it’s only white people who hadn’t noticed it before 2016. It’s a work that also serves as a call to action and a reminder, for white readers anyway, that the job of picking apart structural racism is the responsibility of everyone – most especially those who have spent their entire lives benefitting from it.
Reni Eddo-Lodge is a vital writer and Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race should be at the top of every intersectional feminist’s reading list.

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Everything I Know About Love

When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming a grown up, journalist Dolly Alderton has seen and tried it all. She vividly recounts falling in love, wrestling with self-sabotage, finding a job, throwing a socially disastrous Rod Stewart themed house party, getting drunk, getting dumped, realising that Ivan from the corner shop is the only man you’ve ever been able to rely on, and finding that that your mates are always there at the end of every messy night out. It’s a book about bad dates, good friends and – above all else – about recognising that you and you alone are enough.

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I grabbed a copy of Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton on a whim at the checkout in Sainsbury’s. It was £3.99, I was stocking up on yoghurt and pasta. It made sense.

I knew very little about the book besides a few people I follow on Instagram posting about how great it was and assumed from the title that it was probably about boys. And, for the first couple of chapters at least, I was right. Dolly Alderton starts what very much appears to be a book about dating before she pivots into a much more complicated story about friendship, self-destruction, loss, grief, therapy and independence – and cooking. There is a macaroni cheese recipe in there that’ll make you lose your mind.

“Sometimes the gap between the little faith you have compared to the unwavering faith of others is a very moving thing.”

Everything I Know About Love is a series of funny, heart-wrenching and sometimes cringe-inducing personal essays about Alderton’s life, from her beginnings living in the outskirts of London counting down the days until adulthood finally begins, to her discovery of alcohol and its impact on her, some boys and, of course, her personal reckoning – with herself. These essays are broken up by recipes (I know I mentioned this already but the hangover mac and cheese is life changing), made up correspondence on everything from pretentious house parties to the nightmare that is the hen do in the social media age and everything Dolly knew about love between the ages of 21 and 30. From “Men love a filthy, wild woman. Have sex on the first date, keep them up all night, smoke hash in their bed in the morning, never call them back, tell them you hate them, turn up on their doorstep in an Ann Summers nurse’s outfit, be anything but conventional. That’s how you keep them interested.” (21) to “There is a reason why those with shared demons or who had similar childhoods or overlapping ancestry often end up together. I think everyone’s deepest emotional fingerprints reach out and touch each other on an unconscious level. This can be good and bad. This can lead to intimacy and connection, and co-dependency and drama.” (30). Each list is full of embarrassing misconceptions and deep truths I’ve been reflecting on ever since.

In ‘Being a Bit Fat, Being a Bit Thin’, Alderton details how quickly it is possible to fall into disordered eating habits. Always described as “a big girl” by her peers, Dolly hadn’t considered her weight in much detail before her first Big Break Up age 21. Struck down by unexpected heartbreak, for the first time in her life, Dolly found herself completely unable to eat. When she shed a stone in the first few weeks she grabbed hold of weight as one aspect of her life she could control. This is a difficult essay to read, as it speaks very directly to how ingrained diet culture is – in young women in particular. We have been so socialised into believing that thin equals happy even the most reasonable person is vulnerable to falling into that belief – and, as Alderton points out, it’s one that is incredibly difficult to ever be completely free from. Once you know something’s caloric value, it’s very hard to forget.

When I saw the title Everything I Know About Love, I assumed the love Alderton referenced was mostly the romantic kind, but the love story at the centre of her memoir is a platonic one. She and her best friend, Farley have known each other since they were children. They always functioned as two parts of a frenetic whole – that is, until Farley met her partner. Alderton writes with honesty and humility about how hard it was for her to see her best friend fall in love. It is one of the lesser spoken of aspects of friendship, but the particular heartbreak of suddenly becoming second to your friend’s serious partner is a real and horrible phase of life at whatever age it happens to you. Going from speaking to and seeing each other every day to suddenly having to fit into the newly busy schedule of your bestie can be unmooring, alienating and very, very lonely. But, slowly, you adjust to the new normal. The partner you’ve resented comes to feel like family.

Alderton illustrates that periods of closeness and distance are all a part of a long-term relationship, something that becomes very apparent when Farley’s life takes a completely unexpected and tragic twist – leading she and Dolly back to the kind of closeness they hadn’t had in years, under the most awful of circumstances. It’s not the kind of unconditional love she had always pictured, but, Dolly comes to realise, she and Farley have it. Alderton spends much of the book lamenting her supposed inability to maintain long-term love. Her life has mainly been without serious romantic relationships, and she wears her independence like a shield. But the idea that she doesn’t have forever-love in her life isn’t real. Farley is the great (platonic) love of her life – with all the joys, fights, complications and phases that entails.

All I can say to sum up this book is this: I was not ready.

How To Be Alone

Lane Moore is a rare performer who is as impressive onstage – whether hosting her iconic show Tinder Live or being the enigmatic woman of It Was Romance – as she is on the page, as both a former writer for The Onion and an award-winning sex and relationships editor for Cosmopolitan. But her story has its obstacles, including being her own parent, living in her car as a teenager, and moving to New York City to pursue her dreams. Through it all, she looked to movies, TV and music as the family and support systems she never had.

From spending the holidays alone to having better “stranger luck” than with those closest to her to feeling like the last hopeless romantic on earth, Lane reveals her powerful and entertaining journey in all its candour, anxiety, and ultimate acceptance – with humour always her bolstering force and greatest gift.

How To Be Alone is a must-read for anyone whose childhood still feels unresolved, who spends more time pretending to have friends online than feeling close to anyone in real life, who tries to have genuine, deep conversations in a room full of people who would rather you not. Above all, it’s a book for anyone who desperately wants to feel less alone and a little more connected through reading her words.

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This review is difficult to write because How To Be Alone, Lane Moore’s heart breaking, funny, painful and ultimately healing memoir destroyed me for a solid week. Honestly I’m still not over it.

But I knew that would happen going in. Lane Moore appeared on Hannalyze This (an amazing podcast about mental health and processing trauma that I highly recommend you check out) a few weeks back and though I hadn’t heard of her before, I knew by the end of the episode that I needed her book. You know when a book calls to you on, like, a cellular level?

Yeah.

That.

How To Be Alone is a series of essays about Lane’s life, touching on her childhood (Emergency Contact Left Blank) through leaving home (Now You Get To Be An Adult, Even Though You Were Always An Adult. Good Luck!), relationships (So Your Family Dictates Your Romantic Future? What a Fun Punishment! and All This Pain Must Be Worth It Because You’re Supposed To Be My Soul Mate) and loving Jim Halpert from The Office (Am I The Last Hopeless Romantic On Earth?). Lane describes in strikingly honest detail – and I do mean tear yourself in half, blood on the pages honesty – what life is like when your primary support system, your family, is abusive and absent. In moments funny and tear-inducing, she writes of clawing her way to survival by way of the music, TV shows and books she used to build her identity in the absence of any adult affirmation or supervision.

What I loved most about How To Be Alone is it is a memoir written by someone who is still in it, by which I mean to say still in the pain, in the recovery. I heard Lane herself say in an interview that she was sick of reading memoirs by women detailing their painful experiences of negotiating the wilderness alone that almost universally end with… ‘and then I met Jeff and now everything is fine’.

Screw Jeff.

What Lane has produced is a book for people who are still in it. It’s proof that even in the midst of the pain and the horror there are moments of lightness. That feelings of pain – overwhelming and awful and insurmountable as they so often feel – are survivable, because Lane is writing not having survived, but currently surviving.

With almost every significant female written memoir in the story of survival canon ending with the arrival of Jeff, this is no small thing.

What I also appreciated about this book was that she didn’t only write about her struggles with romance, but with platonic relationships too. It’s always bothered me the way people who ‘struggle with relationships’ on TV do so exclusively in the romantic arena – seeming to have no problem maintaining an often large and close knit group of friends. As if feelings of insecurity, feeling like you’re a burden or having boundary issues only matter when sex is involved.

If you’re someone who finds life generally pretty hard, if you had a weird childhood that you’re still struggling with or you’re going through a tough spot right now, then you should read How To Be Alone. You’re likely to find a piece of yourself in there somewhere.

I grew up in a pretty chaotic household. My mum was a single parent and we had no money. She was in an emotionally abusive relationship for a long time (12 years – so basically my entire childhood and still a very large proportion of my life so far) and that person, though I haven’t seen or spoken to him in getting on for a decade, continues to loom large in my life in ways I’ve only really come to understand in the last couple years.

My dad was a very unreliable and often absent, and when he was around, the type who’d do something shitty to you and then find a way to demonstrate that it was actually your fault that he did that thing. We’re not in contact any more.

I do not have an easy time being close with people. I am painfully socially anxious and I second guess literally every single interaction I have. For a long time I just assumed I was broken, but I’ve recently realised (on an intellectual level, anyway) that actually my natural setting of General Dread may not be one I was born with so much as one that was… installed. Healing is a long, hard process I for one have barely even begun, but books like How To Be Alone, filled with pain as they are, go a long fucking way to helping you feel whole again.

In How To Be Alone – even though Lane’s life was a lot (a lot) harder than mine has been – I saw myself reflected in a way I really never have before. There was no neat tying traumatic experiences up in a bow, but instead a slow unfolding of the exhausting process of learning to carry your extensive and heavy emotional baggage – and the hope that you might one day let it all go.

 

 

Vanishing Twins

For as long as she can remember, Leah has had the mysterious feeling that she’s been searching for a twin – that she should be part of an intimate pair. It begins with dance partners as she studies ballet growing up; continues with her attractions to girlfriends in college; and leads her, finally, to Eric, whom she moves across the country for and marries. But her steadfast, monogamous relationship leaves her with questions about her sexuality and her identity, so she and her husband decide to try an open marriage.

How does a young couple make room for their individual desires, their evolving selfhoods, and their artistic ambitions while building a life together? Can they pursue other sexual partners, even live in separate cities, and keep their original passionate bond alive? Vanishing Twins looks for answers in psychology, science, pop culture, art, architecture, Greek mythology, dance and language to create a lucid, suspenseful portrait of a woman testing the limits and fluidities of love.

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Vanishing Twins: A Marriage, Leah Dieterich’s deliciously written and intimate memoir is consumed with questions of identity, love, queerness and establishment of self – in other words, all of the good stuff.

Dieterich approaches the tension between her identity and her relationship through the metaphor of Vanishing Twin Syndrome – a medical phenomenon in which one twin “consumes” the other in the womb. Dieterich sees herself as the remaining twin, arrived into the world as one half of an as yet unfulfilled pair, charged with searching the world for one who mirrors her perfectly.

She finds it in Eric, marries young and readies herself to live her life in perfect twin-ship with him. Eric is her life, her ambition and the centre of her universe – they agree on everything (turns out it’s not so hard if you are really determined), inspire each other every day and appear to be moving in a perfectly symmetrical trajectory.

Until, suddenly, they’re not.

For Dieterich, the problem of the vanishing twin is constant and evolving. When she finds her twin-ship, creates a “womb-like” life for herself and Eric where all that exists is each other, she risks herself becoming the twin that is consumed.

It’s like we’re the same person. We finish each other’s sentences. This is what we’ve been taught to desire and expect of love. But there’s a question underneath that’s never addressed: once you find someone to finish your sentences, do you stop finishing them for yourself?”

Dieterich spent so much of her young life looking for her “twin”, she forgot to look for herself. In her search she found herself in intense relationships with her female friends – friendships where lines blurred, became sexually charged. She doesn’t want to lose Eric, but as she grows she finds herself desperate to explore her sexuality.

They make the decision together to open up the marriage to other sexual partners. Leah starts a long distance relationship with an artist, Elena, while Eric moves across the country to pursue his artistic career. In their non-monogamy, and subsequently making the choice to no longer live together, both find that they can establish their identities in a way that seemed impossible in their monogamous state. In spending time apart, and with others, it opens up a sense of self independent of the other that neither had had – not since they had been in a relationship, and perhaps ever.

It’s painful and complicated. You question, along with Dieterich, whether the relationship can possibly survive, if independence and monogamy are mutually exclusive states, what her queer identity means when she’s in a relationship with a man and how it can be expressed (and the tension that expression creates).

We are not supposed to live our lives in exclusive pairs. That’s not to say I think monogamy doesn’t work, but that our entire lives can’t, and shouldn’t, be built around one person. What Deiterich discovers through her sexual relationship with Elena, but also her creative partnership with her work colleague, Ethan, is that one person can’t fulfil all of her needs. With Elena she explores her queerness and her art, with Ethan she creates a successful working and creative partnership, and with Eric she grows and changes – pulling apart and drawing together but, ultimately, never letting go.

Through Vanishing Twins, Dieterich explores identity as not just one thing, but a tapestry of elements that evolve, switch and move over time. And that’s okay. That’s as it should be.

Redefining Realness

Trigger warning: sexual abuse

In this profound and courageous New York Times bestseller, Janet Mock establishes herself as a resounding and inspirational voice for the transgender community – and anyone fighting to define themselves on their own terms. With unflinching honesty and moving prose, Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor and trans in America, offering readers accessible language while imparting vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalised and misunderstood population. Though undoubtedly an account of one woman’s quest for self at all costs, Redefining Realness is a powerful vision of possibility and self-realisation, pushing us all toward greater acceptance of one another – and of ourselves – showing us as never before how to be unapologetic and real.

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I’ve been a big fan of Janet Mock’s for a while now. I loved her Never Before podcast (the Kris Jenner interview!) and her journalism is fantastic, as is her jealousy-inducing Instagram account. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading her first memoir, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More. I mean that title alone screams Lydia, READ ME.

I think sometimes my subconscious tells me to put off reading books until I’m ready for them, and that was very much the case with Redefining Realness. As someone who has spent much of the last year or so consumed by questions about identity (‘be yourself’ is about the most stress inducing advice a person can give me), reading Janet’s story hit me hard. So, next time you’re beating yourself up for not having got to a particular book yet – relax. You’ll read it when the time is right.

In Redefining Realness, Janet details her life from early childhood up until she goes to college and ends with her reassignment surgery. The book is a mix of Janet’s own story with contextualising elements regularly added to place her personal experience into the wider struggles that many trans women, and especially trans women of colour, deal with. She emphasises that her story isn’t representative of the entire community and acknowledges the spectrum of gender, particularly when it comes to parts like her need for reassignment surgery – a procedure that was necessary for Janet specifically, but one that she takes pains to explain is not necessary for all trans women.

Redefining Realness is a memoir that is also a great introduction to transgender identity, the systemic prejudices trans women face and the sometimes deadly consequences those injustices can have.

What I loved most about this book though, was the nuanced, compassionate and equally resentful way that Janet writes about her family. In writing about her parents, Janet navigates the dichotomy of the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ parent with ease. Both of her parents were pretty disastrous, unreliable people while she was growing up. She quickly learned that she had to provide for herself, financially and emotionally, as both her parents had limited room for her needs because they were consumed by dealing with their own. Though both her parents at times appear villainous – her mother with her total focus on her own romantic life at the cost, repeatedly, of her children; her father similarly consumed by his own relationships, drug abuse and a need to impose his ideas of masculinity on the child he didn’t understand – they are also loving, complex people all of their own. Though both regularly let her down, they never let her go. Whether it was her mother nursing her back to health after her surgery, or her father’s response after she came out to him (defensively, aggressively) – “Your disrespect for me is apparent… But I’m the parent and you’re the child and it is not your job to love me the way I love you. My love for you is unconditional” – Janet shows that even in their neglectful moments, both her parents still proved their love for their daughter. Families are complicated, painful, delicate ecosystems and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that represented in a way that felt authentic to me until this book.

Janet’s unflinching commitment to describing every inch of the painful, frightening and vulnerable process of becoming yourself pierces right to the heart of the struggle of growing up. A sense of being in hiding from something is, I think, a state very familiar to many of us, and Janet’s gradual inching out of the shadows is inspiring to read as she comes to terms with the abuse, shame and hardship that led her to becoming the person she is today.

She is fucking epic.

Becoming a person is a long, hard process that requires an awful lot more patience than we ever imagined when we were young. Reading stories like Janet’s is a much needed reminder that struggle, pain and frustration are only one aspect of a long, complicated life. And, once again, that there is a lot of baggage behind even the most glamorous Instagram feed.

Mood Reads

When the idea of hanging out with your friends makes you want to puke from anxiety…

Fan Girl – Rainbow Rowell

When is feels like EVERYBODY has somebody but you and you’re going to die alone…

The Upside of Unrequited – Becky Albertalli

When you want to set fire to things…

Play it as it Lays – Joan Didion

When you want to start a political movement…

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

When you want to celebrate adult life, in all its weirdnesses…

Yes Please – Amy Poehler

When you want some serious sexy times…

The Hating Game – Sally Thorne

When you’ve had one of those nights with friends where you feel like you’ve found your place in the universe….

The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater

When you need to feel like you exist…

Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed

When you need to disappear…

The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson

When you want to have learned EVERYTHING…

My Life on the Road – Gloria Steinem

When you need to hear that it’s okay to be insecure…

The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness

When you need reminding that the world can be beautiful….

No Matter the Wreckage – Sarah Kay

Too Much and Not the Mood

On April 11, 1931, Virginia Woolf ended her entry in A Writer’s Diary with the words “too much and not the mood.” She was describing how tired she was of correcting her own writing, of the “cramming in and the cutting out” to please readers, wondering if she had anything at all that was truly worth saying.

The character of that sentiment, the attitude of it, inspired Durga Chew-Bose to collect her own unconventional work. The result is a lyrical and piercingly insightful cluster of essays-meet-prose poetry about identity and culture.

Informed by Maggie Nelsons Bluets, Lydia Davis’s stories, and Vivian Gornick’s exploration of interior life, Chew-Bose mines the inner restlessness that keeps her always on the brink of creative expression. Part memoir, part cultural criticism, Too Much and Not the Mood is a lush, surprising, and affecting examination of what it means to be a first-generation, creative young woman working today.

I read a lot of essay collections written by women. I treat them like instruction manuals for life; I return to them over and over and over again when I need to scratch a particular emotional itch.

You probably know the one I mean.

But in all the collections that line my bookshelves there is nobody quite like Durga Chew-Bose. It makes sense to me that she named her collection after a Virginia Woolf quote because Too Much and Not the Mood flows, bounces and draws up short in a stream of consciousness style that is distinctly Woolfian.

I was thrown off balance as soon as I started reading, finding the first essay, ‘Heart Museum’ (probably the most experimental of the collection) was 93 pages long. It’s Chew-Bose at her most whimsical. You don’t so much open the door into her world as tumble, Alice in Wonderland-style endlessly down into her interior life, wondering, all the while, how she managed to paint the inside of her brain in a way that makes introversion feel big instead of claustrophobic. The essay meanders through anxiety, writing, your woman friends who make you feel more connected than anybody else, so called ‘nook’ people and the purpose and beauty that can be found in, as she calls it, intentionally digressing.

In Too Much and Not the Mood, Chew-Bose is preoccupied by her childhood and her relationship with her parents in particular. In another standout essay, ‘D as In’, she writes about her experience of being a first-generation kid, and how being a woman of colour comes with ‘an assumption that I owe strangers an answer when they inquire’ but where are you from from? It is a beautiful piece about finding your identity while living in a society that so often imposes a limited one on people from minorities.

My copy of the book is filled with dog-eared pages. Durga Chew-Bose’s writing is like unwrapping a gift or sinking into a hot bath after a long day. There is something luxurious about existing in the interior space that she creates. A great example of this is the piece ‘On Living Alone’, which she writes of as an exercise in getting to know the person she’s spent her whole life avoiding: herself. She writes: ‘Living alone, I soon caught on, is a form of self-portraiture, or retracing the same lines over and over – of becoming.’

There were so many moments while reading that I had to put the book down and quietly wonder at her writing. There were other times I had to wave the book in the air and read out passages to the nearest friend or family member I could grab hold of. I took photos of quotes and sent them to my friends, to confused responses mostly. Chew-Bose has such a poetic way of cutting to the heart of a feeling in a way that made me catch my breath.

In the final essay of the collection ‘My Least and Most Aware’, she recounts meeting up with an ex, and the way that all of the old resentments she thought she’d moved past came rushing back to the surface. She writes:

 ‘We laboured, he and I, over niceties. Listening to him felt like work. It was as though we were both trying to retrieve a mutual tenderness that had fallen from our hands and rolled into a storm drain.’

I already know this is one I’ll be reading over and over.