Structural Racism in Britain: a case study

Elected Officials Introduce The Fairness And Equity Act Aimed At Reducing Penalties For Minor Marijuana Offenses

Some people declare that we live in a post racial world. Many insist that they are colour blind, whilst others refuse to engage with the idea of quotas for ethnic minorities. Which is unfortunate.

British society today is actively involved in racism, but it’s more unconscious and wide-spreading that anybody could have anticipated. In my last post on the consequences of Brexit, I discussed the mindset of those who were involved in the hate crime shortly after the referendum. Here, however, I can reveal that there is a further-reaching biased agenda is at play, and the worst thing is; it’s (mainly) unconscious.

After reading Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People about Race, shocking figures were unveiled. The media often portray racism to be seen in two categories: one where people are in full-out equality campaigns, posters and all, and one where others are openly spreading malicious messages online. Two opposites. But after reading this book, it turns out that in reality things are much more subtle than this; it’s not simply a black and white divide of personal choice, but something which through societal cues has seeped into our everyday life. From under-represenatation of BAME actors in the media to the dubious dealings of police (yes, even in Britain), these are the things which shift our everyday perception of the people around us. Don’t believe me? An excerpt from Eddo-Lodge’s book points out that “In 2009, a study by the Department for Work and Pensions found that applications for jobs to a number of prospective employers were not treated equally: applicants with white-sounding names were called to interview far more often than those with African- or Asian-sounding names.” Uncanny, yes, but is it that really that unsurprising? The book is filled with many other statistical and even anecdotal examples, from discussing the Bristol bus boycott to the role feminism has to play in levelling out the playing field, all of which are used to illustrate the point that structural racism exists today.

The reason why this book is so impactful is because often people think that structural racism doesn’t affect them, that is belongs to angry magazine articles and indignant interviewees. Not quite; although America is rife with unpleasant events surrounding discrimination, with alternative figures such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. being held up history class, we need to look no further than our own country for information. Then there are other factors such as white privilege, which is an interesting example. Eddo-Lodge points out that if you don’t know what it means, it means it’s probably in your favour. This relates more to subconscious relativity than anything else: in an interview, if you share something in common with the interviewer, they’ll assume that when you make a mistake it’s because of nerves, not incompetence. If you are a different race or gender to the interviewer, it’s far more likely that a negative assumption is placed upon you, which could be as drastic as to have the consequence of increasing your period of unemployment.

This is an enlightening read because it reveals how the nature of Britain’s society is interwoven with biases, with countless examples from not only history but modern-day to prove this. This is instrumental in pointing out existing structural flaws which many might not concede exist. However it seems to me that the type of people who will be reading a book entitled something as seemingly abrupt as “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”, probably aren’t the people who need to see this the most. But why is the title so unpalatable to many? The simple fact is that people with pale skin are unused to being called ‘white’; they have entitled themselves to so much pride and individualism, that to be pigeon-holed into a demographic almost appears to be rude. After all, the term is only accurate and it’s been illustrated consistently that pointing out other ethnicities’ skin colour is acceptable. (I won’t get started on the hypocrisy of the title, because that would take too long, although it seems that since publishing the book Eddo-Lodge has mainly been giving talks to white people about it… I don’t know, maybe it’s ironic.)

That is not to say that Eddo-Lodge’s book can sail past without any criticism though. Sadly not: firstly I would say that there is a lot of indication of the problems at hand; after all, if we are to discuss how to target a problem, we must not only identify the problem first, but get people to acknowledge the issue’s existence. Fine. Around 220 pages of this endless finger-pointing later, we have about 2 paragraphs of what can be done in the future. So, after lengthy discussions of structural rascism, what does the author thinks is the main way to solve this heart-felt problem? Talking. As simple as that.

Now, that might be useful for spreading the word amongst friends, must realistically this can’t be implemented to a life-changing effect on an international scale, which presumably is the result she wants. Talking, whilst powerful amongst small social circles (we all know what a rumour can do), or even, taking this example at it’s best, flitting past the newspaper headlines, is not going to change people’s innate societal biases which Eddo-Lodge has so expertly referred to earlier on. There are such sweeping statements such as: ‘The mess we are living in is a deliberate one. If it was created by people, it can be dismantled by people.” Yes, I understand now. Excuse me, I thought the issue of structural racism could be solved by walruses. It seems a bit poor to devote such a pitiful few sentences to a solution, because what use is highlighting a problem when you don’t as equally highlight the way the tackle it. If Eddo-Lodge had been a bit more specific in a mechanism for implementing this societal change, I would be satisfied, understand how we can all move forward because I know that vast swarms of people who are currently reading this book will sincerely want to help. Some may have massive platforms, other funds, and if they knew where to channel that maybe some work could be done. However, most people aren’t like Eddo-Lodge, and will only remember the injustice the book made them feel, not the facts or insights. Many won’t want to, out of a fear of public speaking, not the topic, speak to a large crowd about what they’ve learnt. If the reader is captive in the text, so to speak, at least they could have been offered alternative ways of spreading the word, such as specific organisations or campaigns. I’m not writing these things out of anger, but because we as writers have a limited chance to make an impact on an audience, but I wanted to see Eddo-Lodge use that literary platform so that it had the most influential outcome. It was borne out frustration at the missed opportunity more than anything else.

Also some of Eddo-Lodge’s comments made me prickle. For example, she writes in the section entitled ‘The Feminism Question’ that feminism “must demand pay for full-time mothers and free childcare for working mothers.” As somebody heavily involved in economic affairs and moral values in modern society, believe me when I say I have spent hours debating this topic. You cannot simply mention something as complex as the subject as the financial struggles of mothers in a single sentence then fling yourself off onto another world problem. Each of these issues, such as “Feminism must demand affordable, decent, secure housing” seems to be shoved into the text as the author attempts to find ways through an ideology to solve every global issue. These are problems which demand the respect of being fully explained, that each require countless books of their own to be fully comprehended and palming them off for feminists to fight for as well as gender equality seems groundless. Then there were mystifying phrases such as “I have no desire to be equal” and “It’s clear that equality doesn’t quite cut it.” This is fine for a personal preference I suppose, but the latter sentence doesn’t sit right with me. I understand what the author means when she says that the “onus is not on me to change. Instead, it’s the world around me.” but that doesn’t mean that she can just cast off equality as some dirty word. What more should anyone in society want than equality? What else is there to strive for?

Having said these things, it is generally a superbly written and eloquent read that is essential for those interested in economics, current affairs and psychology. Or everyday life really, but there were flaws nonetheless, which I think many critics have ignored due the heavily moral aspect of the book, so they feel if they attack a part of the book, they are in some way defending structural racism, which obviously is a false claim. Sincerely though, it was a relevant and pertinent piece.


Book of the Month- May A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett

The Discworld. Rincewind. The Unseen University. And, of course, antipasta.

Do you even read science-fiction if these words are alien to you? Terry Pratchett, the author of over 70 books, was a literary mastermind (who created the aforementioned words, or in the case of antipasta, decided that it was actually pasta that was prepared, like all antimatter, several hours after you ate it). He created the Discworld, a mega-series that contained no less than 41 novels. In 2000, he was voted the nation’s favourite author by the people of Britain. (Well, 2nd favourite author, if you include Rowling!) But Pratchett was also a remarkable campaigner for Alzheimer’s, animal rights and having a bit of sense of a sense of humour.


In this collection of his most celebrated speeches and articles, there is hardly an instance where one isn’t littered with a witty pun or sly joke. This book surveys almost the entirety of Pratchett’s lifetime, reflecting on his time at school, the nuclear power station (who knew?) as well as his career in journalism. Given that Pratchett, as far as I know, has no official biography, this is all we have. This snapshot of various moments of his life is all the people who admired this man, who’d become a knight in his lifetime, can go by.

“Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.” Pratchett

And why would you want to go without? By reading this, I have gained such an invaluable insight into not only his writing methods, but more memorably his stance on Alzheimer’s and assisted death in the UK. Pratchett was probably one of the most famous sufferers of the disease when he was alive, donating £1 million to their charity and creating various documentaries. Reading this has given me such a remarkable perspective on the topic of euthanasia, that it was starting to become a much more philosophical read than I had bargained for!


I was incredibly moved, too. To be able see in the articles the progression of topics from childhood anecdotes, to his endless book signing tours- where he always wrote about how incredulous he was at his popularity- to hearing the frustration and anger in his words as he described the onset of the disease. How he could no longer type, because the letters would disappear from the keyboard. How he could no longer read his own speeches, and had to have someone else present them for him. To hear such a renowned and literally accomplished person describe their struggles is something that is painful, yet if you respect them, necessary to endure.

In a way, this is possibly better than a biography. The pointless parts, the vague relationships and holes between occupations have already been melted away, so only the quality information is left for us to experience. Of course, occasionally there was repetition of a phrase here or there, yet this was only to be expected since Pratchett had given more interviews and written more articles than anyone could possibly perceive, so to expect every piece to be completely original is borderline ludicrous.

When I was younger, I wrote Terry a letter. I even him drew a dragon, something that I was truly proud of, and was even slightly reluctant to send it away. I did it nonetheless, but I never received a reply from him. It’s not in bitterness that I mention this, but merely in recollection. Particularly towards the end of his life, Pratchett noted that he was receiving so many emails and letters that it he would never have the time to rely to  even a fraction of them, and the immense feeling of regret that filled him at the thought of this.

I suppose this book really is only relevant it to you if you like science-fiction, or at the very least Terry himself. And if you’re unfamiliar, then make it your priority to explore one his books straight away- you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised. I guarantee it.


March Book of the Month- I Have Lived A Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson

We think we know. Or at least that we can imagine: the terror that struck their hearts, the fear that perpetrated every dream, the weight of their sorrows.

If there is anything to illustrate just to what extent the present is ignorant of the past’s sufferings, then this is the book to do it. An autobiography, I Have Lived A Thousand Years is the shocking retelling of Bitton-Jackson’s experience of two years under Nazi rule, as a Jew. We have all heard the stories of concentration camps, seen images and even visited them. But until you have absorbed the description of someone who suffered, you will never skim the surface of understanding what life was like during the Nazi regime. Having been subject to work at Dachau and Auchwitz, there are countless, gruesome recollection of days without water and food. Where she was forced to march for miles, leaving trails of red as pieces glass drove deeper into their bare feet. It is, to say the least, a raw and uncensored account, and rightfully so. Just be warned that it can be incredibly emotional.


In concise detail, Bitton-Jackson writes about the most influential and momentous experiences of her childhood. After growing up in a small town in Hungary, one day the streets are overwhelmed with Nazi attitudes. It spirals, scarily fast, out of control. By reflecting on the events of the past, it reminds what a great distortion of reality we actually have, how the peace we bathe in every day is no more concrete than the placated moods of the global leaders. So, the message is, don’t take it for granted.


By reading this book, you will perpetrate, as much as any of us can, the reality of the concentration camps. The way that everyday could be the last- the fact that there were teams of Jews forced to drag their friends’ bodies out of the gas chambers, to pick out their gold teeth, unpeel whatever could possibly be of value from their bodies. The pointless violence. The train journeys, with the final destination intangible. The days so long, I could feel Bitton-Jackson’s despair penetrating through the pages. The bodies staggering as plumes of blood dotted their shirts, after the prisoners clamoured around the trains’ window to collect soup from the Red Cross during one of the stationary periods of the train journey. Except, of course, it wasn’t the Red Cross. It was the Nazis, using Red Cross vans, and even bowls of soup, as a lure to get the Jews to come to the window so that they be shot more easily.

It was a horrific read.

In a way, Anne Frank’s diary is the perfect prequel to this. Of course, they lived on different sides of the continent, but both were young teenage girls, and whilst Frank recalls the conditions of her concealment, Bitton-Jackson tells of her experience of what followed. In my opinion, I Have Lived A Thousand Years should be considered as classic a war read as Frank’s Diary, because it is one the few books to tell the story of a survivor, and reads well too. I would recommend this to anyone interested in history, current affairs or simply a gripping, emotional read. In many ways, it’s much more engrossing than a novel, and what better way to honour the deaths of so many millions, than by understanding the conditions of their deaths?

Magnificent Desolation by Buzz Aldrin

Moonwalker. Innovator. Alcoholic.

A brutally honest autobiography of Aldrin’s life, reflecting on not only the stellar parts of his career, but the parts which have shrouded him in despair and embarrassment.

Many Americans view Buzz Aldrin as a national icon; a hero. Part of Apollo 11, the space mission which cemented him in history as the second man to ever walk on the Moon, Aldrin certainly is extraordinary. But there are other sections of his life that define him, too. Like when he was a fighter pilot in the Korean war, an author of novels or when he spent most his days slumped beneath bedsheets, due to the overwhelming depression he suffered. Most people aren’t aware of this side, and Magnificent Desolation explains what precisely Aldrin went through following his Moon Landing; it turns out that the physical side effects were the least of his worries, and that he was psychologically underprepared for the fame that would ensue.


This book, despite being co-written by Ken Abraham, was definitely written by Aldrin. The words had bitter edges on certain topics (like when discussing his failures in his post-astronaut military career, or when discussing conspiracy theorists) and at other times would appear as if he was desperately trying to seem complementary, as if through the publication of this book he was wary of any outstanding offences he could cause.

Also, occasionally Aldrin would start to build up an event as if it had massive significance in the grand scheme of his life, and as a reader I would wonder what this event would foreshadow. More often than not it turned out to be completely irrelevant and not tie into anything else in the book:

“One overly zealous reporter planted himself in front of our car, refused to budge while snapping photos of me through the windshield. In exasperation, I raised my hand and gave him the finger. As soon as I saw the flash go off, I knew that I had made a gigantic mistake. When we got back to the hotel, my first call was to the attache at the embassy to see if he could quash the picture. He must have successful, because the photo never showed up”

It’s just utterly frustrating. If it turned out that the image had been leaked and had started to give Aldrin an awful reputation which affected his speaking career, then it would have been understandable. But nothing came of it- so why waste a paragraph mentioning  an irrelevant event that is not tied onto anything else in the book? This happened so many times throughout and frankly I found myself exasperated.

What I did enjoy though was when Aldrin started to discuss how in his later career he continued to develop ideas for space exploration. His words sounded so resolute and hopeful for the future- how by 2030 we should have people living on Mars, and his grand plans for a Mars Shuttle System. Above all I found that part fascinating, because it offered me an insight into the future of space. He spoke a lot about space tourism too; it seems like a plausible concept and he discusses it at length because he had devoted plenty of time to ensuring that it became as intrinsic to the American economy as ordinary tourism. We’re not quite there yet, but time can only tell!


I would recommend this autobiography to those  who have an interest in space history and astronauts, as it does not only offer a valuable insight to Aldrin’s life, but also into the future of space in our society. It is not a necessarily a relaxing read as most of the information is presented quite factually and straightforwardly, but nevertheless I’m glad I gave it go!

Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

We are all avid readers. We have all discussed, at one point or another, that topical debate. What is your preference: the rising E-book or classic paper tome? Why is it that we are so obsessed, so comforted by the thin pages, when faced with the bold technological alternative? Everyday we are surrounded by this material, whether it is in our note paper, train tickets, toilet paper or bank notes. So it is not a surprise, perhaps, that we are unwilling to let it drift away from society. After all, it is what we have grown up with, yet fundamentally this marvellous invention, one which has been utilised by generations, is largely a subject of ignorance.


For example, why are ancient pages honoured with a musk of yellow, and why are long-forgotten  receipts faded?

Thankfully, I have found a novel which can satisfy these inquisitive questions, one which dutifully gives us an insight into 10 common materials. It thrusts them into the limelight for a chapter, primarily focusing on their composition, how they were created, and their role in society today. Does that sound technical. A bit too educational for your liking? It shouldn’t. Because along the way we learn about why razors blunt, that concrete never drys out (at least it doesn’t set in the way we perceive it to) and how it is conceivable that the lightest solid in the world is 99.8% air. Miodownik has ambitiously turned a subject which could be lined with boredom into one which is delightful and captivating.
Today, we are constantly, ironically, being pestered by mindfulness fanatics to live in the moment and to appreciate everything around us. That can be difficult when there is tumultuous rain, and you have just missed your train to an important meeting, but no said it was easy. But, it would be easier if we understood what we were appreciating. These materials make up our lives, and the manipulation of these materials could arguably be what isolates the human race from all other species. Yet do you know how plastic is made? Did the fascinating nature, the mere possibility, of surgical implants ever grip you? I profess now; none of these questions applied to me until I read this book. Each chapter is brimming with mind-blowing, quirky information, interspersed among rich anecdotes and charming writing that manages to make even the most mundane materials a source of thrill.

This book has reignited my dwindling faith in non-fiction writing, and I think that one is ever trying to understand society better (because these things are so fundamental to it), appreciate life more (start with the small things) or is simply curious, then this is a brilliant place to start. It was a concise too, which meant that although the information at times was detailed and scientific, it wasn’t winding on for eons, leaving me bored half a chapter away. A surprising yet gratifying holiday read!

Stiff by March Roach

This is not an ordinary novel. How many books do you see everyday that can tell you everything from how someone tried to weigh a soul, to how a person invented a tongue-pulling machine to check if someone was truly dead? From morbid to marvellous (these examples are more on the marvellous end of the spectrum) never before has a subject like death that has been dealt with such sincerity in today’s society, been written about such good humour and hilarity, as well as being interspersed with thought-provoking facts.


I am not one, as you may have ascertained by now, to commonly read non-fiction, yet this was fantastic. Why There was a perfect pace to the novel, with Roach never lingering on a topic too long to ensue boredom, yet no stone in the history of cadavers had been left unturned. There was such in a variety in topics covered, and none of them, although occasionally gruesome and gross, were so worn down with such an endless amount of facts that I felt bored. Unusually, reading this novel left me feeling oddly at peace, and reassured. I say unusually because despite then fact that I love reading, I never thought that reading a novel about cadavers would make me feel at ease. However I don’t think I owe this to the subject matter, but to Roach’s remarkable narrative on the novel. I guess that many people uncomfortable talking, or reading about death, and when they do, there is normally such a heavy sadness surrounding a death that there isn’t much room for questions. But Roach takes the merry approach, and shows us that, despite popular belief, life on Earth is far from over just because you are dead, and so with unmatched cheerfulness.

I absolutely loved this novel; it was clear that there was a painstakingly large amount of research that has gone into it, and in doing so every page holds a new fact about the subject. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, there is so much hilarity in this book, that I cannot help but smile. It is worth mentioning that I picked up this novel completely by accident. I was in fact looking for a book called Gulp, but the librarian was having issues locating the book, and offered me Stiff as an alternative. This wasn’t really the novel I had in mind for myself, but I duly took up the librarian’s offer. And I am glad! I never would have ever considered Stiff as an novel I would enjoy, as it is very different from what I normally read, but I loved it! I read this book as well to complete the ‘Read a non-fiction book’ box for my reading challenge!