Last week, British-Nigerian author, Reni Eddo-Lodge became the first black-British author to take the number one spot on the Nielsen Bookscan’s UK top 50 with her 2018 book ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’. The only other black person to top these charts was Michelle Obama, the former US First Lady for her memoir ‘Becoming’.
Feels absolutely wild to have broken this record 🤯 My work stands on the shoulders of so many Black British literary giants – Bernadine Evaristo, Benjamin Zephaniah, Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy, Stella Dadzie, Stuart Hall, Linton K Johnson, Jackie Kay, Gary Younge – to name a few. https://t.co/uf2yOhSfwm
— Reni Eddo-Lodge (@renireni) June 16, 2020
The 2018 book is a necessary wake-up call to the pervasive, institutionalised racism, where Reni Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge, and counter racism. The news of her chart-topping success, coincidentally, came at a time when the issue of systemic racism was once again rife in the United States following the protests that broke out after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by the police.
While this win for Eddo-Lodge is a moment in history that should be immortalised in the sands of times, she has mixed feelings about the win, “I can’t just uncritically celebrate breaking a barrier without asking why the hell the barriers were there in the first place,” she wrote in an Instagram post explaining why she felt “dismayed” at the news. The barriers she refers to are the disparities in publishing companies and media houses between the commercial success of white authors and authors of colour, particularly black female authors.
The uprisings sweeping the world has forced a global soul-searching to understand racial inequalities that haunt every sector of our society. Authors have recently used the Twitter hashtag #publishingpaidme to share the advances they received for their books, in an effort to highlight racial disparities. On June 15, The Black Writers’ Guild in the UK penned an open letter to the UK publishing industry, calling them to tackle the deep-rooted racial inequalities in the publishing sector with 8-direct requests for subsequent reform. Recently, authors like Akwaeke Emezi and writers like Ivie Ani have spoken out about the injustices they have faced as black people working within their various industries as black women.
Can’t help but be dismayed by this – the tragic circumstances in which this achievement came about. The fact that it’s 2020 and I’m the first. Let’s be honest. Reader demand aside, that it took this long is a horrible indictment of the publishing industry.
— Reni Eddo-Lodge (@renireni) June 10, 2020
Speaking to the Guardian, Eddo-Lodge shared:
“Being involved in feminist and anti-racist work, you notice very quickly that you have racism but no one who admits to being racist. We have one in four women being raped or sexually assaulted in their lives, but no self-confessed rapists. We see the structural impact of how these things affect marginalised people, but we see nobody admitting to participating in the marginalisation.
One thing that has been great to see is that their ex-employees have been calling them out left, right and centre. The calling out of companies like Conde Nast has been really interesting. That is an organisation at the top of its game and for those black employees calling out racism, there may not be anywhere else for them to go on to with their skills. I don’t think it’s a fair ask for people who want to change things to have to make huge sacrifices and put their necks out, but I thought that was interesting and commendable”.
The ideal outcome from unearthing these injustices would be swift and immediate change across all industries. Even if we don’t get it as quickly as we would like, it’s endearing to know that black people will no longer stay quiet against injustices. Change can only come when we are all ready to face uncomfortable truths and have difficult conversations. So don’t let up yet, the journey is just beginning.
Featured image credits: Suki Dhanda/The Observer
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