‘Every voice raised against racism chips away at its power. We can’t afford to stay silent. This book is an attempt to speak’
With the ongoing Black Lives Matter protest, books have provided an important vehicle to raise awareness on pressing social issues.
So, what better way to discuss the new firsts in the publishing industry, than to celebrate the first black British author to take the overall No 1 spot in the UK’s official book charts, Reni Eddo-Lodge?
Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” topped Nielsen BookScan’s UK top 50 in the week to 13 June, making her the first black British author to take the top slot since Nielsen began recording book sales in 2001.
This comes as a huge feat since she is the only black author to have taken the No 1 spot on the overall charts is the former US first lady Michelle Obama with her memoir Becoming in 2018.
So why is Eddo-Lodge’s win a big deal? Well, If you think that race and name don’t come as a huge factor in getting a bestseller, a 2016 study proved that even in modern times, it is. In a study from the Bookseller found that a writer was more likely to make it into the bestseller charts if their name was David than if they were from an ethnic minority.
From becoming a national best-seller, Eddo-Lodge’s book came a long way from its humble beginnings. Back in 2014, she started out a popular blog out of frustration. At that time, the author explained that she would no longer engage with “the vast majority” of white people on the topic of race, because they “refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms”.
In that post, Eddo-Lodge wasn’t trying to dismiss or remove white people from the conversation. She didn’t even want to take them on an all-expense-paid guilt trip. Rather, her blog post was a simple way saying that she’d had enough.
In the end, Eddo=Lodge’s blog post was an act of self-preservation. She was done with talking to white people who’d never had to think about what it meant to be white, or who showed a deep emotional disconnect when she told them about her experience as a black woman. She had enough of people who instead of listening while she spoke was almost instinctively preparing trite counter-arguments in their heads, waiting for her to finish just to tell her that she was wrong — situations that will sound only too familiar to many people of color.
In this collection of seven essays, Eddo-Lodge delves into topics like structural racism, class, and feminism. But she begins with a crash course in black British history. Eddo-Lodge touches on themes that are sure to resonate with people of color everywhere. This is especially evident in her exploration of white privilege, which she defines as “an absence of the consequences of racism”
To celebrate her big win, the author reached out on Twitter. “Feels absolutely wild to have broken this record,” she wrote. “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.”
Last week, Eddo-Lodge became the first black British author to be No 1 on the non-fiction paperback charts. But she wasn’t the person to pop the champagne. Instead of celebrating, Eddo-Lodge was dismayed, and went as far as to describe her win as “a horrible indictment of the publishing industry”. She continued, “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.”
It seemed that the protest is starting to pique people’s interest on issues of racial injustice as UK charts have been packed with books by black authors in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests that have swept the world. For example, in the past weeks, Akala’s Natives were in fourth place, Layla F Saad’s Me and White Supremacy in fifth, and Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker-winning novel Girl, Woman, Other in sixth.
As her book has jumped hundreds of places up the charts, Eddo-Lodge has previously asked readers buying her book in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests to match the price they paid with a donation to a Black Lives Matter charity, saying: “This book financially transformed my life and I really don’t like the idea of personally profiting every time a video of a black person’s death goes viral.”
The news comes a day after more than 100 black authors including Evaristo, Benjamin Zephaniah, and Malorie Blackman announced the formation of the Black Writers’ Guild (BWG), a new body calling for sweeping change across the publishing industry to address “deep-rooted racial inequalities”.
However, having the first Black author to top Nielsen BookScan’s UK top 50 is just the beginning. It is also about taking accountability and questioning the publishing industry. The BWG, which was put together by publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove, journalist Afua Hirsch, and author Nels Abbey, sent an open letter to the major UK publishers on Monday afternoon, calling on them to publicly share how many black staff they have and how many black authors they have published.
Moreover, the guild demanded major publishers to hire more black commissioning editors, sales, marketing, and publicity staff, as well as for financial support to establish a network for black literary agents and talent spotters outside London, where most of publishing is based.
The letter concludes: “We maintain that all of these requests will not only help to guard against pervasive racial inequality but will unearth more talent and help nurture a thriving literary culture in this country. We ask for your partnership in achieving this and look forward to your reply.”
This content was originally published here.