Edinburgh International Book Festival
Reni Eddo-Lodge, a Black British activist, journalist and author has been making waves recently with her viral blog post turned book, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’. Just one of her appearances in Edinburgh this week, this session was a debate around gender and race that was one of the more satisfying and interesting in the festival. All the more so because the other two participants replaced the original speakers at the last minute, so it had an energetic, less scripted feel. The other writer was ‘Queen of Teen’, Juno Dawson, a transgender woman author and fellow activist, who, with her glamorous attire and self-deprecating wit brought a lighthearted approach to some serious issues. She is the author of many books for teenagers and leading education work in schools to promote understanding and acceptance of transgender people. Laurie Penny, also an activist, journalist and author of ‘Bitch Diaries’ among many, acted as chair, delighted to be with two of her ‘idols’. Because of this she kept the atmosphere vibrant and was completely up to speed on the relevant issues, if not having had the usual preparation time to have every fact of their careers at her fingertips. be able to keep the ideas rolling at top speed.
Reni discussed the new language being used to denigrate activism for human rights and full equalities, such as the reductive term ‘identity politics’, which doesn’t take into account that a deep understanding of anti-racism necessarily includes a complete restructuring of our current society. Social justice warrior and alt-left all show that the kickback against the loss of power and privilege, that expresses itself in intersectional ways from gender amongst the alt-right and race within feminism. The situating of people outside the dominant group as ‘other’ against ‘the norm’ creates problems when people are asked to reflect on their own power and even recognise their own privilege. Reni’s work is a clear political and structural analysis of power, and not a personal story, and yet is she asked over and over again, about how she feels. Juno explained that her book the Gender Games was meant to be a dry book of essays but emerged as an impassioned account of her own experiences as both genders.
Juno explained the phrase ‘cis gender’, and how much fear and ignorance exists around the term, and that trans-people are nothing new in the world, but exploited as a media freak show in the 1980’s, and that the language used and fears expressed are very similar to issues of gay acceptance from that period. She broke down her wants very simply. ‘We just want you to listen and try to understand.’ She talked for a while of the hoops through which you have to jump to be even taken seriously by the NHS, and the fact that people often have to subscribe to narrow gender expectations such as making sure that you don’t wear trousers to an appointment.
As always, you are left wishing there was more time to continue the discussion. Particularly in this current climate, as these issues are coming to a head, the question of whether we should remove statues that create a painful reminder of past violence and oppression is a hot topic, which Eddo-Lodge is firmly in favour of. Questions ranged from the role of empathy in being a solution, while continuing to be critically anti racist, cultural appropriation, how inclusive and appropriate the term ‘person of colour’ is to how white-passing mixed race people can be the best ally to Black people or be the most useful anti-discrimination activist. They encouraged the audience to continually critically evaluate and challenge the mainstream media and play an active role in debate. Three brilliant, engaged and lively women authors and activists had the audience rapt and will now doubt continue to inspire many along their journey.
Reviewed by: Lisa Williams