A Book Review on The Clapback: Your Guide to Calling Out Racist Stereotypes, by Elijah Lawal, published by Hodder & Stoughton, 2019, London. 302 pp
“In the same way that you wouldn’t barge into an AA meeting demanding a sober People Anonymous meeting, don’t criticize black people for needing a space to talk about their challenges. Because there are oh so many challenges”. (pg 272)
I find it disappointing that in this age of ready information on google; ethnic minorities and black people in particular, are still having to explain why racist stereotypes are painful. From the seemingly benign ones like ‘blacks love fried chicken’ to the obviously insidious – that black people are more prone to crime and thus violent actions by the police are warranted. And Lawal does an excellent job carefully unpicking these stereotypes and laying them bare for what they are- remnants of an enslaved past where such stereotypes were used to keep the powerful black men in subjugation.
Lawal writes with a sharp wit and you can tell he works at google (He is their PR Manager!) by the many facts he has to back up his arguments. He says that the main point of writing this book is to empower the reader to ‘respond to negative stereotypes about the black community with authority”. For non-blacks, this book gives us a chance to “..be a better mouthpiece for us …and helping us reach across the lines to people we can’t”.
However, underneath the matter-of-fact tone he uses throughout the book, you can tell that he is angry. And sad. Angry that this is a conversation that even needs addressing when non-black people act bewildered when black people tell us that our stereotypes are racist and are hurtful. And sad that systemic and institutionalised racism allows for such stereotypes to permeate unchecked in the first place.
I felt this same sense of frustration in Eddo-Lodge’s book, Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race. Like Lawal, she is frustrated at having to explain that being black is not optional for the black man which is why the narrative of white privilege is relevant and needs discussing instead. She says, “When I talk about white privilege, I don’t mean that white people have it easy, or that they’ve never lived in poverty. But white privilege is the fact that if you’re white, your race will almost certainly positively impact your life’s trajectory in some way”.
Lawal’s book is of the same vein and he really packs a punch when he shows, through research, that these stereotypes are premised on the history of slavery. He covers twelve major stereotypes of which my best ones were Work (chap 6) and Immigration (chap 11). It is a well-known adage that a person of colour has to work twice as hard as one that’s not but its sobering to see that ‘it would take nearly two black women college graduates to earn what the average white male college graduate earns by himself’.
In Chapter 10 of the book, Lawal talks about Inter-racial dating and I found this chapter to be the weakest link in the book. Where he could have talked a lot more about the difficulties a black women faces being compared to the Eurocentric idea of beauty, or explain the statistics which show that much fewer black women are in stable relationships compared to non-white women, or even cover more about the historical abuse of black women by men; he devotes an entire chapter on inter-racial dating instead.
I would have loved to have an entire chapter on the stereotype’s black women in particular (my preference entirely because I feel that black women bodies deserve more discussion then a passing paragraph splattered here or there). However, in exploring the reasons why black men date non-black women he brought up a study which has shown that black men date white women to move up the power structure. Think social climbing with colour.
Talking about race is infuriating and while the authors’ humour makes this an entertaining read, it is clear that the seriousness of this issue needs addressing now. The world does not need any more cases like Stephen Lawrence or Michael Brown, it shouldn’t have black space invaders like Rachel Dolezal and the burden of explaining blackness shouldn’t rest on the black community alone.
We all must make a concerted effort to understand the struggle and look beyond the why such stereotypes are racist and genuinely start working at how we can fix this. The writer quotes Tony Morrison who said that:
“The very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is…There will always be one more thing”.
We have many issues in our own communities in relation to colour and this book will perhaps help us identify where exactly this stereotype has originated from. So to you readers out there, I urge you to pick up this book so that together we can be better allies for the black community. We also can have the difficult conversations within our own communities on how we have maligned and stereotyped the black woman.
Leonora Sinclair of Marama Alliance UK has also offered her take and I love the perspective she has on the book. You can read her review here
I wish you all the best during this difficult times and Stay safe, stay home and stay reading.