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Book Review: The Good Ally

The Good Ally

(A guided anti-racism journey from bystander to changemaker)

by Nova Reid

Reviewed by Kat Halliday (Library)

Why did I want to read this book?

This book has been in my “to read” pile since its publication in 2021. I have been lucky enough to attend many of the Anti-Racist Pedagogy Learning Circle events and have undertaken the Tackling Racial Inequality at Warwick (TRIW) training, so this book seemed a perfect opportunity to extend my knowledge and practice in this area. It is also one of the few books on the topic of Anti-Racism work which has a UK author and is centred on “Blackness” (pg 8) rather than wider BAME and refers to events and culture which detail the Black British experience. The style is accessible and narrates from a practitioner perspective rather than academic. The history surrounding colonial legacy and racism is well researched and thought-provoking examples from the authors and selected community members experiences shine a light on the persistence of race and racism in the UK.

Who is this book for?

This is not an introductory text to Anti-Racism; and deals with some very large and complex topics so possibly not one to start with if you are new to the subject area. The book has 12 chapters each can be read in isolation and often has helpful prompts and questions to challenge yourself and your actions. The author suggests to “not eat the whole pizza in one whole go. To avoid overwhelm, take it in bite sized chunks”. (page 6)

This is a text for those who want to become a better ally against racism and provides a thoughtful approach on how to do this in your professional and personal life. It also differs from other texts by giving practical examples of how to challenge our unconscious bias; programming and how to address when you inevitably do make a mistake.

Would I recommend this book?

Everyone should read this book; it is intentionally challenging and allowed me to explore my own complicity in the racist system we all operate within. It gave me permission to be uncomfortable to explore my previous actions and behaviours and learn how to be more of an ally. The book is not asking for perfection it asks for an openness to learn, adjust language and behaviours whilst being gracious enough to understand that you will get things wrong and that the learning journey to being a better ally never ceases.

“Trying to do Anti-Racist work whilst remaining comfortable, to actively avoid confronting feelings is just not possible” (pg 46).

3 key takeaways from this book?
1. This book gives one of the most practical and comprehensive descriptions of the difference between systemic and systematic racism. These terms are often used in wider literature without explanation and as a relative newcomer to this area of research I often struggle to articulate the difference. Reid gives a succinct explanation of both and places it again in context for the UK audience using the Macpherson report of 1999 as historical point of reference. (pg 32)

Book Cover
'This book gives one of the most practical and comprehensive descriptions of the difference between systemic and systematic racism.'
2.  Chapter 4 Microaggressions a Devastating Avalanche

This was one of the most challenging chapters to read and process as the author describes the relentless physical and mental effect microaggressions have on victims.

One of the most haunting quotes from the book states “microaggressions aren’t often committed by overt racists” (pg 87) but often from people who wouldn’t consider themselves racists, cue introspective look at oneself. This chapter was a pivotal for me in developing my Anti-Racist thinking and giving me confidence to act as an ally. Reid describes how microaggressions aren’t just committed by white men with pointy hats, football fans or angry members of Britain First ( pg 86) but from friends, colleagues and family members who are unaware of the potential impact of their words and actions. (pg 88) It also goes into some of the science behind trauma and how it can be stored in the body. It quotes from a 2013 study which evidences comparative levels of PTSD in Veterans to Black victims who suffer or have suffered regular microaggressions. It also suggests undertaking either the Harvard Implicit Association test to understand your own unconscious bias and assist with your own journey to becoming and ally.

3.  Chapter 10 Brokering Change: Tackling Racism at Work

This chapter is a must read, but a difficult one. This chapter discusses how white people are more likely to call out overt racism in the workplace but appear ill equipped to recognise subtle racism and understand its effects. Reid also discusses how racism often written off as “office banter” and how the fear of being labelled a troublemaker or damaging career progression means many people simply don’t report racist incidents in the workplace.

Reid also discusses the Black experience of working in Higher Education, detailing the shocking lack of diversity stating that out of 23,000 professors only 1% are Black and of those only 25 were Black women. Using Dr Nicola Rollock’s 2019 “Staying Power” report as evidence she goes on to discuss of those 25 Black women professors 20 described being given extra duties on top of contractual workloads. The subtle pressure placed upon Black staff by departments to undertake the emotional labour of mentoring any Black students without financial recompense or adequate emotional support or training for themself. (pg 319)

My verdict as reviewer? I gave this book 5 stars. Recommended, it was really useful!

Kat Halliday


Jan 2023