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So You Want to Talk About Race Paperback – September 24, 2019
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"Ijeoma Oluo-writing on any subject-is compassionate brilliance personified, and I am so grateful for her work and her voice. She is the first writer I name when anyone asks who they should read to help them think about and navigate issues of race and identity, help them understand what solidarity means and what it requires of all of us. So You Want to Talk About Race is a book for everyone, but especially for people of color who need to feel seen and heard."―Nicole Chung, author of All You Can Ever Know
"Ijeoma Oluo's So You Want to Talk About Race is a welcome gift to us all -- a critical offering during a moment when the hard work of social transformation is hampered by the inability of anyone who benefits from systemic racism to reckon with its costs. Oluo's mandate is clear and powerful: change will not come unless we are brave enough to name and remove the many forces at work strangling freedom. Racial supremacy is but one of those forces."
―Darnell L. Moore, author of No Ashes in the Fire
"Read it, then recommend it to everyone you know."―Harper's Bazaar, "One of 10 Books to Read in 2018"
"Impassioned and unflinching"
"Simply put: Ijeoma Oluo is a necessary voice and intellectual for these times, and any time, truth be told. Her ability to write so smartly and honestly with strokes of humor about race in America is heaven sent and demonstrates just how desperately we all need to be talking about race, and perhaps, more importantly, this insightful book shows those in power or privilege how they need to listen."―Phoebe Robinson, New York Times bestselling author of You Can't Touch My Hair and Everything's Trash, But It's Okay
"What Ijeoma Oluo has done, and continues to do, is nothing short of revolutionary -- she has created a conversational guide and laid out a movement-building blueprint for people of all races who are invested in self-assessment, open to being challenged, and committed to collective progress. One of the most important voices of our time, Oluo encourages us to be the conversation starters in our own lives and to keep talking -- someone who needs to hear us is listening."―Feminista Jones, author of Reclaiming Our Space
"I don't think I've ever seen a writer have such an instant, visceral, electric impact on readers. Ijeoma Oluo's intellectual clarity and moral sure-footedness make her the kind of unstoppable force that obliterates the very concept of immovable objects."―Lindy West, New York Times-bestselling author of Shrill
"So You Want to Talk About Race strikes the perfect balance of direct and brutally honest without being preachy or, worse, condescending. Regardless of your comfort level, educational background, or experience when it comes to talking about race, Ijeoma has created a wonderful tool to help broach these conversations and help us work toward a better world for people of color from all walks of life."
―Franchesca Ramsey, host and executive producer of MTV's Decoded and author of Well, That Escalated Quickly
"You are not going to find a more user-friendly examination of race in America than Ijeoma Oluo's fantastic new book. The writing is elegantly simple, which is a real feat when tackling such a thorny issue. Think of it as Race for the Willing-to-Listen."
―Andy Richter, writer and actor
About the Author
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We need to have a conversation, or so this book leads you to believe. This book is more of a lecture about her opinions of her experience with racism than a conversation using facts. She uses emotions to help lure you into her “disadvantages” of growing up Mulatto in Seattle with a white mom in a white city (I can think of worse places to live and more hostile environments). For young Ijeoma, every injustice was related to her skin color. Every job that passed her by was because she was black. Cringe. Her definition of racism is absurd. I recommend everyone re-read her definition but reverse the words black for white. Or for that matter Hispanic for white. I bet that gives you a little bit of the cringe I felt when I read it. Her rules of engagement to conversations were one-sided and left many white folk handicapped since we are not permitted to “force” blacks into conversations because it’s “too painful and exhausting” on “them” to defend themselves. Not to pivot to another problem with our education system, the rewriting of history to suit their agenda, but this idea that “we” whites owe reparations to blacks including giving up our “advantages” that we earned to support their perceived “disadvantages”, can lead to a zero sum game. For every winner, someone must be a loser until we reach “equality” which she never defines where the end game is. This idea of oppressing one race for another will only widen the gap between races and weaken the chance of any real healing.
She could have used some facts. They are out there but she chose to ignore them so she could simplify her arguments and correlate anything negative that happens to a black person is due to racism. Yes, racial bias exists. Prejudice exists. It exists between races and within races. But it is insulting to Americans of any race to be blamed for bad outcomes of blacks. Statistically speaking, problems with black kids in school, crime, prison and police activity all point to the fact that 69% of black households are single parent. They systemically lose the benefit of economics, education, and health and allows easy access for criminal behavior. She says Travon “stand up don’t shoot” Martin was her motivator in becoming an activist. She must be disremembering the fact that George Zimmerman acted in self defense and was acquitted of any crime. I’m sure she still believes Jusse Smollett had an attempted hanging one cold winter morning in Chicago by a Trump supporter. Black activist are very quick to activate for any white on black or cop on black crime without all the facts and never back down when their story doesn’t play out to meet their agenda. They are okay with Black Lives Matter destroying public property in cities all over the country, tearing down statues of historic US leaders, changing school names, town names, and lake names because they were once slave owners. White guilt must exist.
There is no end to their social justice agenda. Many white elitist are sympathetic to the racial justice movement. This book is specifically taking aim at them. Ijeoma would want nothing more than to use them to push Institutional policy changes for schools, businesses, governments, and all private institutions of all kinds. She wants whites to surrender their power and accept that it’s necessary to chose a black candidate over a white candidate on the basis of race. Maybe we should ask them, are you willing to forfeit your child’s spot at this school and give it to a “disadvantaged” child? Actions speak louder than words. Ijeoma is part of a revolution. She is part of socialism. She is part of identity politics. And for me, she is part of the problem.
I am a white, sexagenarian, male, and former CEO. I am, therefore, a r#cist. (And yes, I am being sensitive to the censors who will look at this before posting it.) And I accept that because this isn’t about me. My personal tolerance is irrelevant. If a picture says a thousand words, an action is worth ten thousand pictures. That is how we should judge each other.
From my very privileged position in America, I have had a bird’s eye view of the systemic, institutional privilege (which in the negative is discrimination) that currently defines virtually all Western institutions today, including virtually all corporations.
Women have not shattered the corporate glass ceiling because the corporate institution was designed and built by men. Blacks have not achieved equity in the economic arena because it was designed by white men. Which is why, as Ijeoma points out, it really doesn’t matter if the man in charge is a racist or a misogynist or not.
The #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements are all about gender and racial discrimination. What has enabled misogyny and racism, however, is the definition and allocation of power in our institutions and our society. Tolerance is great, but it’s nowhere near enough. Until we challenge the structure of power, we will not address the underlying cause of social and economic injustice.
Here are the main takeaways I got from this book:
- It’s not about me or Ijeoma. This is about structural injustice.
- It’s not about the tone of the discussion. This is about structural injustice.
- It’s not about intent. This is about structural injustice.
- It’s not about who is right and who is wrong. This is about structural injustice.
- It’s not about who can use what words. This is about structural injustice.
In the end, the great strength and the great weakness of our political economy is our over-riding emphasis on the individual and his or her opportunities and rights. There’s nothing wrong with that per se. But in this crowded, technologically enabled world we live in, it’s not enough. We can live individually but we can only be judged collectively. Our insistence that every conversation be about me, or you, or Ijeoma, or that person over there, is blinding us to the degree that we really are all in this together.
Scientists used to view the environment as a collection of independent and discrete parts. There was a prairie here, an Arctic ice field there, and a rain forest someplace a long way away. They now realize, however, that there is only one ecosystem and what happens in the rain forest is just as important as what happens in the Iowa corn field.
Other scientists have discovered the same thing about the other hard and soft sciences. Biology and economics don’t cut it any more. We have to think in terms of evolutionary biology and behavioral economy. Real understanding lies not just within a functional discipline, but also in the spaces that separates them and the overlaps that interconnect them.
So, I go back to my original question. Why did Ijeoma write this book? I won’t pretend to know the answer but it is clear that she has a genuine desire to see us face the issue. And after reading this book it is clear that the desire is genuine. And while it is theoretically true that if she is successful she will have to find something new to write about, so what? That is exactly the kind of binary, digital thinking that is at the heart of the problem. Life is not either/or. It is, with tolerance, and/but.
Ijeoma has a perspective. And the tone is sometimes a bit harsh. But how could it not be? In the end I think the most amazing and laudable thing about her language is that she obviously worked so hard to keep a lid on her passion. If she were white, we would elect her to high office.
Am I appropriating Ijeoma’s book by writing this review? Yes. But that’s irrelevant. I am not her. And my appropriation is going to paint racism with a white brush and, potentially, demean that pain. But that is the thinking of a binary thinker—either/or. And that, in the end, is what we have to overcome. Tolerant people are not binary thinkers. Tolerance is not a function of embracing the other side of the binary issue. It is about eliminating the binary divide. Ultimately, the racism talked about here is about institutional models of power that disadvantage one group over another. (And, as Ijeoma points out, there are many.)
In the end, I won’t say this was the most pleasant read. It was, however, a good read. It made me think. And for that I am grateful to the author. I won’t say, “well done,” because that would be an appropriation, as if I could evaluate how well she had represented her pain. I can’t. It’s hers, not mine. I will say, however, that “I listened.” And I listened because you were clear and authentic. And I do thank you for that.
A must read. Period.
For white folks ready for the 200-level anti-racism course -- people who are ready to accept that White Supremacy is real and that they've benefited from it -- Oluo offers additional challenges. I especially appreciated her call toward the end of the book to move beyond talk and into action. Find a place, whether it's your kids' school or the local political scene, and use your privilege to help dismantle systems that have done so much damage to people of color.
If you're not ready for this book or don't view discussions of race as a necessary part of your life as a white person, I'd encourage you to read "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates and "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson, both of which led me to empathy and anger and prompted me to speak out in ways I hadn't previously.
Top international reviews
She writes with such precision and fierceness about topics that many writers shy away from. Her personal stories are easy to relate to, even if I do not share the same experiences of racism, and her writing style is so accessible (point form lists of what actions to take when talking to a white person about race).
If you are black, indigenous, or a person of colour, I guarantee that there is at least one question in the book that will still be new to you and you will be humbled and learn a lot. If you are a white person, be prepared to be uncomfortable because you will learn more than most, so make sure you have a highlighter/pen on hand to take notes.
Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, I found the book very uplifting. I felt seen, I felt heard, and I felt humbled. What more can you ask for from a book. Enjoy, and be good to one another.
She also does not sugarcoat a thing.
For marginalised people, but ESPECIALLY black people, this may be a bit of a draining read in places. I highly recommend it, but Ijeoma lays extremely bare her own personal experiences, ones that resonated with me and might do the same for you in a way that may leave you raw, bitter, cynical, hurting, scared, frustrated, uncertain, livid, and a host of other things, not the least of which is Tired. She makes you feel. That might be more than you want to deal with at times, but, if nothing else, it reinforces that you are not alone. There is also plenty of levity and working optimism, so it is not all bad.
Many sections are addressed to white people, but, like she, I recommend it to everyone, especially if you're part of a marginalised group and know something doesn't sit well with you or if you come across something racially charged, but have no idea how to approach or articulate it or if you even should. It's a great help in that regard.
The title also does the book a bit of a disservice, because it discusses INTERSECTIONALITY, which is of paramount importance. Race intersecting with things like gender and sexual identity, mental health, ability, others, and their impacts. It's something of all-around guide to people of today, incredibly relevant and handy to have and handles the topic thoughtfully. Not only does she challenge white people, but black people, others, the system, and, actually, herself. She challenges us all to be better, more mindful, considerate and inclusive.
The tragedy of this book is that it needed to be written at all, but it's absolutely wonderful, worth your time, your money, and your consideration.
A whole new insight to understanding what people feel when being discriminated.