Review of So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Updated: Aug 21, 2020
Oluo offers specific steps we can take toward "talk[ing] our way to understanding...and using that understanding to act."
Oluo is specific in her approach here; each chapter is crafted around a potential race-related statement you might encounter that may be loaded, unfair, unfounded, and/or fraught with racism, followed by rebuttals that might continue or redirect the conversation based on facts. She wrote this book and continues to write "in the hopes that what I write and say, and what others write and say, will inform and inspire action."
So You Want to Talk About Race is based on promoting conversation and communication, and Oluo aims to provide step-by-step measures for awareness, sensitivity, opennness, and honesty. She explores sitting with discomfort, listening to experiences different from your own, and becoming informed about the many issues that affect race relations--including the numerous complicated intersectionalities that shape the experience of race.
She notes that "almost nothing is completely about race" but that race is an "interwoven...piece of the machine." To that end, at the end of each chapter she provides constructive measures a reader can take: asking questions about the status quo, taking a role in shifting policies, or capably managing errors of fact in conversations.
There are, necessarily, some common threads between this and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo; for example, noting the desire to remove the pressure on people of color to be walking Google sources for experience and history lessons; recognizing fallibility in often-traditional colorblind approaches to race; and how guilt can paralyze and prevent productive action and change.
I took extensive notes; it started teetering on the edge of transcribing. Oluo wrote So You Want to Talk About Race to "help people fight the systemic oppression that is harming the lives of millions of people of color," and she provides a book that pays meticulous attention to the conversation pitfalls that can prevent progress, as well as the facts and goals that can promote understanding and change.
"The way we vote, where we spend our money, what we do and do not call out--these are all pieces of the system." Oluo offers specific, sometimes small steps we can take toward "talk[ing] our way to understanding...and using that understanding to act."
What did you think?
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Chapter Nine was regarding the N-word, and I continue to think about the fact that Oluo felt it necessary to include that. There's so much to unpack here.