So You Want to Talk About Race

So You Want to Talk About Race

In this breakout book, Ijeoma Oluo explores the complex reality of today's racial landscape--from white privilege and police brutality to systemic discrimination and the Black Lives Matter movement--offering straightforward clarity that readers need to contribute to the dismantling of the racial divideIn So You Want to Talk About Race, Editor at Large of The Establishment...

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Title:So You Want to Talk About Race
Author:Ijeoma Oluo
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So You Want to Talk About Race Reviews

  • Ben Babcock

    Do you ever accidentally

    a book? Like, you meant to read it with your

    , but, whoops, suddenly there it is, lodged in your esophagus and now you have to go to the hospital and explain, in various gestures, how you breathed in an entire book? This happens to me more often than I would like to admit.

    , by Ijeoma Oluo, is just the latest instance. Thankfully, this was an eARC from NetGalley (thanks Perseus Books) and not a physical volume—though I’m certainly

    Do you ever accidentally

    a book? Like, you meant to read it with your

    , but, whoops, suddenly there it is, lodged in your esophagus and now you have to go to the hospital and explain, in various gestures, how you breathed in an entire book? This happens to me more often than I would like to admit.

    , by Ijeoma Oluo, is just the latest instance. Thankfully, this was an eARC from NetGalley (thanks Perseus Books) and not a physical volume—though I’m certainly going to need to buy one, or maybe two, when it comes out.

    This book is the first in what will hopefully be an avalanche of books to plug an embarrassing hole in my ongoing education. I’m trying to ride the intersectionality train, but if I’m doing an honest accounting of things, I have not been doing a great job of reading books by Black women when it comes to issues like feminism and race. It has literally been a whole year since I read Roxane Gay’s

    . More recently I did read

    , and Coates obviously touches on some of the same issues that Oluo does here. But the two books are very different, both in terms of audience and purpose.

    is clear and upfront about what it is and what it is trying to do. Oluo is uncompromising (emphasis mine):

    Each chapter title is a question, the chapter being Oluo’s answer: “What if I talk about race wrong?”, “Why am I always being told to check my privilege”, “What is cultural appropriation?”, “What are microaggressions?”, “I just got called racist, what do I do now?”—there seventeen, so I won’t list them all here, but they are, every single one,

    . I could go on, chapter-by-chapter, for quite some length about all the wonderful parts of this book. Instead, I’ll highlight some of her explanation of cultural appropriation:

    I’ve had the cultural appropriation conversation with fellow white people before, and I’ve struggled to explain it sufficiently (the best I can do is link to

    ). Oluo’s chapter has helped me to realize that, often, I make the mistake of letting the conversation fall back into the unproductive territory of discussing specific examples (“well what about X, is X cultural appropriation?”) when (a) I can’t answer that because I’m not a member of that culture and (b) that’s not actually what cultural appropriation is about. Cultural appropriation, as Oluo explains here, is about the wider trends and power imbalances within our society. It’s why, to certain parts of white society, Macklemore is an artist while Tupac was a thug. But my conversations would often divert away from these crucial parts of the discussion, straying towards the more defensive territories (see Chapter 16: “I just got called racist, what do I do now?”).

    This book is full of so many useful ideas, tips, and strategies—particularly for white people who want to be allies to racialized people. The aforementioned chapter 16 and chapter 4, which deals with privilege and “checking” it, are both essential reminders, even for someone like myself who has already been engaging with social justice for a while now. I’ve carefully avoided using the word “primer” to describe this book. It’s accurate, but I don’t want to pigeonhole it as some kind of introductory text. Certainly, if you are a newcomer to these issues, this book is accessible. But there is so much here for readers of every level of familiarity with the issues. If you are truly open to learning more about social justice and how to dismantle institutionalized racism, you are going to find useful ideas here, in plain language you’ll understand, and in a tone that helps you hear her frustration but also her intense empathy for humanity, and her hope for a better future (because you don’t write a book like this if you think dismantling racism is a lost cause). Oluo’s writing style never wavers from being confrontational and candid—she is not trying to appease anyone—but it’s also witty and incisive.

    A few parts of this book get a little bit into specifics of American anti-Black racism, but by and large, almost all of the topics for discussion are relevant to a wider audience. As Oluo herself points out, Canada has its share of problems with racism. (A lot of it is directed much more vociferously towards Indigenous people—if you want momre information on that, check out Chelsea Vowel’s

    , or Tanya Talaga’s

    , about the intersection of racism and violence in my own city of Thunder Bay. For writing on anti-Black racism in Canada, particularly state-sponsored racism like carding and brutality, I’ll point you towards

    .) Moreover, Canada absorbs (whether we like it or not) much of its cultural fare from our neighbours down south, so even if policies like affirmative action or United States Supreme Court decisions don’t quite affect us in the same way, the attitudes seen in media and the language being used still does. I never felt like Oluo was losing me by spending too much time talking about American-specific concerns.

    So I can make a few guarantees, here. First, if you read this, you’re going to learn something—hopefully lots of things. Oluo will crystallize notions that might already be forming in your head or introduce you to ideas and show you a new way entirely of looking at things. Second, if you read this, you will come away with a praxis for actually

    the work—it isn’t enough to read books like this and then pat yourself on the back for being “woke”. That’s what the final chapter is all about, and boy, are there ever some practical tips. That’s why I’m going to be buying a copy of this book since I received a review copy for free—because we need to pay Black women when they do the work of educating us.

    is everything I’d look for in a book on social justice issues. It’s informative, educational, and thought-provoking. It is topical in the post-Trump sense of the word. It hits that sweet spot of being academic and smart but also accessible—this is by far one of my favourite non-fiction books I’ve read all year, and probably the best I’ve received on NetGalley (

    and

    are close runners-up).

    If you are at all interested in social justice, in dismantling racism, in making our world a better place, this is a must-read. Show up. Do the work.

  • Stacie C

    So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

    I loved this book. I finished it in a day simply devouring Oluo’s word. I can relate to so much of what Oluo was sharing and in so many ways it was validating but also depressing. I feel better knowing that I’m not the only person experiencing these microaggressions, working through these issues and surviving day to day but at the same time having these similar lived experiences makes me very well aware of how far we have to come in the U.S. when it

    So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

    I loved this book. I finished it in a day simply devouring Oluo’s word. I can relate to so much of what Oluo was sharing and in so many ways it was validating but also depressing. I feel better knowing that I’m not the only person experiencing these microaggressions, working through these issues and surviving day to day but at the same time having these similar lived experiences makes me very well aware of how far we have to come in the U.S. when it comes to dealing with race, racism and equality.

    So You Want To Talk About Race is a really well written, comprehensive look at the issue of race and how race relates to inequality, success, poverty, education and much more. When I took a look at the contents of the book I was blown away because I could recognize immediately that these topics were geared towards having a thorough conversation about race and not just placating people who want to feel like they are putting in the work. She included topics like intersectionality, privilege, affirmative action and addressed them head on, pointing out the arguments in each and encouraging readers to recognize and acknowledge where they stand on these different issues. I was hooked from the first page of the introduction. Oluo has a very straightforward writing style and she is extremely well grounded in herself and her voice. That assuredness allowed Oluo to expose herself and her personal experiences in ways that I could never imagine.

    I hope this book speaks to you. I hope this book challenges you and makes you rethink your past experience. And that goes for every person regardless of race, gender, religion or anything in between. There were people that I had in mind while reading this book. Mostly people whose friendships I had to reevaluate in the last year because I realized how much of me they didn’t see and how much of my experience they didn’t recognize. Oluo’s book saw me and saw the struggle taking place right now. I am so thankful for this book and the effect that it could have on those willing to learn, willing to talk and willing to make a change when it comes to race.

    Thank you Netgalley for this book in exchange for an honest review.

  • Gary Moreau

    What author would write a book with a target audience that is likely to consider reading it, much less paying for it, akin to wishing for a root canal? Apparently, Ijeoma Oluo.

    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 pictur

    What author would write a book with a target audience that is likely to consider reading it, much less paying for it, akin to wishing for a root canal? Apparently, Ijeoma Oluo.

    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 bias. 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 knowledge 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.

  • Meg Elison

    Written tight as a logical proof and with a careful delivery so that the bad news can be heard by we who need to hear it most. A concrete and highly actionable discussion, reinforced with evidence and examples to make sure that the reader can connect. My fellow white folks: you need to read this. And as the introduction advises, sit with your discomfort when it arises. Even those of us who are trying have a lot to learn. Ms. Oluo has done us the favor of making this piece of our education afford

    Written tight as a logical proof and with a careful delivery so that the bad news can be heard by we who need to hear it most. A concrete and highly actionable discussion, reinforced with evidence and examples to make sure that the reader can connect. My fellow white folks: you need to read this. And as the introduction advises, sit with your discomfort when it arises. Even those of us who are trying have a lot to learn. Ms. Oluo has done us the favor of making this piece of our education affordable, and not very long.

  • Trish

    People of every race are going to read this book—at least I hope they are. It is not written just for people still denying that racism exists in America today, but for people who know it does but do not recognize the myriad ways it manifests. Oluo writes so clearly and simply, this book just a pleasure to read, despite addressing emotionally sensitive material. It is so well-conceived and executed that one could use it as a handbook for group discussion, one or two chapters a meeting, talking ov

    People of every race are going to read this book—at least I hope they are. It is not written just for people still denying that racism exists in America today, but for people who know it does but do not recognize the myriad ways it manifests. Oluo writes so clearly and simply, this book just a pleasure to read, despite addressing emotionally sensitive material. It is so well-conceived and executed that one could use it as a handbook for group discussion, one or two chapters a meeting, talking over what she has presented.

    Those discussions can be within one's own group, and do not need to include people outside one's race unless they want to be there, e.g. white people should be talking to white people. We have a lot to discover about ourselves, our culture, how our political and economic systems affect racist ideas. She gives us the tools to begin that work, and suggests that we not make black people the sounding boards for our own anxieties—anxieties about how we are perceived, or mistakes we may have made or…whatever. It's not about us.

    Oluo’s book builds on earlier books on this theme in the best way possible:

    by podcaster Phoebe Robinson, and

    by British journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge, were both enormously helpful in raising some of the issues Oluo addresses with such clarity. Oluo organizes the material so that we are focused on behaviors or questions we will recognize if we have thought about these issues at all, such as "How do I talk to my mother about racist jokes she makes?" "Is police brutality really about race?" "What are microaggressions?" "Is it race or class that separates us?" "What is intersectionality?" "I was called out for being racist but I don’t know what I did wrong."

    Oluo suggests ways to approach these questions, and tells us what is

    okay. She says there are basic rules, which we might understand to be immutable rules:

    While Oluo will concede that in the context of the points made above, “just about everything is about race…” Pause here. This is such a critical point that is too easily missed. White people do not generally talk about race, do not think about race because they are in a white supremacist society. Understand this to mean that white is privileged in our society, and until recently was the largest population group, using their own means of measuring “white.” White is a race, like other races. We just haven’t had to think about it as such.

    Oluo goes on to say “…almost nothing is about race.” Pause again. That would be true also. Race doesn’t even show up genetically. White Americans have more genetic difference with other Europeans than we do with Black Americans. It’s culture and context that rubs us differently. But Oluo goes through all this carefully, spending some time defining what racism is. She warns us that talking about race will make us uncomfortable. We need to forgive ourselves if we make mistakes, but we also have to forgive others who are trying to understand what they do not now understand.

    “You’re going to screw this up,” Oluo tells us, but you can prepare, and try to lessen the amount of times you get it wrong. She helps by talking this out. This is not easy stuff. Racial justice activist

    agrees. Just when we think we understand what privilege is, we might discover we don’t know how to explain it, or give examples of it, or even recognize it immediately. We need to change something so basic as our vocabulary, and everyone who has learned a new language knows how hard that can be. Our behaviors are often habituated, learned when we were children, and some need to change. Change is hard, but not impossible.

    Oluo sticks with the practical ways she has lived with and uncovered her own lack of understanding around race--for instance, not making enough effort to understand what underlies the term Asian American. That particular chapter, “What is the model minority myth?” is enormously informative. We learn the large number of sub-groups fall under the category of Asian American, and how they are doing in our economy.

    It seems hard to believe this book came out only a month ago, in January 2018. I am so thrilled there is such useful material now to help us with our own conversations with family, friends, and colleagues about race. I recommend buying this one. You will be grateful for this resource. You will probably need to refer to it again and again, or pass it around, when your conversations raise some of the questions Oluo deals with here.

  • Julie Christine

    An engaging and thoughtful examination of race in these United States. Ijeoma Oluo brings new energy and determination to a discussion that can feel so fraught and loaded and hopeless. The book is presented both as a conversation and as manual, offering tips, guidelines, and discussion points to take the reader from the sidelines to the frontlines.

    Its readership, as is so often the case with social justice primers, will be obviously self-selecting. The title alone,

    An engaging and thoughtful examination of race in these United States. Ijeoma Oluo brings new energy and determination to a discussion that can feel so fraught and loaded and hopeless. The book is presented both as a conversation and as manual, offering tips, guidelines, and discussion points to take the reader from the sidelines to the frontlines.

    Its readership, as is so often the case with social justice primers, will be obviously self-selecting. The title alone,

    will weed out all those who can easily answer, "Yeah, no" for the myriad reasons we continue to struggle to discuss race honestly and effectively (e.g fear, anger, boredom, fatigue, confusion, guilt, disbelief, etc.). But Oluo, if she can get you to pick up the book, will engage from the opening pages with her confidence and competence, humor and honesty. She doesn't lecture, but she doesn't soft-pedal, either. Whether it's microagression or police brutality, she presents the issue, why it matters, and what your responsibility is in responding and how to be a part of the conversation. The "you" here is any reader, but really, white folks, this is for us, because it's

    to be the change.

  • Erica

    This isn't an easy-breezy book. It's not supposed to be.

    Some readers will be triggered, some will be defensive, and some will think it's just too heavy, too negative, too un-American because we don't have racism here and stop making everything about race.

    This book is about race.

    It's in the title.

    There is no false advertising here.

    For me, this is a good bookend to

    . I didn't quite get that book, I couldn't figure out what I needed to learn from Coates.

    It was an introduct

    This isn't an easy-breezy book. It's not supposed to be.

    Some readers will be triggered, some will be defensive, and some will think it's just too heavy, too negative, too un-American because we don't have racism here and stop making everything about race.

    This book is about race.

    It's in the title.

    There is no false advertising here.

    For me, this is a good bookend to

    . I didn't quite get that book, I couldn't figure out what I needed to learn from Coates.

    It was an introduction.

    This is the rest of the story, this fills in the blanks.

    This is the big picture.

    It's also a good companion for

    and now wish I would have read the two in reverse, that one as a palate cleanser after all the seriousness here.

    That's not true. I'm glad I read them in the order I did. That one was like hanging out with a friend and having good conversation, some light and fluffy, some heavier and deeper, but, in the end, we all walked away smiling.

    This was like coming home from hanging with said friend and sitting down with your serious sister who has some serious learning for you, stuff you don't want to hear but you have to. There's love in the message but also a lot of come-to-Jesusing. Without the Jesus part. You don't walk away from this with a smile but maybe you walk away with a little hope, with some resolution, with greater awareness. Maybe this is the start to becoming a slightly better person.

    I respect the hell out of Oluo. She's taken on the mantle of race educator not because she wants to but because she is beautifully positioned to talk to white people about racism in a way we'll understand if we're just willing to listen. This isn't a fun pasttime for her, dealing with those of us smothered in privilege and all defensive about it, but she's doing it anyway because, as she says, how much worse will things be if she doesn't speak up?

    This book isn't just for white people, though. It's a call for everyone to stop being bound by white supremacy, by classism, ableism, sexism and all the other divides we cling to in order to feel superior to others, in order to reap the most benefits from society by making sure those benefits don't end up with others.

    Mostly, though, this is for white people.

    I hope it gets to the people who need this information because as I finished this up today, the news was rife with stories about

    who was

    and stories about the

    ,

    and family, who

    after being caught for bombing black people in Austin, TX, for the past few weeks.

    People.

    Come on.

    Read this and, as Oluo says,

    Sidenotes:

    Bahni Turpin narrates the audiobook. She is incredible, per usual. In this case, she reads in a Documentary Narrator voice and then when things get pointed, she adds a little acid to her tongue to make sure you do not miss the implication of the message being delivered. She's just so good.

    If you fell in love with Oluo's writing, you can find more

    You may recognize some of her Medium articles or her interview with Rachel Dolezal but check out her other stuff, too.

    Also, I think this is the end of my inadvertent themed reading spree.

    I suppose

    could qualify but...I guess I'll see how I feel about that once it's finished.

  • Cynthia

    This book is largely for non-POC who wish to be allies or POC who are in denial of, not aware of or unfamiliar with the systemic racism prevalent in American society. Unlike many other scholarly works on race, this book uses language that is accessible and could even be used in an AP Language course. Actually, it would probably be a great addition to an AP Language course.

    Most importantly, it needs to be read far and wide by teachers especially or anyone who works with POC.

  • Truman32

    , Ijeoma Oluo’s new book asks. I thought I did, but after reading several chapters I realized no, no I very much did not want to. I think I’d rather talk about my receding hairline, my cholesterol levels, the abnormally large size of my physician’s fingers (the yearly physical is coming up and it will be time once again to check out that ole prostate), just about anything really, because talking about race is uncomfortable, uncomfortable, uncomfortable.

    , Ijeoma Oluo’s new book asks. I thought I did, but after reading several chapters I realized no, no I very much did not want to. I think I’d rather talk about my receding hairline, my cholesterol levels, the abnormally large size of my physician’s fingers (the yearly physical is coming up and it will be time once again to check out that ole prostate), just about anything really, because talking about race is uncomfortable, uncomfortable, uncomfortable.

    can be considered a manual for white liberals who fret about not working more to end racism as they peruse the shelves at Wholefoods for camel milk, emu eggs, and Kale ice cream. People like me who feel woke but maybe aren’t to the degree they think, and anyway should never be using the word

    in adult conversation under any circumstances.

    Oluo goes through a number of racial concepts: white privilege, systemic racism, police brutality, etc. Some of these arguments were complex and eye opening while others I found more remedial (Chapter 9: Why can’t I say the “N” word?, or Chapter 11: Why can’t I touch your hair? ). Overall, the arguments were well thought out and honest if more than a little difficult to digest (who wants to know that they are in fact not carrying their share of the workload in this important fight? As Oluo writes, “If you live in this system of White Supremacy you are either fighting the system or you are complicit.”) And it is frustrating knowing that not living the life of a person of color, I am limited in my understanding of the effects of systemic racism.

    While the subject and content in

    is important and essential to our current climate, I struggled with Oluo’s writing. I felt on numerous occasions I was reading a dry textbook and finishing the 250 pages was a struggle. As I read, the words on each page seemed to multiply and I found my mind wandering and then having to reread what I had labored to get through the first time in an exhausting Sisyphean effort. I agreed with almost everything Oluo wrote, and the few ideas I struggled with I still understood the logic of her viewpoint, I just could not get into this book.

    Feeling guilty, I was going to add an additional star or two solely for the pressing subject matter, but that seemed a little self-indulgent. So three is what we have.

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