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So You Want to Talk About Race Paperback – Illustrated, September 24, 2019
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Protests against racial injustice and white supremacy have galvanized millions around the world. The stakes for transformative conversations about race could not be higher. Still, the task ahead seems daunting, and it’s hard to know where to start. How do you tell your boss her jokes are racist? Why did your sister-in-law hang up on you when you had questions about police reform? How do you explain white privilege to your white, privileged friend?
In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from police brutality and cultural appropriation to the model minority myth in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race, and about how racism infects every aspect of American life.
"Simply put: Ijeoma Oluo is a necessary voice and intellectual for these times, and any time, truth be told." ―Phoebe Robinson, New York Times bestselling author of You Can't Touch My Hair
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From the Publisher
“Oluo is out to help put words to action, which at this day and age, might be exactly what we need."―Forbes
"Impassioned and unflinching"
"Fascinating, real, and necessary."―The Root
"Read it, then recommend it to everyone you know."―Harper's Bazaar (Named a Top 10 Book of the Year)
"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
"A guidebook for those who want to confront racism and white supremacy in their everyday lives, but are unsure where to start."―Bitch
"Oluo offers us a reset, a starting point, a clear way forward."―dream hampton, writer, activist, filmmaker, and executive producer of Surviving R. Kelly
"A must-read primer on the politics of American racism."―Bustle
About the Author
- Publisher : Seal Press; Reprint edition (September 24, 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1580058825
- ISBN-13 : 978-1580058827
- Item Weight : 7.7 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.45 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #17,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on January 23, 2018
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Top reviews from the United States
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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.
There were some parts of the book I didn’t agree with. For me, this did not detract from the importance of the overall message. I care about this issue and I’m willing to set aside some disagreements to work together for positive change. The author believes this change is possible and cites evidence. Her solution does not involve violence, or a major overall of government. Her solutions are extremely doable. Piece by piece, one step at a time. I’m grateful for this book and the impact it had on me, and all the things I learned.
SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE was so many things for a mixed person like me, who benefits from an overwhelming amount of privilege. Going into it already with an appreciation for Ms. Oluo's writing, I expected to be challenged, to maybe even be a little defensive, to want to put down the highlighter and pen occasionally so I could pick up the band-aids for my emotional ouchies. Which I did.
What I DIDN'T expect was to see myself in the pages from another side. But something so wonderful about both Ijeoma's writing in general, and SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE specifically, is its accessibility; so often as a mixed person with one white parent and a parent who is both Filipino and Italian I've felt like when it comes to race there's just nowhere where I belong. I look white to most people and know I have white privilege so for most of my life that was how I identified. Indeed, during the majority of my time reading Ms. Oluo's book I was either learning (for example, while I "knew" that many police organizations had historical ties to racist origins, I did not know the extent, or the depth of where they grew from.
I also spent much of the book feeling horrified and/or angry at the way Ijeoma was treated by friends, colleagues, even her family. These feelings of horror at acts of blatant racism or mere ignorance come from a place of privilege, I know. Despite the fact I nodded along to many sections (I ALSO HAVE A DEGREE IN POLITICAL SCIENCE!!) including the chapters about the white washing and sexism in the tech industry, where I work. I knew that I couldn't understand what it was like to be affected by these kinds of marginalizations.
That is until I got to the chapter about the model minority myth - which I was intimately familiar with, my grandfather having served white Americans his entire life - and I almost cried. The stories he told me about what he had to do to leave the Philippines and become a citizen, the way the Navy, who he's so proud to have served in, treated him, all came to my mind. Race is complicated, as this book makes clear.
Ultimately though this book wasn't about me. SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE was written TO me, and everyone else reading it. And while I won't "spoil" the ending, I'll say that by the conclusion, when I got to the last chapter and the question within, I didn't have to hesitate even for a moment with my answer.
I have a feeling that the more time readers spend with Ms. Oluo's writing - if they truly seek to absorb it - they won't have to either.
Top reviews from other countries
Oluo's research is impeccable, I found the history of our police forces to be fascinating.
I love it when she teaches us simple things that I can remember, like terms like "black-on-black crime or brown-on-brown crime are 100% racist... Crime is a problem within communities. And communities with higher poverty, fewer jobs, and less infrastructure are going to have higher crime, regardless of race," or explaining affirmative action as meaning "if there are 10% black people in the area, the ultimate goal (not quota) would be around 10% black employees or students. The goal is simply equal opportunity for female applicants and applicants of color. Why would a representational number of people of color be so much less competitive than a representational number of white people?".
However when Oluo gives her own personal reasons why hair touching is a big deal for example, I felt there was some repetition and subjective hyperbole. And this might be a failing on my own part, but for some of the reasons Oluo so expertly defends the right of black people to know what's racist when white people talk I didn't feel comfortable with her talking about anti-Asian discrimination.
I understand how people can be put of by a piece of writing, a person, or - in the worst case - a cause, because of the way a topic is handled - for example if the language used is provocative and aggravating. But, as Ijeoma puts it, "When you instead shift your focus to getting people of colour to fight oppression in a way in which you approve, racial justice is no longer your main goal - your approval is". It's Ijeoma's understanding, paired with her steadfastness, which really impressed me, and made it what I think is a very approachable book which doesn't sugar-coat or ignore uncomfortable issues. I think this is a brilliantly productive way to proceed with the topic.
The book covers a good selection of topics, some of which I was unaware of before reading it - so I'm glad to have my awareness raised to many issues, and mind opened in many specific areas and in the bigger picture.