So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Hardcover, 248 pages
Published January 16th 2018 by Seal Press
Source: Publisher

Often, being a person of colour in white-dominated society is like being in an abusive relationship with the world. Every day is a new little hurt, a new little dehumanization. We walk around flinching, still in pain from the last hurt and dreading the next. But when we say “this is hurting us,” a spotlight is shown on the freshest hurt, the bruise just forming: “Look at how small it is, and I’m sure there is a good reason for it. Why are you making such a big deal out of it? Everyone gets hurt from time to time”–while the world ignores the rest of our bodies are covered in scars.

We are in a time when it is imperative that we talk about race. Whether you like it or not, people of colour have found their voices and we have begun using them. You might be white and willing to talk but uncertain how to talk or even how to listen. With this book, Ijeoma Oluo presents a guide that will help you do just that. Talk and perhaps more importantly, listen.

This book is not aimed at white people exclusively. It teaches POC people how to talk about race–though whether we are heard or not…*shrug*

The book is kind. It isn’t aggressive and though it treads firmly, it doesn’t call you names or make you feel bad for not knowing something. Oluo’s rhetoric is precise and her points are clear. The strength of this book comes from Oluo’s lived experience as a black woman–she has been there and she has tales to tell. Or, she has been there and she has lived the life. I like that she explains many key concepts by using the experiences she has accrued in her life. For example, she explains white privilege or privilege of any kind by narrating a time when she had to confront her own privilege. She writes with a whole lot of awareness of her own position and how it is far more privileged in some ways compared to other people.

We have to remember that racism was designed to support an economic and social system for those at the very top. This was never motivated by hatred of people of colour, and the goal was never in and of itself simply the subjugation of people of colour. The ultimate goal of racism was the profit and comfort of the white race specifically, rich white men. The oppression of people of colour was an easy way to get this wealth and power, and racism was a good way to justify it. This is not about sentiment beyond the ways in which our sentiment is manipulated to maintain and unjust system of power.

In So You Want to Talk About Race Oluo discusses a wide range of popular concepts pertinent to discussions of race, among them feminism and intersectionality. For those of you unfamiliar with the latter, please read this book. One thing that sharply stood out for in this chapter, is part of this paragraph:

And even though Black Lives Matter was founded by black women, even though black women have been at the heart of every feminist movement int his country’s history–nobody marches for us when we are raped, when are killed, when are denied work and equal pay.Nobody marches for us.

The start and raw emotion in these words is tempered by the prose that remains gentle even when Oluo talks about the hard things. I most appreciated Oluo’s chapters on how racism targets POC children and steals their childhood from them. We have seen this often–most recently in that child handcuffed and taken to a mental asylum in Florida because he/she/they hit their teacher–the child was in grade or so I believe. Oluo shares a similar story in the book where a 5 year old child was suspended from school for acting out. The disparity in the treatment of white children vs. POC children is huge. It is about time we asked why and demanded that our children be treated with the same grace and good heart that white children are.

I hope this book makes it into the curriculum of high schools and colleges. I hope it is taught and people learn how to talk about race. I hope people learn to listen.

Do yourselves a favour: get this book and read it. More than once if you have to. It takes an unflinching look at what it means to be POC in North America and prepares you to talk about race in ways that will be rewarding for all people in the conversation.

If you are white, remember that White Supremacy is a system you benefit from and that your privilege has helped to uphold. Your efforts to dismantle White Supremacy are expected of decent people who believe in justice. You are not owed gratitude or friendship from people of colour for your efforts. We are not thanked for cleaning our own houses.