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I don't often run across a book I think everyone should read but this is definitely one of them. All white people anyway, though I suspect (but certainly don't know for sure) that many people of color would find it affirming. It's personal and universal, anecdotal and well-researched. Really excellent.
What I appreciated most about this book is that it gave some practicable advice of how to work against racism in my daily life.
Very rarely do I re-read a book, but this one called to me for a revisit after attending several trainings and discussions on systemic racism. In this thoughtful and action-oriented book, we are all given the tools we need to become more aware, and to take action, as well as a grace in acknowledging that many a reader has the privilege to only be starting to think deeply about this topic.
It's not hard to miss Oluo's message: any of us with privilege -- but most particularly and most overwhelmingly any of us who are white -- have benefited from our privilege, and we must work together to deconstruct our system that perpetuates that privilege at significant cost to others. We can't start with what's "easy" (even as working to dismantle misogyny and ableism and classism is by no means easy) but must focus on what will have the greatest impact: recognizing that race is a construct used to hold some down in order to benefit others, and that by fighting that systemic racism, which intersects with all other forms of systemic oppression, we are also making strong steps towards taking down other oppressive systems.
This book is the most readable, thorough, and relatable book I've read about institutionalized racism. Ms. Oluo is a great 'writer' in comparison to most other authors of racism books who are undoubtably well-meaning but whose products tend to be theoretical, academic, or memoir. Those books are pretty hard to slog through because they are written by folks who don't have her gift. She is able to put a humorous spin to some degree on the incidents of injustice that people of color experience so that the reader can take in the information without actually realizing just how ugly the events are until she goes on to explain just that. I tell people that this book is a 'primer' on racism. For me it's become a reference book as well.
Don't get me wrong, as a white person who is coming to understand more and more about the pain people of color experience at my hands, I found this to be an emotionally difficult book to read. Even though I have been to multiple workshops about racism and read many books, I would say that this book reached me in a way that none of them have ever done before. It makes me realize just how little progress that white people have made in doing something about institutionalized racism and how much it is my responsibility to push myself into participating in conversations about race and appreciate any person of color who takes the time to point out my perpetuation of racism, be it unconscious or not. I also feel that it is important to try to educate my fellow white people about these issues. I'll try to have these conversations, say ignorant white privileged things, learn something, repeat, but hopefully will make contributions to the fight against institutionalized racism as I go.
An important and essential book. Not an easy book. A must read.
Oluo is a writer a speaker in Seattle who has been in several publications and has an influential social media following. If you’re in any way confused about all the discussions going on about race right now, GET THEE THIS BOOK. Smart, clear, generous. Cuts right to the issue (and thinks two steps ahead), this book is organized into some of the main discussions you’ve probably stumble through on social media or at Thanksgiving dinner. Do yourself a solid, get this book and be the person Mr. Rogers knows you can be.
This is an excellent and helpful book! If you are a person who thinks of yourself as white (as Ta-nehesi Coates put it) and you want to understand how racism negatively affects people of color in every aspect of their lives, please read this book. It is very clear and direct, and gives very practical and down to earth advice about how to think and talk about race, and how to take action that is helpful.
There are early chapters entitled "Is it really about race?" (which explains that while economic class is important, people of color are worse off at every economic level) and "What is racism?" (it is not just the racial prejudice of individuals; it is all of the systems and institutions that discriminate against and oppress people of color, such as the school to prison pipeline) and "What if I talk about race wrong?" (short answer: you probably will, but here are some tips on how to stay on track and not let emotions override what you are trying to say).
I thought one of the best chapters was "Why am I always being told to 'check my privilege'?" It is really important for those of us who think of ourselves as white to understand that there are so many areas of life where we have advantages that we take for granted and do not even notice. The author lists many questions we should all ask ourselves about our relative privilege. In every area we are privileged, we have the power and access to change the system as a whole. This book is written for those who want to fight the systemic oppression that is harming the lives of millions of people of color.
Other chapters that I found especially affecting were "Is police brutality really about race?" (in a word, YES), "What is the school to prison pipeline?", and "What are microaggressions?"
The chapter about microaggressions was heartbreaking. People of color endure rude and cruel comments (and actions) constantly made by others, often without the speaker even realizing the impact of his or her words or actions. The cumulative impact of these constant small wounds (like dozens of cuts) is painful, exhausting, stressful and miserable. Because microaggressions come from many different people, and they are small, it is not possible to address each one as it happens. Ms. Oluo lists a page and a half of examples of things people have said. Then she describes actions, such as the salesperson following a person of color around the store (to make sure he or she does not shoplift), or fellow customers who assume a person of color is an employee, or people who clutch their purses or other possessions tighter when passing a person of color.
Ms. Oluo then gives advice both for the person of color who has been a victim of a microaggression, and to the person who committed the microaggression and who has been called out. If we are going to stop this behavior, we people who think of ourselves as white have to be aware of what it is (so we can stop doing it), why it hurts, and what to do if we screw up.
The last two chapters, "I just got called racist, what do I do now?" and "Talking is great, but what else can I do?" are especially full of helpful, practical suggestions. There are all kinds of things we can do. There is a ton of great information in this book.
The bottom line is: Everyone is negatively affected by racism. People of color bear the brunt of it, but we all lose out when people of color do not have the same opportunities to participate and contribute as "white" people. We need to embrace the gifts and perspectives of everyone. We all need to be outraged by racism and start doing what we can to solve it.
Oluo'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.
An informative, necessary and uncomfortable read.
"it's about race if a person of color thinks it's about race."
Along with books like "Between the World and Me" and "You Can't Touch My Hair," writer/speaker/activist Ijeoma Oluo's "So You Want to Talk About Race" should be included in a talking/thinking about race 101 tool kit.
If you are serious about talking about the issue of race in American life today, this is the book for you to read first. Right now. It touches all of the bases and does so from the perspective of both white people and people of color. Oluo brings the insights and wisdom she's shown in her previous writing to this step by step guide. What are you waiting for?
Concise, intelligent, meaningful - Oluo is SO GOOD at explaining complicated things like race in American and making it understandable. Every American should have a copy of this in their personal library - it would go a long way to improving race relations in this country if we were at least in agreement about what constitutes racism. Everyone reading this book is a great place to start instigating that much-needed conversation.