Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Rapid Review: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

"If a person of color is willing to talk to you about race, even if they aren't very friendly while they're doing it, it's a generosity." ~Ojeoma Oluo, Google Talk presentation
So You Want to Talk About Race (Seal Press/Hatchette, 2018) is a book that functions as a bridge between the lived experiences of people of color and white people to help, primarily, white people align themselves to people of color and Racism. She starts off early in the book by explaining carefully why you (white person) need to read this book. In sum, no matter how "woke" you are on the spectrum of "woke," you're not there yet. 
This is not Racism 101. This is not for people who haven't yet noticed inequality or racism. In fact, Oluo would argue that empathy has little to do with ending racism. Being nice will not stop Racism. Reading diverse books will not stop children of color being disciplined at much higher rates and with more severe punishments than their white peers. Holding the door open for a person of color will not halt the Industrial Prison Complex. This book will, however, explain why these small acts do little to counteract Racism and, thus, how to do much more.

Or maybe So You Want to Talk about Race is Racism 101 for the Twenty-first century and understanding Racism's disease and symptoms and how to identify those now. It's definitely the handbook for all people who have been living and working under an inadequate definition of Racism. Racism is not an individual problem but as a systemic one that infects all who live within the culture of White Supremacy. It is a system created by a culture that normalizes and romanticizes whiteness, typically through the oppression, disempowerment, and portrayals of people of color as violent/inhuman/alien/less-than/absurd/ignorant/stupid/lazy/objects/etc.

And from that definition of Racism comes not only the real possibility of taking part in dismantling that system, but also Oluo's purpose in writing the book: to contextualize this definition, help white readers witness the reality of this definition in action through various anecdotes, statistics, comparisons, connections to institutions and their relationships to each other, and then to provide white readers with suggestions of how to position their imaginations, actions, and understanding of themselves and others in relation to, for example, cultural appropriation or to the school-to-prison pipeline or to communication with people of color in the workplace. Intersectionality, microaggressions, the model minority myth, affirmative action, protest, equity versus equality, the trials of intercultural friendships--and so, so much more.

While reading the book, readers learn about Oluo's own life, from the experience of being a queer woman of color, to being raised by her white mother who didn't understand systemic racism, to the ways in which her body and voice have been censored by white people and institutions in ways that have deeply affected her life and perspective--experiences that are usually hidden but that Oluo shares so that white readers will understand.

For a better idea of all that Oluo's tackling, visit the publisher's page and read all the rave reviews. This is, without doubt, the most helpful book on the relationship between white people's imaginations and Racism and how to reposition that imagination in a way that will lead to effective action. The book also helps contextualize other systems of oppression, from patriarchy/misogny, abelism, homophobia, etc. The world makes much more sense to me now after reading Oluo's book and how to interpret what I'm witnessing, and past experiences.

Put this on the TOP of your book club's reading list, and definitely order it for your local library if it doesn't yet shelve a copy or two. And if you live in a neighborhood that has a Free Little Library, buy a copy for that, too. This is an excellent and NECESSARY read. Today. BUY IT TODAY!
"What we're doing when we're talking about race, usually, is we have people who are trying to come to their own personal goals, and usually people of color who come to talk about race are trying to get other people to understand what is harming them. And, very often, white people come to talk about race to try to make sure the person they're talking to knows that they are not the person who is harming them. Those are two completely different conversations that will never meet. Because you have one person whose lived experience says, 'You are harming me, and I need you to understand,' and you have another person whose lived experience says, 'I am not part of the problem, I am a good person, and I need you to understand.'
"Because we don't state what we're talking about when we talk about race, you can dissolve an entire friendship in a discussion, and if you were to ask why, of each person in that discussion, the reasons would be completely different. So we know it is tough. We know there's a lot at risk. And if you are a white person in this room, and most of you are, and you're thinking, 'What if I get called racist? The last time I tried a couple times, it ended really bad.' Trust me. No conversation about race has ever ended nearly as bad for you as ends for people of color. So, before we launch into why we have to do it anyways.
"If a person of color is willing to talk to you about race, even if they aren't very friendly while they're doing it, it's a generosity." ~Ojeoma Oluo, Google Talk presentation 
Ojeoma Oluo, author picture