The world is fraught with racial tension, and has been for a long time now. Having meaningful discussions about race is important because they are the first step towards creating real and positive change. Unfortunately, many people struggle with finding the language needed to communicate with one another, which is why I consider So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo to be such an important text. Written by a queer woman of color after my own heart, So you want to talk about race should (in my opinion) be mandatory reading for anyone and everyone, whether or not they think that they have all the answers already[1] or find themselves lost in the minefield that is discussing the need for racial justice.

So you want to talk about race isn’t just about getting people of all races to be nice to one another, this book was written for those with the goal “to fight the systemic oppression that is harming the lives of millions of people of color,” (p. 30). Throughout the text, Oluo stresses how we can only truly fight against racism by pushing back and dismantling the systemic nature of racism in our society. The book undoubtedly centers the conversation around people of color, but also takes the time to address white readers of the text and let them know how they can contribute and where they need to step back and evaluate their own actions and inactions. Reading it as a person of color, I found the sections where Oluo calls out to the POC reading the text extremely validating and in some places informative as well.

So you want to talk about race is broken up into an introduction and seventeen chapters, each of which seeks to answer a question about how to discuss race, including “What if I talk about race wrong?” “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” “I just got called racist, what do I do now?” and ending with “Talking is great, but what else can I do?” Each section breaks down the question, and many of them even include numbered and bolded lists of explanations, responses, actions and possible next steps depending on the situation about how we can individually contribute to overall change.

In a particularly poignant section of the book we as readers are asked to evaluate our own privileges, and how they impact how we see and interact with the world. Oluo tells us to focus on how these privileges have affected us, despite any disadvantages we have. For myself, I had to temporarily set aside my marginalized identities (such as being a queer woman of color among other things) and examine how growing up reasonably comfortable, attending good schools, my college degree, my ability to attend grad school, etc. has contributed to how I formulate my space in the world. While I had done similar exercises in the past I particularly appreciated it within this book, as it has offered me ways to see this exercise of empathy in a new light.

Many times, when people talk about race the conversation stops at black people, but more and more often I encounter books like So you want to talk about race that address the particular struggles of the many other people of color in the united states that are more invisible, such as Asian folk, particularly those who do not fit in to the model minority myth,[2] something that in fact gets an entire chapter of its own.

Week before last, when I reviewed Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist by Franchesca Ramsey I mentioned that within that text the author used humor to discuss tough racial issues. So you want to talk about race is different in that it isn’t a particularly funny book. Undoubtedly there were times that I laughed, and nowhere was there a space that was unnecessarily heavy; however, given the topic, there are some portions of the book that are hard to read, and I’ll freely admit that I had to set it aside a few times. That said, I do highly recommend this book as a solid grounding space for people new to race discussion and a good refresher for those who do have more experience with fraught racial discussions. Like I said before, this book really should be mandatory reading, so the sooner you get a chance to read it the better!

Happy reading!

Cheers,

Talia

[1] Which I simply don’t think is possible anyway, since there is always more to be seen/known beyond what we humans are capable of.

[2] While the point of this review is obviously to get you to read this book, if you are unfamiliar with the model minority myth, this video is a good place to learn more about it in the meantime before you get your hands on So you want to talk about race.

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