Saturday, September 26, 2020

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (Takeaways)

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

I am grateful beyond my ability to express to Ijeoma Oluo for writing this. It is truly a gift to white people who want to learn but are sometimes/often afraid to ask because, as she points out repeatedly, it is not the responsibility of the black person you are talking to to educate you. She breaks down everything from what racism is and isn't, how deeply ingrained it is within all of our psyches, and how it's intrinsic in basically every single facet of American society and culture. From checking your privilege and the importance of interesctionality to police brutality and the school-to-prison pipeline to cultural appropriation and microaggressions all the way down to why hair is such a huge and illustrative issue showing how deep the roots (no pun intended) of all this brainwashing goes.

SO MUCH came out of my reading of this. For one, I will never again say "I'm not racist" because, as she points out "if you are white in a white supremacist society, you are racist. If you are male in a patriarchy, you are sexist. If you are able-bodied, you are ableist. If you are anything above poverty in a capitalist society, you are classist. You can sometimes be all of these things at once." And recognizing, as she states several times, that none of this has anything whatsoever to do with being a good or bad person but simply everything to do with being American. That's something a person like me who is prone to violent storms of self criticism needs to hear, and I'm grateful to her for pointing it out as often as she does.

For another, the importance of distinguishing systemic racism from racism not only because of what she pointed out above, but because "We can get every person in America to feel nothing but love for people of color in their hearts, and if our systems aren't acknowledged and changed, it will bring negligible benefit to the lives of people of color."

And from that, the single most important take-away of the whole thing, that the power of being white is that we get to be, as Hamilton taught us "in the room where it happens" and subsequently we have the power to ask questions, point out mistakes, and speak up for the people who aren't in those rooms. Because "Racial oppression starts in our homes, our offices, our cities, and our states, and it can end there as well."

On the whole, I can't possibly recommend this book highly enough. It is not, by any means, an easy read for a white person. But it is written by a woman who seems to genuinely want to educate, assist, and share with people on the outside looking in. She is not harsh, she is not chastising, she is not trying to shame white people into change. She is human, often identifying her own privilege and how much that has made even her blind to, and she is funny in ways that do not soften the blows of the things that need to hit hard. Again, what a gift.

*Quick note: I've written all this from my perspective as a white person and not even mentioning how useful it would be for a black person to read because if this has taught me anything it's that I can't even begin to imagine what a black person (or any person of color) would think of it. While she does speak directly to the black reader on certain topics, mainly to legitimize and defend their experiences, I think the bulk of the book really is for white people who want to learn. And that is so desperately needed.

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