So You Want to Talk About Race Summary

So You Want to Talk About Race is a nonfiction book by Ijeoma Oluo that addresses aspects of race, prejudice, and equality in the United States.

  • By examining racism, privilege, intersectionality, police brutality, affirmative action, the school-to-prison pipeline, cultural appropriation, microaggressions, and more, Oluo hopes to change and open the conversation around race for everyone.
  • The book presents a comprehensive portrait of race relations in the US by combining research with personal anecdotes from Oluo’s experiences as a Black woman.
  • Oluo’s ultimate goal is to address, discuss, and change forms of systemic racism that persist despite people’s best intentions.


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Last Updated on August 5, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1166

Race has always been a defining force in Ijeoma Oluo’s life, but she hasn’t always talked much about it. Once she did, though, she decided to change her food blog to a “‘me’ blog,” which allowed her to start writing about race. Throughout her blog—and, now, in this book—she answers people’s questions about race, such as “How do I deal with my mother-in-law’s racist jokes?” and “What exactly is intersectionality?”

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In this book, Oluo works with a particular definition of race:

Racism is any prejudice against someone because of their race, when these views are reinforced by systems of power.

Oluo knows that there are many racists in the world, but she does not concern herself with the unapologetic racists on the fringes. She works to change insidious forms of systemic racism instead and believes that readers are best served by tying the instance of racism they observe to the system that engendered it. For example, readers would be justified in asking for a teacher who uses a racist slur against a Hispanic student to be fired, but the reader should go much further than that and ask about how many people of color are on staff and how many Hispanic students graduate. Oluo knows that conversations about race can be difficult and fraught, but they are worth it, and besides, as she remarks,

There is no shoving the four hundred years’ racial oppression and violence toothpaste back in the toothpaste tube.

Many tips for having a productive discussion about race follow. Oluo counsels readers to state their intentions clearly and remember their top priority in the conversation. Readers should do their homework ahead of the conversation on race and make sure not to police others’ tone when they discuss “the racial oppression they face.” She also asks white people to keep track of all the times they say “I” or “me” in conversations about race.

In opening up a discussion about examining one’s privileges, Oluo writes that everyone has some privileges, and it is best to acknowledge these at the outset of a conversation. She even suggests writing out a complete list. Where there is advantage for one, she explains, there is disadvantage for another, and considering these imbalances closely is crucial. She uses a personal example in her discussion: Oluo is Black but has light skin, and she says that this is an advantage for her because society sees darker-skinned people as more threatening than light-skinned people. She explains that she needs to acknowledge this privilege and work against shadeism—that is, discrimination based on various skin tones—whenever and wherever possible.

Next, Oluo invites readers into a deep discussion of intersectionality. Intersectionality is “the belief that our social justice movements must consider all the intersections of identity, privilege, and oppression that people face in order to be just and effective.” Racial privilege is one important privilege, but gender, class, race, and sexuality are also crucial parts of our identity. Oluo warns that if readers do not acknowledge all of their...

(The entire section contains 1166 words.)

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