Last Updated on August 5, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 824
So You Want to Talk About Race is a thoroughly readable treatise on race relations that intends to make anti-racist education accessible to all. Oluo’s style is conversational and energetic; she is very willing to explain important terms such as intersectionality and microaggressions, and she draws readers in with brief stories from her own life. Additionally, Oluo is scrupulously honest. If she is exasperated by a microaggression, she lets that frustration be known. Her deeply honest storytelling creates a framework for the wealth of research on race in each chapter.
The pinnacle of Oluo’s research is chapter 6, which examines police brutality against Black and Native American people. Readers learn several key facts about the issue:
The fact is that Black drivers are 23 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, between 1.5 and 5 times more likely to be searched . . . , and more likely to be ticketed and arrested in those stops. This increase in stops, searches, and arrests also leads to a 3.5–4 times higher probability that Black people will be killed by cops (this increase is the same for Native Americans interacting with the police, a shamefully unreported statistic).
The research presented throughout the chapter is from Washington Post articles and the Sentencing Project’s “Report of The Sentencing Project Regarding Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System.” This research—which is both accessible and irrefutable—leads to conclusions regarding systemic racism that help to undergird and illuminate the chapters to follow.
Oluo ushers readers into many chapters with compelling autobiographical stories: the chapter about police brutality and profiling begins with her own traffic stop in July 2015, and the chapter on the school-to-prison pipeline begins with the story of her own brother, who got lost in the system. The chapter on microaggressions, in turn, begins with a heartbreaking story about a junior high school classmate who actually said that Oluo couldn’t wear red lipstick because, with her big lips, she’d “look like a clown.” Oluo is unafraid of sharing the hurt that she absorbed:
I’d be having a good day, lost in my imagination, and bam—I’d be hit with a comment that would remind me that I was not allowed to get comfortable. I couldn’t walk comfortably, I couldn’t talk comfortably, I couldn’t sit without patting my hair, I couldn’t smile without worrying how large my lips looked.
In So You Want to Talk About Race, Oluo tells stories that otherwise might not be told, and she does so for both white people and people of color. She addresses white people in her chapter about microaggressions by appealing to their sense of empathy and their intellect. She reminds white readers that with microaggressions, people of color have had a lifetime of these hurts and indignities:
Remember: it’s not just this one incident. This incident is the continuation of a long history of microaggressions for people of color. Racial trauma is cumulative, and you cannot expect a person of color to react to each situation the way that you would have encountered it for the first time.
Reaching out of the narrative...
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