So You Want to Talk About Race

by Ijeoma Oluo

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Chapters 12–14 Summary

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 899

Chapter 12: What are microaggressions?

Oluo has dealt with her share of microaggressions. People have said that her lips are too big for red lipstick and that she probably didn’t have to work as hard as a white student would have to get into college. Both were, of course, untrue, but these slights provide a window into a daily life lived with microaggressions. Microaggressions are “small daily insults and indignities perpetrated against marginalized or oppressed people because of their affiliation with that marginalized or oppressed group.” They are small, so it might seem possible to brush them off at first, but they are also “cumulative,” and the object of microaggressions may begin to suffer from hypervigilance and even depression and anxiety.

Many different people perpetuate microaggressions and do not even realize exactly how much they are hurting the person to whom they are talking. Oluo provides some stark examples:

“Are you an affirmative action hire?”“Why do black people give their kids such funny names?”“Wow, you’re so articulate.”“Do your kids all have the same dad?”“You don’t sound black.”“Are you the maid?”

Not all microaggressions are spoken: some are communicated by actions, like clutching a purse more tightly or locking the car doors when a Black person walks by.

Microaggressions normalize racism, so it is important to call them out when possible. Oluo provides some strategies for this. Before anything else, “state what actually happened,” not what the microaggressor believes happened, and then “ask some uncomfortable questions.” If the microaggression is still troubling, “ask some more uncomfortable questions.” A person’s good intentions are not the point; the microaggression still hurts, regardless of the way it was intended.

Oluo challenges readers to take a number of specific steps if they have been called out for microaggressions:

Pause.Ask yourself: “Do I really know why I said/did that?”Ask yourself: “Would I have said this to somebody of my race? Is it something I say to people of my race?”Ask yourself if you were feeling threatened or uncomfortable in the situation, and then ask yourself why.Don’t force people to acknowledge your good intentions.Remember: it’s not just this one incident.Research further on your own time.Apologize.

This work can be difficult, but Oluo urges readers to keep going.

Chapter 13: Why are our students so angry?

Oluo begins this chapter by telling readers why her eight-year-old son is so angry. He knows his own mind and has decided that he doesn’t want to pledge allegiance to the flag or sing the national anthem: he is an atheist, and he doesn’t think that the United States actually provides “liberty and justice for all.”

Oluo was born in 1980 and raised with great aspirations—but, she says,

The promises of the ’80s did not prevent the crack epidemic or the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which helped militarize our police force, introduced mandatory minimum sentences for crimes more likely to be committed by brown and black offenders, and rapidly expanded prison sizes to accommodate the massive increase of black and brown bodies brought in by a criminal justice system now incentivized to see black and brown people as criminals.

Black and brown students see that the United States has not delivered on its promises, and the world is still a dangerous place for them. Oluo’s son had to learn that at a young age: his father had to tell him that he couldn’t play with a toy gun outside his home, while his white stepbrother could. Ultimately, the world is still unfair for Black and...

(This entire section contains 899 words.)

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brown people.

Another reason that today’s youth are angry is that they are reaching for far more than the generation behind them reached for. They are not willing to let any “little things” slide:

They often ask for things that we were brainwashed into believing was “too much to ask for.” Trigger warnings? Non-ableist language? Inclusive events? As the newer generation casts us aside it is very easy to find yourself feeling old and . . . wrong.

It is important to see the rise of the next generation of activists as inevitable and hopeful.

Chapter 14: What is the model minority myth?

Oluo does not neglect to mention that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are subject to active racism, just as Black Americans are; these groups are particularly susceptible to the myth of the model minority. This myth “fetishizes” Asian Americans and assumes that all Asian Americans are docile in manner and high achievers in math and science.

“Model minority” is a term coined by William Peterson in the 1960s, when he studied the “model” and “problem” minorities. Oluo acknowledges that “Asian Americans do have some of the highest rates of college graduation, highest salaries, and lowest incarceration rates of minority groups in America,” but the model minority myth is still harmful, because it stereotypes a broad swath of people. The myth also leaves out Pacific Islanders, and it downplays the extreme economic and educational disparities among Asian Americans.

Most insidiously, the myth of the “model minority” means that hate crimes against Asian Americans are often ignored, and Asian American women are abused at a high rate:

Between 41 and 61 percent of Asian American women will be physically or sexually abused by their partners in their lifetime—twice the national average for all women.

Chapters 9–11 Summary


Chapters 15–17 Summary