So You Want to Talk About Race

by Ijeoma Oluo

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Chapters 15–17 Summary

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 725

Chapter 15: But what if I hate Al Sharpton?

In opening a chapter about common perceptions of Black public figures, Oluo remembers a distinct dichotomy in her education about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. When she was a kid, she sided with Martin Luther King and thought that Malcolm X’s behavior was unnecessary and polarizing. As an adult, she realizes that both men reached for the same goal: freedom from oppression. Both men were public enemies for those upholding White Supremacist society.

Oluo acknowledges that those seeking justice will sometimes be subject to tone policing. Tone policing is when “someone (usually the privileged person) in a conversation or situation about oppression shifts the focus of the conversation from the oppression being discussed to the way it is being discussed.” At its core, tone policing “prioritizes the comfort of the privileged person in the conversation over the oppression of the disadvantaged person.” Allies of justice for all must realize the pitfalls of tone policing. Oluo provides a set of guidelines for those who are engaged in discussions about dismantling systemic racism:

Be aware of the limits of your empathy.Don’t distract or deflect.Remember your goal.Drop the prerequisites.Walk away if you must, but don’t give up.Build a tolerance for discomfort.You are not doing any favors, you are doing what is right.

She also reassures those that are being criticized for their tone that every individual comes to a discussion of justice and equality with certain rights:

You have a right to your anger, sadness, and fear.You were born deserving equality and justice.You matter.Nobody has authority over your fight for racial justice.You deserve to be able to speak your truth, and you deserve to be heard.

Chapter 16: I just got called racist, what do I do now?

Oluo tells the story of a white Canadian who told her on social media that Canadians were not racist. Oluo had evidence that this statement was not true and said so. In a flash, the white Canadian turned on her with ugly language and continued a campaign of harassment against her for many months to come. This type of retaliation, Oluo says, is common, and the examples are endless; she recounts the stories of several friends who have been harassed (both online and in person) and fired from their jobs as a direct result of calling out others’ racism.

If you are white, Oluo says, you have been racist at some point: “You are racist because you were born and bred in a racist, white supremacist society. White Supremacy is, as I’ve said earlier, insidious by design.” Readers who have been racist and want to work to mitigate that pain must take the following steps:

Listen.Set your intentions aside.Try to hear the impact of what you have done.Remember that you do not have all of the pieces.Nobody owes you a debate.Nobody owes you a relationship.Remember that you are not the only one hurt.If you can see where you have been racist, or if you can see where your actions caused harm, apologize and mean it.If, after a lot of careful thought, you still do not see your actions as racist and feel strongly that this is simply a misunderstanding, do not then invalidate that person’s hurt.

Chapter 17: Talking is great, but what else can I do?

As Oluo draws her book to a close, she emphasizes that sometimes, talking about racial justice is not enough. Readers need to be prepared to take action as well. In...

(This entire section contains 725 words.)

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case readers are looking for specific actions to take, she provides a list:

Vote local.Get in schools.Bear witness.Speak up in your unions.Support POC-owned businesses.Boycott banks that prey on people of color.Give money to organizations working to fight racial oppression and support communities of color.Boycott businesses that exploit people of color.Support music, film, television, art, and books created by people of color.Support increases in the minimum wage.Push your mayor and city council for police reform.Demand college diversity.Vote for diverse government representatives.

Oluo concludes that if individual citizens take these actions, it will be possible to bring racial oppression to an end. She firmly believes that working together will bring about racial justice.


Chapters 12–14 Summary