So You Want to Talk About Race

by Ijeoma Oluo

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Chapters 6–8 Summary

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Last Updated on August 5, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1229

Chapter 6: Is police brutality really about race?

Oluo moves into a discussion about police brutality by relating an incident when she was pulled over for “driving while Black.” Black drivers are pulled over for no reason or for a minor reason far too often:

The fact is that black drivers are 23 percent more likely to be pulled over than other drivers, between 1.5 and 5 times more likely to be searched (while shown to be less likely than whites to turn up contraband in these searches), and more likely to be ticketed and arrested in these stops.

In general, all people of color are targeted and “criminalized” far more than white people are.

Americans would like to believe that systemic racism of this kind doesn’t exist, but it just isn’t so. Oluo states emphatically that she needs readers to understand and believe her when she tells her story, and she needs readers likewise to understand that today’s police forces evolved from “Night Patrols” that were used to control Black and Native American populations in New England and “slave patrols” that aimed to capture Black fugitive slaves and return them to their masters.

To further understand the antiblack bias in policing, readers need to understand both history and the popular culture narratives of the Black “brute” and superpredator. These narratives continue to exist as implicit biases against Black people and other people of color. While it is true that there are higher crime rates in cities with larger minority populations, Oluo traces this problem to the “higher poverty, fewer jobs, and less infrastructure” that disproportionately affect Black and other minority communities.

Chapter 7: How can I talk about affirmative action?

Oluo begins this chapter by recounting the poverty she experienced as a child. Her mother believed that education was the only way out of their poverty, and Oluo flourished in school, but her brother Aham was not as lucky. In fact, Aham’s teacher had a uniquely punitive classroom management system: students could get “play money” for good behavior but could also lose money for poor behavior. The catch was that students had to pay rent for their desks, and Aham never had enough money. Thus, his classmates dubbed him “homeless,” not realizing that Aham and his sister had actually been homeless before. Aham eventually dropped out of high school.

Oluo’s educational path was easier, but she still had to work and take care of a child while she went to college. With her college degree, she was able to get a job with a telecommunications company. She worked exceptionally hard but missed out on an early promotion because a white woman at work said Oluo did not deserve it (and threatened to sue). Oluo suffered other indignities and sexual harassment while working at the telecommunications firm. Realizing it was not a place she could trust, she ultimately left the job.

Oluo began writing as a way to escape loneliness and wondered if she would ever be able to write full-time. She was pleased and surprised when she was offered a part-time staff writing position at a new publisher. Soon, she quit her day job and began freelancing to pay her mortgage and health insurance. Today, she works for various editors to provide the “Black” take on any news story that the editors wish to take on. Far from being purely happy about these accomplishments, Oluo often feels sad that she is still so often the only Black voice in the room. Thinking about how exceptional she has to be to survive, she feels “heartbroken.”

Furthermore, Oluo posits that most...

(This entire section contains 1229 words.)

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people do not understand the necessity for affirmative action. Originally introduced by President Kennedy in the 1960s and continued under President Johnson, affirmative action involves no “quotas,” as people erroneously believe—those were struck down by the Supreme Court. In federal employment, affirmative action involves “increased recruitment efforts, extra consideration given to race and gender, and diversity goals.” Colleges and universities have similar practices and goals. In general, though, affirmative action programs have been rolled back in the past thirty years, and Oluo notes that this curtailment is especially disappointing because affirmative action is an effective tool against systemic racism.

Oluo articulates some of the major arguments against affirmative action by providing information about current wage gaps. She counters the first argument, “We don’t need Affirmative Action because society isn’t as racist and sexist as it used to be,” by showing that, for every white man’s dollar, white women make “only 82 cents” and Black women “only 65 cents.” She also counters the second argument—“If an employer is racist or sexist, you can just sue them”—by pointing out that employers can fire employees for just about any reason, especially in “no-fault” states. The burden of proof is on the employee, and the employee must prove malice to win in court. Regarding the third argument, that “affirmative action teaches people of color that they do not have to work as hard as white men,” Oluo asks if it could possibly be the case that competition with white men is the only reason for minorities to work hard. Next, she argues against the fourth point, “Affirmative action is unfair to white men because it causes them to lose opportunities to less qualified women and people of color,” by saying that women and people of color deserve to have a representational number of jobs and college admissions. Finally, Oluo tackles the popular argument that “affirmative action doesn’t work” by noting that the practice is not intended to be a cure-all, but it does help to counter the systemic racism still fully entrenched in society today.

Chapter 8: What is the school-to-prison pipeline?

Oluo next opens a discussion about the school-to-prison pipeline by focusing on a young child named Sagan who had a bad day at school. An email sent to his mother stated that Sagan had assaulted two staff members and had generally been threatening and out of control. Sagan was suspended from school, and a board member said that charges should be filed against him. Oluo then learns that the little boy under discussion is five years old.

Using Sagan as an example, Oluo shows that the school-to-prison pipeline starts very early. Black and brown students are seen as “violent, disruptive, unpredictable future criminals.” Despite making up “only 16 percent of our school populations,” Black students account for “31 percent of students who are suspended and 40 percent of students who are expelled.” The truth is that these children are being criminalized at an early age and set on a path to prison. Such harsh treatment so early in children’s school career can cause them to lose trust in teachers and administrators, in addition to damaging students’ self-esteem.

A number of factors contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, including the racial bias of teachers and administrators, a lack of cultural sensitivity, and the “pathologizing” of Black children. Zero-tolerance policies and increased police presence in schools are also a clear part of the problem.

Oluo urges readers to talk more about the school-to-prison pipeline—and not just in activist circles. People need to “recognize the achievements of Black and brown students” and “normalize Black and brown childhood.” Lastly, Oluo asks readers to avoid Black and brown stereotypes in language and honor Black and brown youth while challenging the “legitimacy” of white-centered education.


Chapters 3–5 Summary


Chapters 9–11 Summary