So You Want to Talk About Race Characters
The main characters in So You Want to Talk About Race are Ijeoma Oluo, Oluo’s friends, and Oluo’s mother.
- Ijeoma Oluo is the author and narrator of So You Want to Talk About Race. She used to speak seldom about her race and experiences as a Black woman, but in recent years, she has begun to do so more often and more openly.
- Oluo’s friends serve to illustrate some of the well-meaning intentions that mask the perpetuation of systemic racism in the United States.
- Oluo’s mother is white and originally struggled to understand the racism Black Americans experience.
Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Ijeoma Oluo, the book’s author and narrator, says that her life as a Black woman has always been defined by her race. Though she hasn’t always spoken openly about race, she has slowly developed her own voice to talk about the unfairness and systemic issues of racism in America.
Born in 1980 in Denton, Texas, Oluo grew up in a family where they sometimes worried over whether they'd have enough money for groceries for the week. She has spent most of her life in Seattle, Washington, where she still lives, and says she had mostly white friends as a child.
An unnamed friend whom Oluo calls smart, thoughtful, and well-meaning suggested to her that progressives would get further if they focused on class instead of on race. Frustrated, Oluo explained that the promise to focus on race once everyone is on the same side has been made and put off for generations. In the end, this focus on prioritizing progress has become a way to block any progress at all.
Another unnamed friend frustrated Oluo when she complained about her coworker’s racist comments and views. He told her to stop using the word “racism,” believing it was too strong for the situation and should be saved for more life-threatening instances of racism. Oluo disagreed: racism should be called out, and remaining quiet about it helps no one.
Oluo’s mother is white and had both Oluo and her younger brother in Denton, Texas. Oluo says that her mother loved her children and their Blackness as much as any white person could and never thought it would hold them back. She also says that they had fewer conversations about race because their mother’s experiences as a white woman made it harder for her to see issues that her children, as Black people, might face. Oluo and her mother once had an uncomfortable conversation about race, and her mother has since changed what she does to encourage white people to do better.
Oluo’s son, who is Black, decided not to say the Pledge of Allegiance at school anymore at the age of eight. He said that he is an atheist, he feels the pledge encourages war, and there isn’t justice for everyone in the United States, as the pledge purports. He was worried about how the veterans visiting his school would react, because his teacher said his refusal to say the pledge would make them upset, but he stood his ground.
Oluo’s son had also been warned by his father, a white man, not to play with a toy gun outside. His white stepbrother, on the other hand, was allowed to play with a toy gun outside, and Oluo explained to her son that his father was worried about his safety after a police officer shot and killed the twelve-year-old Tamir Rice for playing in exactly the same way.