The annual San Antonio Book Festival always helps me discover at least one or two new authors, and this year, Ijeoma Oluo is one of them. Her book, So You Want to Talk About Race, is an honest, upfront, no nonsense look at the issue of race in this country and what it truly means to confront it head on, not only with open dialogue, but also decisive action.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a nonfiction book that focuses on the racial landscape in the United States, and how it has shaped the society we live in ways that are both incredibly obvious, and dangerously subtle. Each chapter title is a question, and with titles like "What is racism?", "Is police brutality really about race?", "Why can't I say the 'N' word?", "What is cultural appropriation?", and even "I just got called a racist, what do I do now?", Oluo breaks down plainly and simply what certain terms mean, offers tips and strategies for having conversations about race, clarifies the confusion over privilege, and also gives a thorough explanation as to why it is not okay to simply reach out and touch a black woman's hair. Addressing people of all races, Oluo does not shy away from difficult subjects, while also acknowledging that difficulty, but still insisting that these issues need to be addressed, and these conversations need to be had, no matter how uncomfortable or painful they may be. The issue of racism is only made worse when ignored and pushed aside, when people choose comfort and silence over a desire to see change. And Oluo addresses this discomfort, but at the end of chapters 9 ("Why can't I say the 'N' word?") and 10 (What is cultural appropriation?"), she also takes time to address any feelings of injustice that may be felt by the majority, but ultimately, that injustice is not against them.
My Verdict: Although I missed Oluo's talk at the San Antonio Book Festival, I was able to have her sign my book, where she wrote, "You deserve to be heard." She makes this same point in many different places throughout her book. So You Want to Talk About Race is about the importance of listening to people of color, and engaging in conversations that are hard, often painful, but ultimately need to happen if we are going to see any real change in this country. Even as a person of color, reading this book was difficult in spots, if only because it brought up memories of microaggressions, or it gave helpful tips for potential conversations about race, conversations that I will have a hard time with no matter how prepared I am. Oluo is helpful in the information she provides and the examples she gives. Do I wish she talked a little more about the Black Lives Matter movement? Sure. But it is not necessary for her to address every facet of today's racial climate to make the point that things need to change, and these conversations need to happen, followed by practical application and action.
Favorite Chapter: Chapter 4: Why am I always being told to "check my privilege"?
Favorite Quotes: "Racial oppression should always be an emotional topic to discuss. It should always be anger-inducing. As long as racism exists to ruin the lives of countless people of color, it should be something that upsets us. But it upsets us because it exists, not because we talk about it. And if you are white, and you don't want to feel any of that pain by having these conversations, then you are asking people of color to continue to bear the entire burden of racism alone." - from Chapter 3 "What if I talk about race wrong?"
"At its core, police brutality is about power and corruption. Police brutality is about the intersection of fear and guns. Police brutality is about accountability. And the power and corruption that enable police brutality put all citizens, of every race, at risk. But it does not put us at risk equally, and the numbers bear that out." - from Chapter 6 "Is police brutality really about race?"
Recommended Reading: I recommend Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward, as well as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.