So You Want to Talk About Race

by Ijeoma Oluo

Paperback, 2019




Seal Press (2019), Edition: Reprint, 272 pages


"A current, constructive, and actionable exploration of today's racial landscape, offering straightforward clarity that readers of all races need to contribute to the dismantling of the racial divide. In So You Want to Talk About Race, Editor at Large of The Establishment, Ijeoma Oluo offers a contemporary, accessible take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the "N" word. Perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities, Oluo answers the questions readers don't dare ask, and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans. Oluo is an exceptional writer with a rare ability to be straightforward, funny, and effective in her coverage of sensitive, hyper-charged issues in America. Her messages are passionate but finely tuned, and crystalize ideas that would otherwise be vague by empowering them with aha-moment clarity. Her writing brings to mind voices like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay, and Jessica Valenti in Full Frontal Feminism, and a young Gloria Naylor, particularly in Naylor's seminal essay "The Meaning of a Word.""--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member EBT1002
If you are a white ally or a white person living in the US who wishes to be a stronger anti-racism ally, read this book.
If you are a white person who wants to develop greater understanding of the experience of being a person of color living in the US, read this book.
If you are a white person frustrated by the current focus on racism, read this book.
If you are a white person who doesn't understand the Black Lives Matter movement, read this book.
If you are a white person who believes, no, who *knows* that you are a good person but still feel nervous about being called "racist," read this book.
If you are a white person who wishes people of color would stop complaining and recognize the damage they are doing by focusing on race, read this book.
If you are a white person who has attended rallies, worked on anti-racism initiatives, and dedicated significant time, energy, or money to addressing racial injustice in the US, read this book.
If you are a white person who feels totally on board to fight racism but doesn't understand the current application of the term "white supremacy" to everyday disparities, read this book.
If you are a white person who wants to learn more about how racism works in the US, read this book.
If you are a white person living in the US, read this book.

Ijeoma Oluo has given us a gift. We should take full advantage: open our minds, leave our defensiveness at the door, take a deep breath and commit to feeling the discomfort of learning more about how racism works to sustain the white supremacist system in the US, and read this book. It's not always easy to read/listen to (I listened to the audiobook narrated by Bahni Turpin). I think of myself as falling in several categories I listed above: a white ally, someone who wants to learn more about the experience of being a person of color, someone who wishes I were more comfortable and confident engaging in discussions about race and racism in the US. This book wasn't a total revelation to me but I learned a lot and developed even greater empathy for the experience of living as a person of color in the US. Deeper empathy of what it feels like to fear engagement with the police, to greet microaggressions day in and day out, to grow up feeling isolated and alone in a predominantly white school, to be called names and laughed at simply for the color of one's skin.

Oluo's work is academic but it is also deeply personal. Absolutely recommended.
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LibraryThing member bell7
In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo addresses both white people and people of color as she introduces various topics you'll want to know as you talk about and desire to learn more about race. Starting with a definition of racism and then delving into topics such as intersectionality, police brutality, affirmative action, the school-to-prison pipeline, microaggressions, the model minority myth and several more, each chapter starts with a personal story illustrating the topic and then explores it more, giving you bullet points of ways to think about and respond to such behaviors.

This is an excellent introduction to a challenging topic. And don't get me wrong, the book is challenging as well. If you're a white person (like me), it probably challenges your assumptions at least once, and invites you to live with the discomfort and really think about issues that don't affect you, personally, on a day to day basis. This is a book I would reread several times before I really felt I could entirely grasp it, and even then I know in a sense I never can because as a white woman I do have privileged status in this country. I'm sure a person of color would have a completely different experience reading this book than I ever could. The paperback version of the book (and the e-book I read) has a discussion guide for the book, as well as guidelines to use when discussing. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
I've tried to write a review for Ijeoma Oluo's excellent book a few times now and failed, so I'm just going to write about what I, personally, got out of the book instead. If the title doesn't give the subject away, this is a book divided into chapters that address topics and issues surrounding race in America. Oluo writes clearly, both with an understanding of the difficulties involved in, and the necessity of, an on-going conversation about race that involves everyone. She points out that conversations about race are uncomfortable and that everyone tends to walk away from such conversations feeling worse than before the conversation started. But the need for the discussion remains.

I've been working to read more from authors of color and to follow the writings (from twitter, to articles, to books) of the voices explaining the experience and history of various minority groups, so some of what Oluo is saying are things I'd heard before. But there was a lot new in there, as well as Oluo's remarkable ability to explain concepts clearly. Among the things I took away from this book was that the conversations about race that need to be happening are between white people. We need to talk about the impact of racism among ourselves; it's not the job of any person of color to walk us through the basics of any of this, and that when we do have questions, google is an excellent source of information. Oluo also has an interesting chapter on the specific issues facing Asian Americans, and how the 'model minority' stereo-type can do real harm, just as our assumptions about the teachability of black boys does.

All in all, this was an excellent and well-organized primer on the basics every American needs to understand if we are going to move forward together.
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LibraryThing member AliciaClark23
Everyone read this book. I was introduced to Ijeoma through a couple of podcasts I listen to and enjoyed listening to her so when I saw she had written a book I jumped at the chance to read it. I listened to the audio book version which has a great narrator. There is something in this book for everyone and it would be surprising if you did not come away from it motivated to be and do better.… (more)
LibraryThing member JanesList
An excellent book both communicating issues of race (specifically African American) and HOW to communicate about race. I highly recommend this book. I read it with a friend and we had great conversations.
LibraryThing member DocWood
This is an amazingly thorough, practical little book (covers a lot in just 256 pp.) for anyone who wishes to enter into a discussion about race in America. I bought it because I find it hard to engage my students in discussions about race and racism in psychology (I teach an introductory, undergraduate-level survey course). But I found that it taught me a lot about myself in relation to race and I've changed how I go about addressing it in my everyday life (e.g., on social media) as well as making some changes to my course. It's a fast read because, once you start it, it's as hard to put down as a good novel. This is how well Oluo writes.

However, it is a dense read, requiring a second, slow, thoughtful going over and then possibly a third just to review what you've learned. I started out with a library copy and quickly realized that I needed one for my reference shelf.
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LibraryThing member Gwendydd
Every white person should read this. And then re-read it again a few years later. And pay attention to what Oluo says, and think carefully and critically about how to apply it to their life.
LibraryThing member cdogzilla
A valuable primer for having productive conversations about race and privilege.
LibraryThing member rivkat
As you might expect from the title, some good Racism in the US 101 directed at white people and POC, including practical reminders about conversations about race and white defensiveness as a barrier. I liked the tips on what to do when a conversation has gone horribly wrong, including advice on when you might have to give up and accept that you won’t get the resolution you want. “These conversations will always be emotional and loaded to various degrees—and if they are not, then you are likely not having the right conversation.” There’s always something I haven’t thought about, like Oluo’s point that she, like many people of color she knows, doesn’t like driving—she can’t feel the freedom of the open road that white Americans think of as our inheritance because of the worry about a bad police encounter.

As a supporter of noncommercial communities, I also winced when Oluo recounted declining participation as an uncompensated speaker at a woman’s march because women of color shouldn’t be asked to take on the “emotional and mental labor of discussing their racial oppression to a majority white audience for free …. I was very careful in my explanation of why I felt that this ask was problematic, and how important it is for us to not further exploitation and oppression within our movements. It wasn’t long before I got a message in response from a white woman I didn’t know…. Could I please take the time to explain to her further, personally (and, I’m assuming, for free), so she could understand?”
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LibraryThing member streamsong
I live in a white bubble in a very red state. Like many Americans, I have always felt that I am not racist, but according to Olua, being part of the dominant, oppressive society without acting to correct it makes one racist.

Olua states that if a black person says it's about race, it's about race. Accepting this supposition, is a major hurdle; by arguing with it, you are minimizing the black person's experience; by agreeing – or at least accepting even if you don't fully understand – you are acknowledging the experience and continuing the conversation.

I loved Olua's analogy that being constantly exposed to racism is like being continually and randomly stung by bees. It may seem like someone is overreacting to one specific incident, but it's cumulative and changes how one regards bees.

Olua has many examples showing what covert and institutional racism looks like in America. Many were eye-opening. Some I am still pondering and am not sure I yet have my mind wrapped around them enough to fully understand. Perhaps that means I still have more growth to work towards.

I feel this is an eye-opening and important book – one that should be widely read and discussed.
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LibraryThing member decaturmamaof2
This book should be required reading. Eye opening and accessible. Sometimes (necessarily) uncomfortable. Will reread!!!
LibraryThing member KimMeyer
I often feel at the title where the marketing don't match the book's contents, but this one is spot-on. This is very much a How To guide to having conversations about race, but it's thorough and insightful and passionate and frank. Much of the book is about race relationships between black and white people in America, but she also goes into the racism facing other people which often goes unnoticed or is considered less problematic. You will absolutely finish this book feeling like you have things to work on, which should be the goal.… (more)
LibraryThing member froxgirl
Dear White America: read this and weep, and learn, and listen. The author poses the hard questions and answers them for both the "woke" and the newly conscious and/or guilt-ridden, and especially for deplorables. The entire book is one valuable quote after another, so I'm going to list the topics instead. It should be mandatory reading for every white person from middle school to senior center. People of color will just nod along, but they also may find new explanations for old anger and resentments. Seek out any appearance by Ijeoma Oluo you can find on NPR, podcasts, etc, as she is a fine a speaker as she is a writer. A singular achievement.

Is it really about race?
What is racism?
What if I talk about race wrong?
Why am I always being told to "check my privilege"?
What is intersectionality and why do I need it?
Is police brutality really about race?
How can I talk about affirmative action?
What is the school-to-prison pipeline?
Why can't I say the "N" word?
What is cultural appropriation?
Why can't I touch your hair?
What are microaggressions?
Why are our students so angry?
What is the model minority myth?
But what if I hate Al Sharpton?
I just got called racist, what do I do know?
Talking is great, but what else can I do?
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LibraryThing member christinegrabowski
This was a very enlightening read, and I recommend it to people of all races IF they are willing to read it with an open mind.

The focus of the book is on systematic racism and how even if a person does not consider themselves racist, there is a lot more to racism than how we treat minorities because we are all a part of a system that has been in place for hundreds of years that has a tendency to give whites the upper hand and suppress many minorities, especially blacks. I found the book engaging, interesting, and easy to read as it was broken down into chapters by discussion topic. It is a very relevant read for today's environment, and I feel much more knowledgable about racism in the US, how to appropriately discuss many controversial topics, and some steps I can take.… (more)
LibraryThing member Sheila1957
This is not a book you can walk away from. It is a book that you will read many times and get different information from it. The first time you read to see what she has to say. The second time to understand what she says. Then you buy it and re-read it over the years to see how it impacts you or see how you can use it to better understand race and racism and how to better your behaviors and thoughts on race and racism.

I can understand some of what she says. Other things I can't because I have not experienced it nor lived with those who have. At times I got mad. Other times I just got sad as she relates her experiences. I appreciate that it feels like she is a friend just talking to us on the porch. She does not preach but she gets her point across--sometimes through plain speaking, other times through humor. I never felt like I wanted to walk away from this talk. I wanted to learn--not sure how much I did. Time and re-readings will tell.
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LibraryThing member jekka
This book in turns discomfited and inspired me. I kind of want to make it required reading for white people.
LibraryThing member AliceaP
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo is the kind of book that will have you really thinking about your actions and the way that they affect others. When I finished this book, I immediately passed it onto my manager to read because I wanted to continue the conversation. Oluo uses her own experiences as a person of color navigating our (you have to admit) white supremacist society here in the United States. So this is not only extremely relevant but also a necessary book about an incendiary topic. We (I speak as a collective here with a definite side-eye at my fellow white folks of privilege) need to do better and that starts with educating ourselves. Oluo uses this book like an instruction manual with vocabulary lessons on things like microaggressions, the school to prison pipeline, tone policing, intersectionality, cultural appropriation, and the model minority myth. It's full of talking points about how to successfully navigate uncomfortable talks about race, racism, and racial inequality. This isn't an easy book to read because the truth about our society and the way that we have been conditioned to act is a hard pill to swallow BUT it's important to face this head-on so that we can move on to all (hopefully) be better people. Lest you think this is directed solely at white people, Oluo also stresses the importance of people of color having affirmation that their feelings and hurt are valid. Basically, this is a great book that all people wanting to do better should read. 10/10… (more)
LibraryThing member ewyatt
An insightful, thought-provoking read written in a conversational tone. Each chapter focuses on an aspect of race, racism and advice is offered on having conversations and taking action both for white readers and readers of color.
LibraryThing member scottjpearson
Whenever I become overwhelmed in my personal life with the race problem, I try to read a book about racial issues to strengthen my intellectual and emotional strength to deal with this topic better. My choosing this book is a result of that. It addresses the race issue not from a theoretical angle but from a practical one, one borne out of life experiences.

In 17 chapters, Oluo addresses common questions about race, like “Is police brutality really about race?”, “What are microaggressions?”, or “Why are our students so angry?” In each chapter, she begins by explaining her perspective on the question with personal reflections. Then she brings forth ideas for action in bulleted format before concluding. The whole production reads like 17 blog posts masquerading as chapters. The tone is engaging – never pretentious nor didactic.

A particular strength lies in its applicability to the American political climate. Oluo studied political science in college, and she possesses much skill in translating talk into action. Though clearly liberal, she spends her words advocating for better relations among the races rather than just advocating for a party or an ideology. She wants real action for a better world, and she wants it now.

The main weakness of the book is that so much of it is based on the author’s personal experiences as an African American in Seattle, Washington. This limits its applicability. Oluo acknowledges this shortcoming in a chapter on the Asian-American experience. This book’s greatest strength lies in its practicality from experience, but such practicality is also its main limitation.

This book was first published in 2019 before the global pandemic and ensuing racial discord in America after George Floyd’s unnecessary death. Thus, it is in a prime position to address current concerns without being opportunistic. Those who follow American politics in the truest sense – how neighbors relate to one another – will benefit from reading her account. It focuses not on how to police one’s own talk but on how to really build a better world through our actions. As the world comes out of a pandemic, one can only hope that Olou’s work can bear much fruit.
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LibraryThing member mcelhra
Although So You Want to Talk About Race was first published in 2018, it made its way back to The New York Times bestseller list this summer after George Floyd’s murder. Every chapter in the book is a question – like what is Racism or Why Am I Always Being Told to Check My Privilege? or Is Police Brutality Really About Race and so much more. Oluo addresses multiple core issues related to race that most white people probably haven’t given much thought to or may not understand why race is an integral part of the problem – like the school to prison pipeline. Even if you consider yourself “woke”, I can almost guarantee, there will be something in this book that is new to you or is a new perspective on something you thought you already understood. I’ve studied a lot about race and racism over the years and my copy of this book still has tons of pages marked with post-its and highlighted.

I think the best part of this book is that Oluo explains things in accessible language that makes it easier to have conversations with people. For example, before I read this book, I knew that cultural appropriation is wrong but I didn’t have the language to articulate why simply and coherently. Or trying to explain to a white person why they can’t use the N-word, even if they are just quoting rap lyrics. These are just a couple of examples. This book is not just for white people to learn how to talk about race; she addresses people of color as well. Highly, highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member kcshankd
This is the one, the Chilton's How To manual on not being a jerk. Luckily it almost seems dated now, as BLM and the movement lunges forward in our present terrible age.
LibraryThing member Nancyjcbs
This is such a smart, worthwhile book.

For the white person: It is an examination of white privilege. It defines the multitude forms of racism. It will make you uncomfortable. It won't treat you as unworthy. It won't lecture you on your many deficiencies. But it will point out the mistakes you have made and the work you need to do.

This book has been on my radar for a while but I wasn't sure I wanted to have this "conversation" with myself. It also wasn't available in my library so didn't even make it to my wish list. Like many I've been roller coasting recently looking at the obvious pain of my fellow Americans, seeing the hope in the youth coming together, seeing police behave abhorrently in some cases and empathetically in others. I've been searching for answers. So You Want To Talk About Race was recommended by many as a book to read now. I recommended it to my library and had my copy within a day or two.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in racial justice. I recommend this book to anyone interested in interacting with others.
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LibraryThing member bookappeal
Geared toward whites who are just starting to educate themselves about systemic racism and how different life is for people of color in American society. Provides good advice about not relying on people of color for your own education. It's not their obligation to help you understand! The most enlightening chapters for me are about checking your privilege - not just white privilege, but ALL privilege - and police brutality. In one of the most stunning paragraphs, the author reveals, "Like myself, most people of color I know do not enjoy driving. We have moments where we forget what our blackness means behind the wheel... But then our pulses rise at the sight of an officer on the street..." Sure, I get nervous when I see a cop because I'm often guilty of speeding. But I don't get nervous because the cop is 23% more likely to pull me over because I don't have white skin or that the cop will approach my car with implicit bias that will cause him to search me or ticket me more frequently or, worse, misinterpret my innocent movement as a threat of violence and shoot me. Life in this country for many people of color is completely different from my experience and that's a lesson every white person needs to learn. This book is a good start. Also contains useful tips on how to have respectful conversations about race with people of other races and how white people can help fight racism in small ways.… (more)
LibraryThing member marshapetry
Excellent. Should be read by every white person in America, and everywhere. Heck, everyone of every race should read it.

Audiobook note :excellent narrator
LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
This is a practical, insightful book about how to address issues of race, racism, and white supremacy. Oluo skillfully breaks down problems and solutions for new readers that helps change thought patterns and behaviors. Highly recommend.


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