Yesterday, I went on a long drive with my son to visit my parents, whom I’d not seen since the outbreak of the pandemic. We’d planned to visit them outdoors, for a backyard hangout just for a couple of hours. I knew my son would be up for it, as he loves going for long car rides – any excuse to hang out, relax and listen to music together, and he’s on board. But I couldn’t help thinking throughout the ride about a personal experience shared by Ijeoma Oluo, here in this book, So You Want to Talk About Race. She described, in vivid detail, the terror of having been targeted by a police officer for “speeding” – she was driving in a car with her 2 brothers (all are black) going ONE mile per hour – yes, ONE!- over the speed limit. She described to the reader that she and other black drivers can never relax when driving, never fully experience pleasure when driving, on the highway or anywhere, because of the constant fear that hovers over them. Lurking behind every corner, behind every tree, could be the next random police stop we all hear about, almost on a daily basis, that have notoriously ended up in unwarranted arrests, violence, and even death, without any repercussion to the police responsible. I realized, yesterday, how I have taken that right to drive so for granted.
So You Want to Talk About Race is yet another outstanding guide which delves into the difficult topic of race and racism. In this very accessible, well-thought-out book, Oluo neatly explains a wide variety of relevant and complicated topics such as the one described above. She covers many relevant areas, including intersectionality, the school-to-prison pipeline, cultural appropriation, and the model minority myth, to name a few. Oluo very generously shares with the reader many deeply personal experiences of racism such as the one described above, which give those of us who don’t walk around in skin of color a window into what that is like. And while I know I will never know exactly what it feels like, I will continue to try to understand, so that I can be as much of an ally as possible.
One topic that Oluo touches on that I have not seen covered in other books I’ve read is “tone policing.” This refers to the criticism of the angry tone that folks may take when calling out racism and other acts of hate. I am sure I have been guilty of this myself and am so appreciative of having been made aware of it. Of course folks are angry! Of course they are sick of dealing with this! I do not have the right to complain about my discomfort with that.
Again, I also appreciate that book ended on a positive note. The final chapter is about what we can do to fight racism, what steps we can take to undermine the structures in our country that have supported white supremacy. It is one thing to learn and to empathize, but it is so much more to act. We must do what we can, even in small steps, to help move society forward.
I thank Oluo for this iconic book. I am sure it was painful to write, but it is a compelling springboard for deep discussion about this urgent topic.
Let’s all keep talking about race. So that hopefully we won’t have to.