In her 2019 book So You Want to Talk about Race, Ijeoma Oluo skillfully dissects a wide range of topics that make up the racial landscape of America today, and specifically how they adversely affect Black people and other minorities. She explores topics from the definition of racism and how to talk about it, to mass incarceration and police brutality.
I personally decided to purchase this book after seeing it on several anti-racism reading lists. I was completely blown away by Oluo’s writing; she both forced me to examine my own internal biases and privilege, as well as perfectly captured my feelings about racism I’ve personally experienced.
One part that really resonated came early on in the book. One particular chapter talks about how people of color, and specifically Black people, are often gaslit and told they’re overreacting when they perceive a comment or situation as racially charged. Oluo makes it clear that as a white person, it is not your job to decide what is and what is not about race: if a person of color tells you it is about race, then it is.
As an Asian American, this really resonated with me because there have been times in my life where I too have felt gaslit. I have been told by white people that I was “reaching,” and that “not everything is about race.” It shifted the blame to my shoulders, when in reality it should have been the white person taking responsibility for their ignorant comments. Reading this chapter really validated my feelings and reassured me that I was not simply reaching or overreacting.
Oluo goes on in the rest of the book to highlight other racial issues in the United States, including microaggressions, cultural appropriation, the school-to-prison pipeline, affirmative action, and so many more. This book both made me feel validated as a person of color, while also showing me the privilege I have as a non-Black person of color. While all non-white people experience racism, it still cannot be compared to the experience of being a Black American, and in order to engage in anti-racism work, that is vital to understand.
Overall, So You Want to Talk About Race makes it abundantly clear that we all have a role to play when it comes to dismantling systemic racism. Ijeoma Oluo will make you uncomfortable at times, and force you to examine yourself and the ways you contribute to and benefit from white supremacy. However, this is a necessary step in beginning to dismantle it as well, so do yourself a favor and read this book as soon as possible. There is a ton of work to be done, and the time to do it is now.
About the author, Savina Johal:
Savina is a third year student at the University of California, Santa Barbara majoring in Environmental Studies. She grew up surrounded by the beautiful scenery of the San Francisco Bay Area, but really discovered her true passion for protecting the environment when she first took an environmental studies course in college. In the future, Savina wants to work for an environmental nonprofit that focuses on environmental justice and giving a voice to underserved communities that are usually more affected by environmental issues. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, going to concerts, and watching sports.