So You Want to Talk About Race Book Summary - So You Want to Talk About Race Book explained in key points
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So You Want to Talk About Race summary

Ijeoma Oluo

An examination of the complex system of racism in the United States

4.3 (74 ratings)
31 mins
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    So You Want to Talk About Race
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    Racism is inextricably woven into – and reinforced by – systems of power.

    After Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, many people speculated that the Democratic Party had lost because America’s societal problem was about class, not race. They felt the Left had been too focused on the needs of Black people, Latinx people, women in general, and trans people while leaving out working class white men. If you improved things for the lower classes, they argued, things would improve for minorities. 

    Author Ijeoma Oluo found herself exhausted from constantly having this debate – after all, the injustices that keep an able-bodied Black woman poor are not the same as those that keep a disabled white man poor. So she started directly asking people: “Why do you think Black people are poor? Do you think it’s for the same reasons white people are poor?” 

    The truth is, race is one of the largest variables determining your success in the United States – a point that often goes unacknowledged.

    The key message here is: Racism is inextricably woven into and reinforced by systems of power.

    Today, more than half a century after the civil rights movement, the racial wealth gap is just as large. This is no accident; racism was built into the US economic system. It has long justified white supremacy, which offers those deemed superior the promise that “you will get more because they exist to get less.” 

    This promise can’t be undone purely by addressing class, so we need to start talking about race. But often, the first hurdle to clear is the question of whether or not something is in fact about race.

    To begin, consider these three points:

    First, if a person of color thinks it’s about race, it is. Their racial identity is a part of them, and it’s interacting with the situation.

    Second, if it affects people of color differently or disproportionately, it’s about race.Finally, if it fits into a larger pattern that differently or disproportionately affects people of color, it’s about race.

    Before we continue, it’s helpful to establish a clear definition of racism. Two common ones are: “any prejudice against someone because of their race” and “any prejudice against someone because of their race, when those views are reinforced by systems of power.”

    The second definition is more applicable here because, in the United States, racism is typically reduced to the actions of the individual. “How so?” you may wonder. Well, in an environment where racism is systemic, its maintenance is fueled by the complacency of individuals. And so the only way to fight systemic oppression is by personally, actively dismantling it.

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    What is So You Want to Talk About Race about?

    So You Want To Talk About Race (2018) examines the complex system of racism in the United States, from police brutality to cultural appropriation to the school-to-prison pipeline. It offers clarity on ways we can approach conversations about race and take action against structural injustice.

    Best quote from So You Want to Talk About Race

    When I look at what Ive fought so hard to accomplish next to those who will never know that struggle I wonder, How many were left behind?

    —Ijeoma Oluo
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    Who should read So You Want to Talk About Race?

    • Citizens who care about social justice
    • People who want to improve their understanding of racism
    • Anyone who wants to learn how to discuss race

    About the Author

    Ijeoma Oluo is a writer and speaker. Her work on race has been published in the New York Times, Elle, the Guardian, and the Washington Post. In 2018, she was awarded the Feminist Humanist Award from the American Humanist Society.

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