Even in the 21st century, talking about race is seen as somewhat taboo — a topic to be discussed in private with individuals who share similar views. If forced to decide between discussing politics with in-laws and discussing race with a stranger, many people would choose the former. Nevertheless, In a world where Neo-Nazi marches are becoming normalized, talking about race is a must for all people who care about creating a just society. Ijeoma Oluo’s book “So You Want to Talk About Race” is the perfect tool to assist in shattering the silence.
Oluo is a Seattle-based writer, speaker and self-proclaimed “Internet Yeller” known for posting her strong beliefs online. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, NBC News, TIME magazine and more.
With a careful yet firm delivery that makes the topic palatable to the masses, Oluo’s debut novel “So You Want to Talk About Race” offers white readers a rare glimpse into the systematic inequalities that people of color face daily. Readers of color, on the other hand, will feel a sense of camaraderie while reading Oluo’s personal thoughts and experiences. Each chapter asks and answers a new question such as “Why am I always being told to check my privilege” or “What is cultural appropriation?” The chapters use the author’s personal experiences to illustrate the topic at hand before offering practical solutions related to the topic.
The patient, personal and accessible way Oluo’s explores race sets her work apart from Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.” Eddo-Lodge’s book prioritizes the need to protect yourself from the mental fatigue that comes with attempting to explain yourself to those who refuse to understand, while Oluo prioritizes stepping outside of your comfort zone and engaging in uncomfortable conversations.
Don’t let the title scare you away. Reni Eddo-Lodge’s provocative debut novel “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” is an open and honest discussion about the structural and social racism that exists in Britain and beyond. The writer doesn’t mince words as she explains why people of color should not be the sole educators and activists in the struggle against racism; white people have a responsibility to hold each other accountable.
Award-winning journalist Eddo-Lodge was inspired to write the book after a blog post she penned went viral. On her blog, she stated that the “consequential denials, awkward cartwheels and mental acrobatics [white people] display when [racism] is brought to their attention” made her weary. She was emotionally exhausted from trying to get her message across; stepping away from the conversations was an act of self-preservation.
The book dives into issues of race even further. In just the first chapter, readers get a crash course in British black history. The novel quickly dives into structural racism and why there is a disconnect between well meaning white people and people of color when discussing race. In a world where Black Lives Matter is needed, NFL athlete protests face resistance, and and hate groups are growing in number this book serves as a much-needed reminder to Black readers that educating white people is not their responsibility —- those who care to understand will take the time to learn. The book also calls for readers, regardless of race, to be actively and vocally anti-racist.
While Oluo’s work provides tips on talking about race, Eddo-Lodge’s book puts a greater emphasis on self care. White people, Oluo feels, want to know what they can do about racism, but people of color are still trying to figure out how to deal with it.
The Verdict: Oluo equips us to have the hard conversations
Choosing a favorite between these two stand-out works of literature is nearly impossible. Both are well-written, thought provoking works that will be on readers’ minds well after finishing the last page. It was a matter of personal perspective that caused me to pick Oluo’s work. Talking about race is hard, especially as a person of color who experiences systematic oppression firsthand, but these conversations still need to be had, especially with those who do not want to listen. Discussions about race should take place in classrooms, police stations, at churches and around dining room tables. “So You Want to Talk About Race” equips people of color and allies with the tools to engage in critical conversations. It may not be our responsibility, but it needs to be done.
This week’s winner, So You Want To Talk About Race, is available on Amazon.
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, is also available on Amazon.