Racism reeducation book #3: Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race

racismSo You Want to Talk About Race is one of eight books I’ll be reading and reviewing as part of my overdue reeducation on racism. I’ve reviewed more than 500 business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations for 27 years.

I did what Ijeoma Oluo says we shouldn’t do.

I reviewed a business book about diversity and inclusion for the Hamilton Spectator back in June.

I emailed a draft of the review to a pair of Black colleagues.

I said I was looking for feedback. But maybe a part of me was also seeking absolution.

As our organizations start to have hard and honest conversations about racism at work and what to do about it, Ijeoma cautions against leaning on our Black colleagues.

book raceIjeoma wrote the New York Times bestseller So You Want to Talk About Race and received the 2018 Feminist Humanist Award from the American Humanist Society.

“I’ve seen the look of trepidation on the faces of people of color when they are told that their organization or workplace will be reading this book together,” says Ijeoma.

“They immediately envision the burden that will likely be placed on them; they know they will be treated as the walking racial Google of the group to explain every term or nuance that escapes their white peers; or as the unpaid therapist to help their white peers process their emotions in realizing that perhaps they aren’t he anti-racist heroes they thought they were, all while ignoring the deep strain and trauma they are inflicting on the few people of color in their midst.”

You can spare your colleagues the strain and trauma by making Ijeoma’s book your pre-conversation homework assignment.

She answers 17 questions, from what is racism, intersectionality and microaggressions to cultural appropriation, the school-to-prison pipeline and what to do if you’ve been called a racist.

Ijeoma defines racism as “a prejudice against someone based on race, when those prejudices are reinforced by systems of power”. It’s the back half of the sentence that we need to wrestle with.

“The impotent hatred of the virulent racist was built and nurtured by a system that has much more insidiously woven a quieter, yet no less violent, version of those same oppressive beliefs into the fabric of our society. The truth is, you don’t even have to ‘be racist’ to be a part of the racist system.”

Ijeoma’s conversation guide will help you come to terms with that system and the role each of us can play in making overdue changes.

It’s good that our organizations are talking about racism and ways for creating workplaces where everyone feels welcome. But Ijeoma says we need to do more than just talk amongst ourselves.

“We cannot understand race and racial oppression if we cannot talk about it,” says Ijeoma. “Talk. Please talk and talk and talk some more.

“But also act. Act now, because people are dying now in this unjust system. Act and talk and learn and fuck up and learn some more and act again and do better. We have to do this all at once. We have to learn and fight at the same time. Because people have been waiting far too long for their chance to live as equals in this society.”

My summary of Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy is posted here.

My summary of Robin Diagnelo’s White Fragility is posted here.