So You Want To Talk About Race?, by Ijeoma Oluo
This book is one where I disagree on a great deal with the author, but one where I find the author’s humanity shines through despite her persistent unwillingness to understand the true nature of the problems that she is writing about. If the author’s intent is to convince the reader who does not share her identity of perspective that she is right about such matters, she is woefully mistaken. If her intent is to demonstrate her human tendency to be just as self-serving and hypocritical as any other well-meaning human being, and thus show herself as being worthy of treated as a human being despite her many sins, well, that does come off rather powerfully here. It goes without saying that the author’s belief that only whites can be racist and that what she considers speaking her truth other people would consider microaggressions, and what she considers to be defining terms and pointing out what is unacceptable treatment others would consider as tone policing are immensely hypocritical. The author admits her struggle to understand others, like supposed “model minorities” and to appreciate the privileges that she has received even as she harps on identity politics, and if she lacks self-awareness of her own intense hypocrisy in total, she at least has some glimpse of it in various aspects of this book, although not when it comes to Hotep Twitter, alas.
This book is a bit more than 200 pages long and is divided into seventeen chapters. The author begins with a preface and an introduction that asks the titular question (which would be rhetorically answered in the negative by most potential readers, I would think). The author then discusses what is about race (1) as well as her own self-serving and biased definition of racism (2) as well as the question of how people talk about race wrong (3). The author discusses the incessant leftist demand to check one’s privilege (4), praises intersectionality (5), and discusses police brutality as a racial problem (6). The author then discusses affirmative action as a positive thing (7), the school-to-prison pipeline (8), the unfairness of racial linguistics (9), and rubbish about cultural appropriation (10). The author discusses why people can’t touch her hair (11), microaggressions (12), and the anger of black students (13). After that the author brings up the model minority myth and the pressure it places on people (14), what it means to hate Al Sharpton or certain approaches to activism (15), and her puzzlement about the offense that white people have about being called racists (16) as well as her call to activist action by the reader (17), as well as acknowledgements, notes, and a discussion guide.
For me, reading a book like this is a chance to see how other people think, even if I disapprove of the contents or approach of that thought. Nonetheless, however much I disagree with it, and however much my own viewpoint and perspective is very distinct from the author, it is clear that this author is a human being whose essential nature I can recognize as a fellow human being. If I would find this author perhaps intolerable to be around given her intense stridency, which she admits tends to make it difficult for her to get along in corporate environments, she is at least someone who I can personally respect. There is genuine sadness in her discussion with her son (whom she apparently had with a white father despite being “queer”) about the realities of playing with guns as a darker-skinned kid that would not be present for a white kid. Life has never been fair, and the author’s inability to recognize that racism is not race-specific is a sign that her persistent desire for power ensures that life will not be fair for anyone unfortunate enough to cross paths with her either.