ARC Review: So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

15172251047942860053447133692273.jpgSo You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Pub. date: January 16, 2018
Publisher: Seal Press  
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781580056779
Source: Netgalley

Thanks so much to Netgalley and Seal Press for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I have been a fan of Ijeoma Oluo’s writing for the last few years, having discovered her first via The Establishment, an online publication that supports marginalized writers and creators. They cover a wide range of topics ranging from politics to kink, and I have learned so much from so many of their writers. So naturally, when their Editor-In-Chief (whom I admire greatly) was coming out with a book on race, I jumped at the opportunity to obtain an advanced copy. 

In the last couple of years I’ve been better about reading nonfiction books on social issues; reading is the best way I learn and as I’ve become more aware and involved in the understanding of systemic oppression and how they’ve led to current events. Specifically, I’ve leaned towards reading books on these topics by women of color. This education is ongoing, and I have to recommend Oluo’s book as an important resource to us non-Black people who are here and willing to engage in these conversations. 

The book opens with clear intentions; talking about race isn’t easy or comfortable and you’re not going to get it right immediately or all the time, but they are necessary because they’re not going anywhere just because you don’t talk about it. 

“For many white people, this book may bring you face-to-face with issues of race and privilege that will make you uncomfortable…But a centuries-old system of oppression and brutality is not an easy fix, and maybe we should not look for easy reads. I hope that if parts of this book make you uncomfortable, you can sit with that discomfort for a while, to see if it has anything else to offer you.”

Divided into chapters that each handle a different topic, all related to race, and all established in the form of questions, this book is almost a 250-page FAQ on race, if you will. Topics include “Is it really about race”, “Why am I always being told to check my privilege?”, “What is intersectionality and why do I need it?”, “I just got called racist, what do I do now?”- you get the idea. Each of the chapters respond to the title question, and every single one of them is absolutely fantastic. They are coherent, easy to comprehend, and come with clear-cut actionable steps one can take. 

It’s really hard for me not to go through and share every paragraph I highlighted in this book because there’s just too many, but I can share with you a story that illustrates its utility. A day before reading this book, my sister and I were having a conversation about privilege, and we kept getting stuck in the “just because someone is rich doesn’t mean they aren’t hardworking and haven’t earned the rewards” argument. Try as I might, I couldn’t articulately explain how privilege worked in this context. The next day, I happened to be reading Ijeoma’s book, and came across the chapter on privilege. I offered to read it out loud to my sister, and this is the paragraph (in addition to the detailed example provided prior to it) with which I was able to get through to her:

“We don’t want to think that we are harming others, we do not want to believe that we do not deserve everything we have, and we do not want to think of ourselves as ignorant of how our world works. The concept of privilege violates everything we’ve been told about the American Dream of hard work paying off and good things happening to good people. We want to know that if we do “a” we can expect “b”, and that those who never get “b” have never done “a”. The concept of privilege makes the world seem less safe. We want to protect our vision of a world that is fair and kind and predictable. That reaction is natural, but it doesn’t make the harmful effects of unexamined privilege less real.”

This book comes with so many such real, relatable moments, which is what makes it so accessible. Don’t be fooled by it’s tone; Ijeoma is not here to let us off the hook. She is candid about the very real, very deep pain and frustration she experiences, caused by navigating a racist society, and while is understanding of the fear and hesitation that audience members might have about talking about race, she doesn’t attempt to shield them from it, and is very clear that such discomfort is necessary in this learning process. Being an ally isn’t easy, nor is it a badge of honor one can bestow upon themselves- the work needs to be done. 

it would be reductive to call this book an introductory text to race conversations; the language is simple and it won’t alienate novices, but the topics are day-to-day only in their occurence. The discussions itself are very nuanced, because dismantling systemic oppression can’t happen in one stroke, and this book lends itself to the ongoing nature of such conversations. Some of the topics are very American-centric, but the overall themes are still so relevant and applicable to non-American contexts. The book also comes with a lot of practical suggestions and tips. Like a lot of things, you can’t have these conversations perfectly from the get go- we’re going to make mistakes, and the only way to get better at them is to keep practicing having them. We have to do the work. 

So You Want To Talk About Race has made it to my all-time favorite kind of social justice book- sheer accessibility with an academic bent. I meant to take it slow but found myself unable to put it down; I was drawn in from the get-go. I urge every single one of you to pick up this book. There’s so much to learn from it, not only in the understanding of systemic oppression, but tangible steps to dismantle it in our everyday lives. So timely, thought-provoking, educational, and necessary.

 

February 5, 2018: It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme currently hosted by The Book Date. It’s a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week, and add to that ever-growing TBR stack.

Hello!

Last Monday I talked about looking forward to being in my own space and being anxious about my routine constantly being disrupted. Naturally, I was relieved to be home and looking forward to some life consistency. Turns out, my dad planned a surprise family getaway for my mum’s birthday (he loves surprises, so of course that meant he chose to keep this information from me as well). It was a sweet gesture; my sister flew in from Bombay and my mum had a great birthday, which was good. The travelling plus sightseeing definitely worn me out and I’ve spent most of this Monday moving as little as possible. I have also made my parents swear we have no trips planned for the foreseeable future, so hopefully my anxiety will simmer down as I clamour for some semblance of stability. 

I didn’t get through all of my ambitious reading plans from last week, but what I did read I enjoyed for the most part. I finished listening to Trainwreck by Sady Doyle ( smart feminist commentary), The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (1920s mystery with a badass lawyer heroine set in British Raj Bombay), Merry Inkmas by Talia Hibbert (this was okay, not particularly comfortable with how they portrayed the coded autistic character), and So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (absolutely fantastic, couldn’t put it down, full review coming soon). I’m also started listening to This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins.

For this week:

I know, I know, I’ve clearly learned nothing from last week’s attempt to read all the books, but guys, I have a good feeling about this week. 

Unrelated, I’ve taken another stab at bullet journaling this year. I’m really happy with my February bujo layout and spreads, and am actively engaging in two things that I think will help with keeping mental health in check- a daily mood tracker and a gratitude journal page. I use an app called Booster Buddy for the mood tracking (it’s quick and it’s got a raccoon that’s damn adorable), and I have just a page in my bujo for the gratitude journaling bit- I think brevity is key, so it’s low-pressure because I just have to come up with one thing for the day (which as some of you know can be really hard to do sometimes). I think these are two things that are keeping me anchored and help me check-in with myself, which I like. Sorry if this was a random tidbit, I feel like I complain about my mental health so much on here it feels good to talk about how I’m proactively working towards taking care of it as well.

That’s all from me, folks. Here’s wishing you all a wonderful week!

By the way, what are you reading currently? What did you finish reading recently that you loved?

-J

 

ARC Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

35297380American Panda by Gloria Chao

Pub. date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Simon Pulse  
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781481499101
Source: Netgalley

Thanks so much to Netgalley and Simon Pulse for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Plot: Seventeen-year old Mei is a freshman at MIT, thanks to skipping fourth grade- all part of her parents’ master plan. This plan also includes Mei becoming a doctor, marrying a Taiwanese boy selected by her parents, and have a bunch of babies. Unfortunately, between her hatred of germs, her inability to stay awake during biology lectures, and a crush on her Japanese classmate Darren, Mei knows that she doesn’t want this future that her parents have planned and worked so hard for. When she reconnects with her estranged brother Xing, she begins to wonder whether it was worth keeping so many secrets from her parents, or if it was possible for her to find a way to live life on her terms. 

I think the Goodreads synopsis of this contemporary YA novel can be a little misleading. I went in expecting a hilarious romantic comedy of errors, but instead was hit with a plethora of intensely complicated emotional drama. Gloria delivers a very real story that is not uncommon in many Asian families. Mei is a strong narrator throughout the book, and I found myself getting caught up in her angst and conflicting emotions. She’s clearly experiencing a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance- wanting to make her parents happy and not let their sacrifices go for nought, while at the same time having ambitions and dreams of her own that are so far left field from what her parents have envisioned for her. While I didn’t grow up with parents as intense as Mei’s, my expat childhood was filled with a lot of these constant, conflicting desires. Gloria does an excellent job as portraying them for what they are- hardworking immigrant parents who’ve lived their lives holding firmly onto these perspectives and values and wanting their kids to have a secure future to the point where they’ve lost sight of personal happiness and their kids’ happiness, and the fact that the world and the country they live in is very different from the one they grew up in. Mei’s parents are very conservative and old-fashioned, ascribe to all manner of superstitions and beliefs, and yes, their love is conditional on their kids’ obedience- as evidenced by the fact that their son is estranged for falling in love with a non-parental-approved girl. I developed a certain appreciation for Mei’s mother, especially towards the end of the book. She’s a complex woman, her own story is sad and touching, and as a reader you’re definitely given some perspective on how the same cultural values and beliefs she upholds has had its effect on her own life. 

Mei’s character arc itself is really strongly written and great to follow- she goes from being the kid who is too scared and too sheltered to disobey her parents, to a person that accepts that in order to live her life on her terms she is going to have to be okay with disappointing them once in a while. Boy, is that a life lesson, and one that does not get easy over time (yes, this is indeed the voice of experience). Juxtaposing her passion for dance and her lack of interest in her pre-med courses is a really good choice in terms of the writing and helps with the progression of the story. It also really made me empathize with her emotional turmoil. I also absolutely loved that she’s a college student; that transitioning worldview and exposure to a plethora of ideas, experiences, and possibilities was one that I related to completely because I remember experiencing those things when I was 17 and had moved away from my parents for the first time. It’s exhilarating and nerve-wracking, and superbly depicted in the story. 

As for the other side characters: I adored her brother, and I was super invested in their relationship. Again, I could relate to that entire story arc on a personal level (not my immediate experience, but it’s happened within our family). You can still see how he does hang onto some of the values he was raised with, and it’s interesting to see how sometimes you can fall into the traps of sharing your parents’ thought processes even if you don’t mean to. Ying-Na serves as a reference for all the things that could happen if you choose to go against your conservative parents and community, and I really liked how she doesn’t just remain a caricature in the end. Darren is an adorable love interest, but I definitely appreciated that their romance was a secondary arc that was there to reinforce the primary narrative instead of taking over Mei’s story. 

Overall, this is an intense and emotional read. All the tiny pieces of the puzzle don’t miraculously fall into place in the end; these characters are all a work in progress, as in life, which I appreciate deeply. Unfortunately I didn’t write this review before my ARC expired but I think there’s a potentially amatonormative sentence in there somewhere that made me wince (don’t quote me on this, I don’t remember it. I’ll just have to wait for the finished copy to double-check). However, this novel is still deeply personal and Gloria’s voice and writing are an important addition to the Asian diaspora. Familial expectations versus following the path of uncertainty; undoubtedly, many will find a home, heart, and connection in it.

 

 

 

Wrap Up: January 2018

I’ve come across a lot of people in the last two days talk about how January was such a slow month for them, and I definitely do not fall in this bracket at all. January came by and went so fast, it took me a full five minutes this morning to realize we were already a whole month into 2018. I had a pretty busy month- hosted stragglers from our family reunion in the first couple of weeks, went away for a weekend to visit some more extended family, got back on some academic projects I’d taken a break from, got back onto my PT and walking routines, even blogged a bit, and kicked off the bookish year with a pretty successful round of #24in48

Thanks to the readathon, I’ve had a pretty successful start to my reading this year, and I’m immensely grateful:

Something I noticed in 2017 was that about 70% of my reading was digital, and it seems like that has carried over to January 2018. This primarily has to do with the fact that I borrow a lot of new releases in digital formats from the Chicago Public Library, and most of the comics I have access to are digital as well. I don’t know if I can actively resolve to read more physical books, so we’ll just see how the next few months go. 

As for my January reading, I’ve read 17 books by authors of color, which I’m pretty happy about. I feel like I’m slowly getting my audiobook mojo back thanks to PT and walking; I listened to 4 really good ones this past month. Twenty-two out of twenty-five books I enjoyed thoroughly, which is awesome. 

For February, I don’t have an official Black History Month TBR, but I have committed to participate in two photo challenges: Book Riot is back with #riotgrams and Didi aka Brown Girl Reading with #ReadSoulLit. The prompts seems fairly chill, so even though most of my books are in storage I think I can make it happen for at least half them. You can find my posts on both Instagram and Litsy, username: @theshrinkette.

So lovelies, how did your first month of the year go? What were your highlights, and what are you looking forward to in the near future? I’m listening.

-J