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.


Books By South Asian Authors On My 2017 TBR: The Nonfiction Edition


First of all, thank you so much for sharing my fiction TBR from yesterday. I love that so many people were interested and excited to read some of those books. As promised, here’s my South Asian nonfiction TBR this year. Again, I’ll probably end up reading more, these are just the books I definitely want to read by the end of the year. 


Walking Towards Ourselves: Indian Women Tell Their Stories by Catriona Mitchell: A compilation of essays by Indian women writers examining the gender revolution taking place in India. Issues covered include love, marriage, gender, sexuality, career choices, literacy and motherhood. 

New South Asian Feminisms: Paradoxes and Possibilities edited by Srila Roy: A thorough exploration of South Asian feminism, addressing issues like disability, Internet technologies, queer subjectivities and violence as everyday life across national boundaries. (Reading this for #DivStGr hosted by Bina)

Field Notes On Democracy: Listening To Grasshoppers by Arundhati Roy: I’ve followed a fair bit of Roy’s activism, but haven’t actually read a lot of her nonfiction. Rectifying that now. (Given the dumpster fire US President and his goddamn executive orders, this book is super timely for anyone sighing with relief about not being Muslim/Refugee/POC that lives in/needs to go to the US. Our own democracy could use plenty of work.)

Capitalism: A Ghost Story by Arundhati Roy: This book shows how the demands of globalized capitalism has subjugated billions of people to the highest and most intense forms of racism and exploitation. (Pulled this straight out of GR because it felt like the most apt description)

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee: Starting from the earliest documented cases of cancer to recent discoveries, intertwined with accounts from cancer patients. (I really enjoyed the author’s penchant for scientific research from The Gene, so I’m hoping this book lives up to my expectations.

Love, Loss, And What We Ate: A Memoir by Padma Lakshmi: A food memoir highlighting Padma Lakshmi journey from being the child of immigrants to becoming a judge on Top Chef, while sharing with the audience the fierce women that shaped her along the way. (I’ll be honest, I’ve never watched Top Chef, but my nosy ass just wants to know what it’s like being married to Salman Rushdie.)

In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler’s Tale by Amitav Ghosh: This book covers Ghosh’s journey to find an Indian slave who had traveled to the Middle East around 700 years ago. 

Writing Pakistan: Conversations on Identity, Nationhood, and Fiction by  Mushtaq Bilal: A collection of interviews with Pakistani writers that write in English. 

Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four generations of Pakistanis and Indians by Anam Zakaria: The author is a Pakistani researcher who interview four generations of people, mostly Pakistani, on their perception of Partition and the evolving outlook of “the other.” (I’ve read a fair amount of Partition history, but all of it told from only the Indian POV. Let’s be honest, nothing about history books is unbiased, so it serves us well to read multiple POVs and multiple accounts.)

We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future by Deepa Iyer: The political, racial, and social justice ramifications of being South Asian in America. 

Because I Have A Voice: Queer Politics In India by Arvind Narrain and Gautam Bhan: An anthology confronting the “compulsory “nature to pass and present as heterosexual in India. 

Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai: This is a book chock-full of translated works from a plethora of experiences, citing evidence of the existence of queerness and homosexuality since the ancient times. 

Gandhi’s Tiger And Sita’s Smile: Essays On Gender, Sexuality And Culture by Ruth Vanita: A collection of essay demanding for more complex discourse on gender and sexuality in India. 

Disability and Difference in Global Contexts: Enabling a Transformative Body Politic by Nirmala Erevelles: This book explores the possibilities and limitations re-theorizing disability using historical materialism in the interdisciplinary contexts of social theory, cultural studies, social and education policy, feminist ethics, and theories of citizenship. 


As always, if you have any recommendations, or are planning to read any of these titles, drop me a line in the comments! I’m never one to turn down a buddy read.