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So You Want to Talk about Race
Read in 15 min.
Listen in 19 min.
Learn the key ideas of the book by Ijeoma Oluo

So You Want to Talk about Race

The unconscious racism rooted in our behaviour

Recognised as one of the most influential women in Seattle, Ijeoma Oluo is a writer and activist for people of colour. With her best selling book So You Want to Talk about Race, she teaches us how to talk about systemic racism, how to recognise it’s workings and what small gestures can turn the discussion on anti-racism into actual transformation. Reading this book means putting yourself in the shoes of people who experience discrimination daily, understanding the systemic mechanisms that discrimination engenders and learning to “check your privilege”, meaning those rights we benefit from which to others are indirectly denied. Consequently, we look at the behaviours we can put into practice to become true allies in the fight against racism. Basically, to shift us from beautiful - yet empty - words, to sound reason and concrete actions which, year on year, could bring about positive change in the whole of Western society. 

So You Want to Talk about Race
Read in 15 min.
Listen in 19 min.

Racism is not a personal problem: it is a systemic one

The biggest challenge for many people when it comes to talking about racism, is realising that it is not a personal problem. For racism to become a huge element of the social, political and professional fabric of the United States and a large part of the Western World, there are not “mean” individuals, but an entire system that has been built up over centuries. So talking about racism on a personal level, altering the relationship between single individuals and people of colour is not going to help to bring about an effective change. In order for change to happen, we need to recognise the methods and ways through which discrimination seeps, every day, into every area of our lives, and we need to take that system apart.

The first step towards doing this, both on the part of white and black people, is to open our eyes to those subjects which are actually linked to race. A subject or a problem is linked to race simply if:

  1.     The person who is being discriminated against sees it as a problem linked to race.
  2.     It has a disproportionate effect on the lives of people of colour.
  3.     It is part of a pattern that has a disproportionate or otherwise different influence on the lives of non-whites.

What does all this mean? That if a black man is stopped on the street by the police, you cannot assess that situation without considering the act of stopping him as part of a widely recognised pattern according to which being stopped by the police has a disproportionate influence on the lives of people of colour compared to that of white people.

To dismantle racism one must first of all recognise its systemic nature. When black men are said to be lazier, it doesn't just affect the personal feelings of those people wrongfully accused of a flaw they don't possess. More than anything else, this accusation affects the general misconception that all black men are lazy, which in turn makes it harder for them to be admitted into a particular school, called for a job interview, hired, and promoted. So every time a racist observation is made, one should set all emotion aside and clearly analyse what systemic problems feed, and are fuelled by, those kinds of observations.


The key ideas of "So You Want to Talk about Race"

Racism is not a personal problem: it is a systemic one
To be able to talk about racism with full awareness, make sure you understand the notions of privilege and intersectionality
How systemic racism influences violence within the police force and the direct link between school and prison
Learn to adopt correct terminology to ensure any discrimination is constructive
Recognise and reduce cultural appropriation
Recognise and avoid microaggressions, even involuntary ones
How the myth of the model minority increases systemic racism
What does tone policing mean, why is it never used and how to understand the anger of those who are discriminated against every day
Being accused of racism could help you become a better person
Now that you have learned the theory, put it into practice
Take-home message
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