First thought on “So you want to talk about race,” by Ijeoma Oluo

Below is the first of several thoughts about some passages of “So you want to talk about race,” by Ijeoma Oluo. This isn’t a review. (Here’s one. Here’s another. Google can help you find more.)

One has to read nearly to the end to encounter one of the most important ideas:

[I]f you are white in a white supremacist society, you are racist. If you are male in a patriarchy, you are sexist. If you are able-bodied, you are ableist. If you are anything above poverty in a capitalist society, you are classist.

Oluo is correct that many would have great difficulty accepting this. And, it does need defending. One need not reflexively agree with it. But let’s put whether it is correct or not aside. I think the first and most important test for you is whether you can suspend judgement of it for a moment and just sit with it. Can you allow for the possibility it is right? Or if it makes you uncomfortable, do you have to reject it immediately?

Actually, I’ll go further than that. I think it’s more important to just let these ideas hang in one’s mind than to be convinced they’re right or wrong. Because to be convinced risks dispensing with them. The easy case is to conclude you’re none of these things and therefore you have no moral responsibility to address them.

The hard case is to conclude you are these things. And even if you take action to address them, you may stop looking for the ways in which you are so.

That is to say, suppose you admit that you must, even if implicitly and subconsciously, harbor some racist ideas and engage in some racist actions (which would be very hard for white people fed a diet of racist media and educational material in the context of deeply racist social structures and institutions to avoid). Accepting this, you might move on without actually exploring the ways in which you are racist (same for sexist, ableist, or classist). Put another way, you might accept you’re racist theoretically but not really “how.” That’s a loss. Shouldn’t you know how?

I think the exploration is where it’s at. No need to conclude anything. Just be open to the possibility and start to notice, look, listen. Better to say, “Aha, here’s a way in which I’m racist” than simply, “I am racist.”

If you really want the defense of the claims in that statement you’ll have to read the book. I’ve given you a brief taste of it in parentheses two paragraphs up, but if that didn’t do it for you, go read the whole thing. More posts on it to come, all under this tag.


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