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  • Reverend James Squire

So You Want To Talk About Race

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

So You Want To Talk About Race is the best selling book written by Ijeoma Oluo. Quite frankly I am surprised that it was read by so many people. Why would someone read a book that the author writes is guaranteed to challenge you, make you angry even, make you uncomfortable and turn your understanding of the world upside down. They should have a warning on the cover to “Read at your own risk” or “Not bedtime reading.”

There was some reverse psychology operating here for people like me who are incapable of not reading it when such a curious introduction puts down the challenge. You will never be able to…and I immediately try to make a liar out of you. It gets the juices moving.

Let’s just say she was a woman of her word! So why did I continue to the very end? She did two things. She wrote about something that I care about. How class defines our lives which she helped me to see in a new way and (2) I saw for the first time why meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous begin the way that they do.

Ms. Oluo wrote the following about class and race:

“We people of color, of course, are not the only people who have gotten less. Even without the invention of race, class would still exist even in homogenous countries. And our class system is oppressive and harms a lot of people of all races. It should be addressed. It should be torn down. But the same hammer won’t tear all of the walls. What keeps a poor child in Appalachia poor is not what keeps a child in Chicago poor – even from a distance the outcomes look the same…

Even in our class and labor movement, the promise that you will get more because others exist to get less, calls to people...The promise that keeps racism alive tells you that you will benefit most and others will eventually benefit…a little. It has you believing in trickle down justice.” (Oluo, p. 13-14)

My take on this is for those of us who have gone from nothing to something, we are not thinking unfortunately about who is losing out. To use the phrase, we have our eyes on the prize…whatever form that takes.

Second, is that statement before a person in an AA meeting speaks. “I am _______, and I am an alcoholic.” Why is that necessary? Seems sort of trite. I could keep reading the book with all of its uncomfortable stuff because the author doesn’t divorce herself from the topic of “privilege”. She states that she is a racist, an elitist…etc. We all think of racism as what one individual says or does to another. That is very important but she is concerned as well with the systems that are in place to foster any injustice. She communicates that she is just like you and me, no better no worse. I am Ijeoma, and I am a ___________.

Jesse Jackson shares an interesting perspective on bias. He stated, “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps, then turn around and see somebody white, and feel relieved. Somehow I can see Ms. Oluo saying something very similar as Jesse Jackson. Just like the personal introduction during an AA meeting: “I am _______ and I am an alcoholic”, is something very important that sets the stage for the feeling that we are all in this struggle together.

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