Just the thought of talking about race can be daunting: white privilege, the "N" word, cultural appropriation evoke strong emotion. But Ijeoma Oluo is known for talking about race – specifically for talking about her lived experience as a black woman in a white supremacist society.
"It is very hard," she says, "to survive as a woman of color in this world, and I remember saying once that if I stopped to feel, really feel, the pain of the racism I encountered, I would start screaming and I would never stop."
Instead of screaming, Oluo tried to make the most of her situation by working harder, dressing professionally, being overly polite, laughing at racist jokes, and bending over backwards to prove that she's not an angry black woman.
And she was successful—flourishing in college, getting good jobs, advancing quickly at work, and providing for her family. But as her dreams were becoming reality, something changed. She couldn't keep laughing at racist jokes, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't keep quiet in meetings: "I would try to accept my boss's reasons for why I could have my promotion but not my raise, but I couldn't. And I started talking."
She started talking about racism: racial prejudice reinforced by systems of power. And as she became more concerned about things that were happening nationally, such as police brutality, cuts to affirmative action, and the school-to-prison pipeline, she noticed that others in her progressive Seattle community, including many longtime friends, were not as concerned.
So, she started writing. She turned her food blog into a "me" blog, writing initially for herself about all the things she'd been warned not to say and then writing to reach out to friends, thinking that if they knew how much racial issues meant to her, they would realize why they needed to be talking about race as well. But they didn't. Her friends, the majority of whom were white liberals, remained silent. And she knew something was terribly wrong.
Armed with words and encouraged by a new online community of friends, confronting racism became Oluo's full-time job. So You Want to Talk about Race, her first book – one of the most anticipated of 2018 – takes a frank look at issues of race and pulls the most exasperated among us back into the conversation. Oluo will extend the conversation about race at the Arkansas Literary Festival.