posted on August 08, 2018 09:16
So You Want to Talk About Race. (2018). Ijeoma Oluo. New York, NY: Seal Press. 256 pp., $19.65 (hardcover). ISBN 978-1580056779. Review by Kelsie Pie, Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, Iowa State University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Academic advisors often consider themselves to be current on ideas of social justice and inclusion. We participate in conferences, have discussions with coworkers, and disseminate the ideas to our students. Many of us even attended graduate programs that specifically focused on social justice issues within the higher education environment. With that knowledge, Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race may seem to be a reiteration of information already learned through other avenues. In reality, this book leads the reader deeper into concepts that can affect our lives and our students’ lives each day.
Academic advisors may be particularly interested in the chapters related to school environment and academic performance in students of color. In a description of the school-to-prison pipeline, Oluo maps out how students of color are criminalized within the school system at an early age, leading to issues accessing higher education and obtaining better employment. Many students of color are misidentified as having behavioral issues, instead of learning disabilities, and therefore are not able to continue in the educational system with no alternative means to an education (p. 127). Oluo also outlines a reason for why students of color today are characterized as “angry” in a way that generations before them were not, harking back to the 1980s and the Cosby era myth where “if you worked hard, you could achieve anything” (p. 184). These angry students are good examples of how tone policing may come into academic advisors work in higher education, as it is often tempting “to prioritize the comfort of the privileged person” in contentious situations (p. 205).
Singular chapters like those mentioned above may give good information on specific topics, but the work read in its entirety has a powerful impact on self-awareness for white academic advisors when it comes to race conversations. Academic advisors of privilege need to continually challenge themselves to confront their place within the system of racism that has been created for their benefit. One of the hardest chapters to digest, “I just got called racist, what do I do now?”, describes how benefitting from a white supremacist society implies racist actions because you cannot benefit from a white supremacist society without being racist (p. 218). It is uncomfortable and hard to see these words, but nowhere near as uncomfortable as it is for our students and colleagues of color to experience the effects of racism every day of their lives.
In short: This book should be required reading for everyone – academic advisors who are new to the world of racial justice, seasoned social justice advocates looking for a refresher, and students who could use these chapters as a jumping off point for more fruitful conversations regarding race. Oluo’s words and calls to get involved in our communities should be used as inspiration to affect real change in the world and create solutions to the problems of privilege and racism.