So You Want to Talk About Race: Getting Started

Our Racial Justice/White Fragility book group will be beginning on Wednesday, September 26 and the first book will be Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. It’s a pragmatic and practical guide to talking about race. It offers us a common vocabulary and set of understandings to begin our conversations through the year.

I’ve started to read and find it accessible and authentic. What hit me early on was a question that had never occurred to me. She describes talking with a white male friend about whether everything is really about race. He suggests that the problems that she describes as race based might be about class and that if we’re able as a society to improve life for the lower classes overall, we’d then improve life for people of color alongside the white poor.

I’ve heard that strategy before. In fact, it was the strategy that Marian Wright-Edelman used when she founded the Children’s Defense Fund. Wanting to improve the life of African American children, but knowing that in 1973 there was less will to address their particular needs, she made the focus broad enough to encompass their needs without saying specifically that’s what she was doing.

Oluo’s response to her friends recommendation stopped me in my tracks:

“Why do you think black people are poor?  Do you think it’s for the same reason that white people are?”

Until she posed that question I had been nodding along with her friend’s question and argument. I underlined that question and put two exclamation points in the margin. The dynamics of poverty for people of color are very different than those of poor white people.

My hope for this year of reading together is that we’ll have opportunities to be surprised by how much there is to learn together and that we’ll be inspired to find some actions that we can take to make a difference in Tacoma. I encourage you to come along for the journey.