Author joins virtual conversation ‘to talk about race’

The book, “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo, has been selected as the One Book, One U offering this year. Photo: Kevin Corrales/University of Miami
By Amanda M. Perez

The book, “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo, has been selected as the One Book, One U offering this year. Photo: Kevin Corrales/University of Miami

Author joins virtual conversation ‘to talk about race’

By Amanda M. Perez
Ijeoma Oluo discussed her book, “So You Want to Talk About Race,” during an online event presented by the One Book, One U common reading program, which offers an opportunity for the University community to explore issues of diversity and inclusion.

Ijeoma Oluo, a New York Times best-selling author, felt inclined to begin her writing career when Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012. 

“I was devastated. I always knew as a Black person that we were in danger in this country, but there was something about that case that really shook me to my core,” said Oluo. “What shook me even further was the lack of devastation. So, I started writing because I needed my community members to understand why we needed to start talking about race and having honest, thoughtful, and productive conversations about it.”

At a time when many of us find ourselves occupied with divisive topics of conversation, the One Book, One U common reading program presented a virtual event with Oluo, author of this year's selection, “So You Want to Talk About Race,” in an effort to provide the University of Miami community with a toolkit for having the conversations necessary to relentlessly pursue racial justice.

“This year, we pledged expansion of One Book, One U with a commitment to using it as a platform for exploring issues of racial justice and equity,” said President Julio Frenk. “This is one of the concrete steps we are taking to address the palpable social unrest resulting from recent anti-Black acts, a divisive election, and the persistent inequities laid bare by the pandemic and its financial ramifications. Common reading programs like One Book, One U embody the University’s commitment to inclusive excellence by offering a shared experience that transcends disciplinary boundaries.”

During the presentation, Oluo opened up about the importance of having these conversations and offered 13 tips on how universities and institutions can further their anti-racist work.

1) Know your history.

“If you don’t know where you are, and you don’t know how you got there, how can you know if you’re going in the right direction? There is no way to gauge progress if you don’t know your history.

2) Listen to what has already been said.

“We do not suffer in silence. Even if you do not hear complaints now, trust me, there was a time when everyone has spoken out against injustices that they have suffered or are suffering. Go back to conversations and read those emails and letters that you tossed. Don’t make people repeat themselves.”

3) Create safe spaces for people of color to talk about what is happening.

“It is important to create safe spaces for people to be able to come together and talk about what is happening, not only because there can be real harm done in unsafe spaces, but also because people need to be able to come together to find patterns, solutions, and support.”

4) Recognize that every area of your institution has anti-racist work to do.

“It’s important to recognize that race applies to everything we do all of the time. It may apply to different degrees; but trust me, it matters.”

5) It is important that anti-racist work is appreciated, and resources are compensated.

“It is important that we recognize that anti-racist work is not volunteer work for people of color to do for their own survival. It is important to recognize that we must pay for the things that we care about. There is no way that we can do anti-racist work that depends on the unpaid labor of people of color.”

6) You must focus on immediate harm reduction and long-term revolution at the same time.

“I personally do this work because I believe Black lives matter. If you believe in the inherent dignity of humanity of people of color, then you must recognize that right now there is harm being done that must be stopped. But if you also believe in the humanity of future generations, you must recognize that there is revolutionary work in your systems that must be done now as well. You can’t sacrifice one with the other. You have to do both, and it is important that both are resourced accordingly.”

7) Every action must be rooted in the dignity of humanity of people of color.

“I am in this work to save lives and to dismantle the systems that are threatening the lives of people of color. It is vital that we do not let people of color feel unsafe or exploited in the effort to educate whiteness. Every step we take must be safe and affirming for people of color.”

8) You must be responsible for the impact of the broader community.

“Not only are you responsible for the impact you make on the broader community, you must be aware of the broader community and recognize that you have a stake in what happens outside of your walls. “

9) Be willing to challenge norms and engage with privilege.

“You must be willing to do the uncomfortable work and recognize how systems have been built to serve whiteness and to trap whiteness in its complicity in violent systems. You must be willing to engage that privilege, so that you can leverage its power to create change. If all you want to do is stand next to a person of color in a protest, and you don’t actually want to take your protest into your meeting, then you are not doing the work.”

10) Disinvest in white supremacy.

“Not only must you disinvest, you must invest in anti-racist outlooks. You need to be tied to it. It needs to be what makes you great. It must be something that you can’t imagine your institution without. You must make that work integral into everything that you do.”

11) You must invest in the joy of student, faculty, and staff of color.

“It is not just about our ability to survive. We deserve to thrive. You must invest in our joy.”

12) Be intersectional.

“It is important not to create new hierarchies of oppression. In our work we should always be asking who isn’t here that should be. It is important that we recognize that trickle down social justice does not work. Where we meet the needs of the most oppressed, we will serve the most people. Where we meet the needs of the least oppressed, we will only serve them. “ 

13) Keep learning.

“Those who can see beyond what we can see have to guide us, and we have to be willing to learn from it. That means that we don’t tie our current knowledge to our egos. It is vital that we continue to learn and prioritize voices that challenge us, and there is no better place than on our campuses to do this work.”

 “The conversation neither begins or ends here,” said Osamudia James, associate provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion and professor of law, who took part in the presentation. “Oluo is getting us started, but it will be up to us to move forward for as far and as long as it takes to bring about the society that we say we want.” 

Jeffrey L. Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, closed the conversation and thanked Oluo for sharing her insights on how the University community can come together to combat racism.

“As a community we’ve made a commitment to foster inclusive excellence and Ijeoma’s book has proven to be a valuable instrument as we undertake this important work,” said Duerk. “I hope every person will continue to explore these important topics both in and outside of UM. Indeed, the conversations cannot stop here, and I encourage each of you to read this book.”