Oluo’s mother plays a larger-than-life role in Oluo’s experience, and her understanding of race illuminates how complicated interracial relationships can be. From her, Oluo learns the struggle that single moms endure and the strength that they possess. Still, when it comes to race, the American divide between the Black minority and the white majority affects their relationship deeply. Oluo’s mother is connected to both the Black and white communities, but her own race and her upbringing in a conservative Kansas town makes it impossible for her to truly understand the Black experience. On the one hand, Oluo’s mother raised her children to understand the practical fundamentals of growing up in a racist society, including warning them about police, prejudiced store employees, and classmates who might single them out for their physical features. But on the other hand, she is overly optimistic, believing that racism will not hold her children back in any way. Oluo points out that this optimism comes from her whiteness.  

When Oluo’s mother tells a story from her office, it exposes that the gap between white and Black is so great that even blood relations and a lifetime together cannot bridge it. Oluo’s mother believes she had an epiphany after telling a Black colleague a joke involving race, but to Oluo, the story reveals her mother’s place in a racist society. Oluo’s mother enjoys all the privileges of being white, and she also wants to be fully accepted as a member of the Black community, something that is impossible. In her conversation with Oluo, their mother–daughter dynamic frustrates their ability to understand one another. This is compounded by how it is nearly impossible for white people living in America to understand the minority experience. But because it’s her mom, Oluo does the work, and in doing so, she provides an example for all of us about how to have tough conversations about race.