Ijeoma Oluo 

An author, blogger, and queer Black woman. Oluo writes from her personal experience as a Black woman in America, which she combines with an academic degree in political science and work experience in Seattle’s digital sector. Because her work argues against racism and focuses on white people, she is often accused of being angry, opinionated, aggressive, and blunt. She is also empathetic, sympathetic, heartbroken, and sincere. She works to educate white people in America about the history and impacts of racial oppression so they can examine the roles they play in perpetuating it and begin the necessary work of ending it. She also gives voice and agency to minorities as she validates their experiences and gives them the language to confront their oppressors. 

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Oluo’s mother 

A white Kansas native and a single mom. Oluo’s mother is kind, generous, and enthusiastic, and she can be whimsical and clueless at times. She teaches Oluo and her brother Aham how to interact with white people, but remains naïve about the many ways race will impact her children’s lives. She calls her adult daughter to relate excitedly how she finally “gets” race after making an insensitive remark to a Black coworker, forcing Oluo to have a difficult conversation about race with her own mother. Later, as a union member, Oluo’s mother fights for social justice on behalf of minority members.  

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Aham Oluo 

Ijeoma Oluo’s brother. Aham was with Ijeoma on two of her anecdotal experiences. He was in the car when she was pulled over on the freeway for no apparent reason, leading her to suspect that they were profiled because of their race. As children, the two stayed with a family friend while their mom was on a work trip. They walked the friend’s children to the school bus stop, where they were called “n*****s,” a story they silently agreed not to share with their mom. Like many Black children, Aham was labeled a problem early in school and later dropped out before getting a GED and becoming a musician.  

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Oluo’s younger son 

An eight-year-old schoolboy. At eight, he decides he does not want to say the pledge of allegiance. Although Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to do so has been a national news item, that does not appear to be his inspiration. Instead, he articulates his own reasons, which include being an atheist and seeing how America does not uphold the “liberty and justice for all” phrase. Even when intimidated by a teacher, he sticks to his guns, giving Oluo hope that the younger generation will continue the fight. His courage and determination also leave her sad that we have not done more for young people to enjoy the freedom they deserve.  

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A five-year-old boy with behavioral problems. Sagan is suspended from school because he hit a teacher, made a gun out of his fingers, pretended to shoot his classmates, and generally acted out. No teacher or administrator made any effort to learn what was bothering him or to comfort or console him. Instead, his behavior was described as assault, and his mother was faulted for having a job and not being able to attend a meeting on short notice. 

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Black Seattle Artists Facebook Group 

A community where Oluo finds solace and understanding. They meet for a picnic on Capitol Hill, where they indulge in fancy hors d’oeuvres and drinks. They are taken aback when a group of Black basketball players approaches them, causing Oluo to check her privilege.  

Teacher’s aide 

Oluo’s teacher in her gifted program in elementary school. She pulled young Ijeoma out of class to give her special reading and writing instruction. Oluo resented the young woman’s efforts in part because they made her feel different when she was trying to fit in, but also because her brother was simultaneously being labeled as difficult and aggressive.  


Sagan’s mom. Despite struggling to make a living as a single mom, Natasha fights the school over his suspension and eventually gets it lifted. 


A white friend of Oluo’s mom. Liz keeps Ijeoma and Aham for a week while their mom goes on a work trip. After the kids are racially abused by Liz’s children and their friends, they become withdrawn and quiet. Without trying to understand what happened, she labels Ijeoma and Aham ungrateful and snobbish. 

Nick and Amy 

Liz’s son and daughter, and Oluo and Aham’s friends. Instead of standing up for their friends Ijeoma and Aham, Nick and Amy join their school friends in racially abusing the Oluos. 

Music teacher 

Intimidating racist in a position of authority. He tells Oluo’s eight-year-old son that if he doesn’t say the pledge of allegiance, people will yell at him. 

Oluo’s ex-husband 

A white man. He forbids Oluo’s eight-year-old son from playing outside with his toy gun, something his white children can do safely. This event helps to initiate Oluo’s younger son into America’s racist attitudes. 

Theater director 

A white employee with Oluo’s arts group. He tells a story at a rehearsal dinner to his cast and crew using the word “n*****.” Instead of apologizing or agreeing to receive sensitivity training, he wants to talk about it, showing Oluo the futility of racial conversations for some people.