Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. 

Practical Suggestions 

Oluo wants people to engage with the difficult and harmful realities of race in America, and she acknowledges that doing so is painful. In many chapters she includes practical suggestions. These can take the form of dos and don’ts, questions for readers to ask themselves, or ways of engaging in social justice work at the personal and community levels. These suggestions work in several ways to bolster her primary arguments. First, they act as effective counterarguments for naysayers and skeptics. In the face of a tip, such as asking school boards about their disciplinary policies, such readers have very little ammunition. It’s an innocuous suggestion to which an objection would be difficult to make. Second, they offer hope in the face of a big, seemingly hopeless, problem. America has been a white supremacy since its inception. Oluo is suggesting nothing less than reshaping the foundation of American society. She acknowledges that addressing this huge challenge can feel impossible, but she offers concrete examples of how individuals can make a difference with their everyday actions. One of the examples she mentions includes supporting small, local businesses owned by minorities. Finally, Oluo’s suggestions are a natural extension of her fundamental argument that racism is a systemic problem with a systemic solution. As she points out, anybody can have a racist cousin, uncle, or sibling, and changing their attitude might be unrealistic. By contrast, she points out that if enough people campaign for a politician, demand economic reform, or boycott a business, change can happen.   


Oluo repeatedly argues that a white person’s good intentions are meaningless in the face of a Black person’s oppression. However, she still encourages her readers to reflect on their intentions when they talk about race. In particular, readers who insist on touching Black people’s hair or who regard the word “n*****” as part of their right to free speech should consider what kind of society in which they want to live. They should think about what it means to live in a democracy that promises equality to everyone but that delivers privilege to whites only. And they should ask themselves why they feel that their rights are more important than another person’s feelings and experiences. Oluo advocates for a type of self-reflection that humbles the ego, places oneself in the broader community of humankind, and demands accountability. 

Personal Anecdotes 

Oluo relies heavily, although certainly not exclusively, on personal anecdotes to make her point. She typically begins a chapter with an experience, either her own or one that someone else told her, along with her reflections on it. So You Want to Talk About Race is full of empirical, longitudinal, and sociological data. But Oluo does not want it to read like a sociology or political science textbook. As a queer Black woman, she lives the problems she tackles, and she wants her readers to know how that feels. Incarceration, police brutality, poverty, and school system failures associated with minorities can be statistically proven, but the impact they have on individuals is a lived experience. In particular, Oluo emphasizes that Black and brown people live in America without the sense of joy that accompanies living a full life of identity exploration. Instead, from childhood on, minority identities are stunted and their self-expression is stilted.