Introduction and Chapter 1

Introduction: So you want to talk about race  

In the first person, the author describes the ways that race informs her every experience because she is a Black woman in a white supremacist nation. She recounts the struggles and the joys related to that dynamic. In particular, she describes her difficulty talking about her experience pretending as though racism either does not exist or does not hurt. She found her voice as she attained career success, and she encountered resistance, even among her friends. But she also found national acceptance online. Her experiences, opinions, and questions resonated with others. The internet is home to widespread racism, both Blacks and whites are struggling to understand its depth, source, and possible solutions. She acknowledges the pain that both sides experience and she expresses her appreciation for those who are trying to understand, educate themselves, and do better. She also acknowledges that this book contains a lot of painful material that may make readers uncomfortable, but she argues that we must face it if we want to make a change. 

Chapter 1, Is it really about race? 

The author describes a conversation she has after the 2016 election, analyzing where the Democrats went wrong. Her friend, a white, educated man, says that there should be more focus on social class than on race. This echoes a mainstream idea in the media, which says the political left is too focused on identity politics to the exclusion of white, working-class men. The author feels tired because she has had this same conversation so many times. Even so, she decides to repeat the discussion in hopes of making progress with her friend. When he makes arguments about increasing minimum wage and strengthening unions, the author explains why the Black poor experience is different than the white one. Black people and white people are poor for different reasons. She uses the example of minimum wage to illustrate her point. Black people are often rejected from jobs on the basis of race, so they will not benefit from minimum-wage increases as much as white people would.  

The author identifies race as America’s fundamental problem because it is so interwoven with economics. Both race and money are social constructs, and race is used to justify unfairness in this economic system. In America, some people have more because others have less. Those “others” include women, the disabled, or the lower class, but they are most often people of color. The author offers three rules for determining whether an issue involves race.  

First, she encourages you to consider the viewpoint of people of color. Second, if an issue disproportionately affects people of color, the issue is about race. It’s true that some Black people are wealthy and successful, and some white people are poor and incarcerated. These exceptions do not make race irrelevant to the problems of incarceration, success, or education. Finally, if the issue is related to a pattern that disproportionately affects people of color, the issue is about race. The author describes her experience in an abusive relationship. Abuse is a pattern, as is racism. Addressing individual incidents of racism is not helpful because it fails to see the big picture. Looking at isolated events can make a person’s pain seem like a disproportionate response, so it’s important to see the larger context of mistreatment.  


Before the advent of the internet, people could only have discussions with their immediate circle of friends, families, and co-workers. For members of minority groups, this meant that they often only had discussions of race with immediate family members. This is because groups of friends and co-workers are likely to be dominated by white people, who discourage conversations about race for two reasons. First, white people aren’t exposed to questions about race in the ways that people of color are. As a result, white people can use anecdotal evidence to dismiss such discussions as irrelevant or inaccurate. Second, discussing race can make everyone feel vulnerable, guilty, or uncomfortable. These two reasons work together to discourage conversations about race. Why have an uncomfortable discussion if you can dismiss the core content as irrelevant? 

The internet provides a platform that extends beyond the author’s family, friends, and co-workers. This gives her the courage to acknowledge that her experiences are neither isolated nor irrelevant. Many people across the country struggle with similar racist experiences and are looking for answers and solutions. Some people simply want to commiserate because sharing a tough experience both validates it and provides comfort. Before the internet, the author might have risked isolation with her outspokenness. Now, it permits her to find a greater community. It also allows her to collect and share a body of evidence that is much harder to dismiss than a few, seemingly isolated anecdotes. It also provides the opportunity for people who are curious but can remain anonymous, ask questions, and seek understanding without the risk of personal exposure.  

The author acknowledges that white people experience poverty, incarceration, and other social disadvantages, but she emphasizes that these issues affect people of color in a systemic way. The American economic system requires a group of disadvantaged people. The author defines this group as a racial minority. It serves as a benchmark for the white majority to measure its success. She argues that this dynamic allows white people to feel that their experiences are real, valid, and representative. It follows that they should also accept the stories of their minority counterparts. By reassuring that minority experiences are valid, she also asserts that their interpretations of those experiences are valid. Importantly, people of color in America experience discriminatory, racist behavior far more often than white people do, because racism in America is systemic. This distinction means people of color must “reassure” their white audiences that their problems are real. This is clearly unfair because white audiences are obviously not reaching out with the same grace and compassion to the Black community. 

The author uses two analogies to illustrate how white people miss the point by treating events as isolated rather than systemic. She compares her experience in an abusive relationship with that of someone being repeatedly punched in the arm. In each case, a single act of violence can seem relatively trivial, but cumulatively, they create a pattern of abuse that becomes intolerable. Early in the pattern, people perceive the abuse as a few isolated incidents. This puts the burden of explaining or stopping the behavior on the recipient of the abuse. People who don’t see the larger pattern might advise the victim to move past the incident. The perpetrator may claim that it was an unfortunate situation and it won’t happen again. However, over time, the perpetrator’s argument loses its potency, especially for the victim. The perpetrator still finds the argument valid and claims that the behavior is trivial, but the recipient changes the way she views the world. Through these analogies, the author encourages the majority population in a racist society to understand that there are no isolated incidents of racism. Not coincidentally, both analogies are violent, because no matter the form it takes, racism is violent and traumatic.