Chapters 5 and 6 

Chapter 5, What is intersectionality and why do I need it? 

Oluo relates a dinner engagement from which she must suddenly excuse herself to manage her social media presence. She wrote angry Tweets about a Black male singer who was a known sexual predator. This singer had an upcoming performance in Seattle, Oluo’s city. The post was going viral among his supporters who accused her of hating Black men. Oluo was struck by how the trolls ignored the Black women and girls who the singer had hurt. She laments how her work divides rather than unites diverse groups. This experience leads her to embrace intersectionality. Intersectionality acknowledges that individuals are multifaceted, and that any fight for social justice must battle all types of discrimination. For example, when feminist groups ignore the problems faced by queer women, they fail in their fight for equality.  

Oluo identifies this problem as an extension of privilege. People with unexamined privilege remain unaware of the assumptions they make as they battle injustice. This causes them to overlook people’s complexities that result from intersectionality. Oluo traces the concept’s theoretical origins through its early practical applications and offers some reasons she believes it is not more widely addressed. Intersectionality requires that a group’s dominant members think beyond their own experiences of discrimination to consider those of marginalized group members. She offers a list of questions to develop more self-awareness and practical suggestions for how to raise the topic with others. 

Chapter 6, Is police brutality really about race? 

Oluo is pulled over for going one mile an hour above the speed limit. She sends a Tweet in case the encounter goes wrong. Afterward, she receives mixed messages, some celebrating her safety, and others wondering why she assumed the traffic stop was racially motivated. Oluo acknowledges that she can’t know that, so she outlines the evidence showing that police brutality and race are intertwined. She presents disturbing statistics showing that police routinely encounter, escalate, and kill minorities more than they do white people. She then describes the situations to which minorities are routinely subjected, in which, after being pulled over for specious reasons, drivers are asked to prove that they are sober, that they lack criminal histories, and that they have reasons to be where they are. Oluo then asks readers to believe the statistics and the experiences to help solve the problem of police brutality against racial minorities. 

White people in America largely trust the police, while Black and brown people do not. To explain this disparity, Oluo traces the history of American police forces, which began as patrol units to capture runaway slaves and continued after the Civil War to protect white Americans at the expense of Blacks and other minorities. Today, officers may not be members of the Ku Klux Klan, but the structural underpinnings remain in place. The social narrative is that crime is an inner-city problem born of poverty, drugs, and people of color. These attitudes and beliefs are especially dangerous because they are unconsciously held by both society and police, meaning in high-stress situations, police are likely to act instinctually rather than rationally. She acknowledges that some white groups, such as the LGBT community, have been targeted by the police. Oluo also acknowledges that crime is a greater problem in minority neighborhoods compared to white neighborhoods. She attributes this difference to higher poverty rates, police distrust, and a massive power imbalance between the police and the neighborhood. All of these experiences are true and valid, and they must be acknowledged and addressed. 


Oluo connects intersectionality with the painful confrontation of privilege. If groups seeking racial justice wish to consider intersectionality, they must first consider the ways in which their fight is informed by their privilege. Doing so requires that they consider themselves to have advantages, even though, by definition, a group fighting against discrimination claims to lack privilege. Both can be true simultaneously. A white feminist can be denied a promotion she deserves, and the job can go to a less qualified male counterpart, making her fight for professional equity justified. But that fight is incomplete if she does not consider that a Black, Latina, or Native American person might also have been denied job opportunities for a myriad of reasons, including little access to educational and career opportunities. The white feminist might win her fight, but in doing so, she will create a new group of oppressors: white women who have attained professional success without considering the barriers preventing women of color from doing the same. Oluo forces her reader strategically and holistically to confront uncomfortable realities. 

In Chapter 6, Oluo hints at a contrast between the experiences of white drivers and Black drivers. This simple case serves as a powerful example of how every American experience is affected by race. Driving can be enjoyable for white people, but for Black people it can be fear ridden. For many American teenagers, driving is a rite of passage. It symbolizes the freedom that accompanies age and responsibility, the ability to get a job and earn money, and the joy of the open road. Even as an adult, driving can be a joyful experience. Parents and professionals use their commutes to get some time to themselves, enjoying a coffee, listening to the radio or audiobooks, and transitioning into the next phase of the day. However, “driving while Black” is a potential nightmare scenario. Because people of color are far more likely than white Americans to be pulled over, relaxing while driving is rare. Furthermore, traffic stops for people of color are likely to include detailed inquiries, requiring drivers to defend themselves, their pasts, and their right to belong to a specific place. These interactions with armed people in power can cause anxiety, self-doubt, and even fear. This simple case serves as a powerful example of how every American experience is affected by race. 

Driving while Black is a powerful example, in part, because it is so individual. Americans experience driving largely in isolation, every single day, so a shared understanding of our different experiences is vital for change. Oluo relies on data, factual evidence, and research as a way to make the subjective objective. When Oluo tweets about getting pulled over, the responses she gets reflect the subjective nature of the situation. Some of the messages question why she believes the traffic stop is racially motivated, and Oluo uses data to explain her perspective. In the context of statistics, her experience is part of a much larger trend that provides a more complete picture of the general experiences of Black drivers. In a way, this supports Oluo’s subjective interpretation that at least part of the reason she was stopped was because she is Black. It’s an effective use of statistics to bring clarity to a situation that could otherwise be written off as an isolated incident with no racial component.   

Oluo’s brief history of the police in the United States demonstrates how racist attitudes and behaviors are embedded in the American policing system, contributing to a phenomenon called implicit bias. She acknowledges that not all police officers are racist or ill-intentioned, that many of them do not consider race to be part of the equation when they consider crime, and that police units include people of color. Still, the implicit bias inherent in American policing implicates every police officer in the line of duty because it is implicit. In high-stress, potentially deadly situations, people are less likely to think rationally and more likely to think intuitively. Police officers are trained to rely on muscle memory and instinct when they respond to emergencies. So if police officers hold any latent bias, it is most likely to emerge when they believe that their lives are endangered and that they must shoot or be shot. History reveals the racist roots of the American policing system. Psychology and critical thinking demonstrate how even an unconscious adherence to that belief system can turn deadly, making police brutality unquestionably a matter of race.