Oluo uses the introduction to establish herself as a Black woman who is both proud of her culture and constantly hindered by America’s racism and the social injustice that permeates its society. She is ready to demand change, as are many Black people in an internet age that allows the documentation and validation of their experiences. White people might find these conversations uncomfortable or even scary, but it is far past time for America to address white supremacy and its fundamental, systemic inequities. 

Social change cannot be made in America without considering race, because racial disparities permeate every aspect of society. American society, and especially the American economy, rest on the premise that people of color are born inferior to white people. Even Obama’s election only reaffirmed white America’s denial of racism while spurring white people on to demand more in comparison with their Black and brown counterparts. Racism is systemic, affecting every part of American life. Individual exceptions do not invalidate the overall, cumulative experience of social inequality and oppression. White people do not experience racism, so they need to listen to people of color and trust the validity of their experiences. 

Racism is not limited to the fear or hatred that a white person might feel toward a Black person. It’s the system of inequality perpetuated by the government, business, and education. Only this definition offers the hope of systemic change while demanding that majority individuals face their privilege, their racism, and their role in the fight. Because America is a racist society, white people are guaranteed to make mistakes when talking about it. That fact cannot become an excuse to stop trying, although good intentions are no longer sufficient. White people must apologize and learn to do better when they make hurtful comments. A good start is for everyone to understand the extent of their privilege. The exercise is not intended to inflict guilt but to force everyone to realize the ways in which their lived experiences are different than those of others. That understanding can help everyone demand change in the places where they exercise power.  

People’s identities are compilations of many factors. Intersectionality is a viewpoint that acknowledges all of these factors so people can be respected and valued for all of their identities, whether Black, mixed, male, female, feminist, scholar, artist, and so on. It’s a tough task because it slows social progress and demands empathy, but without it, any social progress only establishes a new hierarchy that then serves to oppress another group of people.  

The book’s central chapters address a variety of racial topics. Police in America treat Black people differently because of racism’s systemic nature. White people have trouble acknowledging this fact because doing so requires they admit the ways racism benefits them. Affirmative action is an admittedly flawed program that nevertheless benefits minorities and should be continued but also advanced. Teachers and school administrators see Black children as larger, older, more aggressive, and less intelligent than their white counterparts, so Black children are disciplined more often and more harshly, leading to their criminalization and institutionalization. The word “n*****” is intrinsically harmful, and even free speech does not justify its use. Also painful is the adoption of a culture’s customs (i.e., cultural appropriation), while benefiting financially from them, not acknowledging their historical development, and not having to share in the struggles that formed them. Touching a Black person’s hair continues America’s racist history of treating Black people’s bodies as white people’s property. It denies a Black person’s autonomy, agency, and right to personal space.  

In the final five chapters, Oluo addresses the painful effects of cumulative acts of systemic racism, beginning with microaggressions. These thoughtless or cruel comments and behaviors accumulate, resulting in psychological damage. Black people have the right to call out these comments and behaviors and to demand an apology. Oluo then discusses that despite the best efforts of previous generations, young Black people have inherited a deeply unjust America, and adults must trust them to carry the battle forward. Racism’s systemic nature is maintained in part by the argument that some Black people, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., are “good” activists who deserve social equality while others, such as Malcolm X, are not. The dichotomy is false; either every person is equal, or America is doomed to forever be a white supremacy. Finally, Oluo encourages her readers to move beyond talking about racism and to take actions to make society truly equal for all.