“Being privileged doesn’t mean that you are always wrong and people without privilege are always right—it means that there is a good chance you are missing a few very important pieces of the puzzle.”

In Chapter 4, Oluo identifies one reason people are reluctant to talk about race, specifically privilege. Talking about race requires acknowledging the possibility of wrongdoing, or, at the very least, ignorance of other people’s experiences. Such realizations can be damaging to a person’s ego. It takes a tremendous amount of maturity to accept, let alone welcome, eye-opening revelations about things people think they understand well. Oluo understands this reluctance, but she insists on the necessity of moving past it to make racial progress. 

“We don’t want to think that we are harming others, we do not want to believe that we do not deserve everything we have, and we do not want to think of ourselves as ignorant of how our world works.”

White people do not want to talk about race because it requires an unflattering look in the mirror. White supremacy in America hurts Black people, and white people are a part of that system regardless of their behaviors or intentions. That’s an uncomfortable realization and conversation. Equally painful for white people is the fact that whatever accomplishments they have are not entirely their own. Financial, educational, and professional success in America are all dictated to a certain extent by race. People want to be proud of themselves, especially when they have worked hard, and realizing that some parts of the game are rigged is ego-deflating. This means that it’s easier avoid talking about race than it is to face these hard, painful truths.

“Our desire to not talk about race also causes us to ignore race in areas where lack of racial consideration can have real detrimental effects on the lives of others—say, in school boards, community programs, and local government.”

In Chapter 3, Oluo explains the effects of not talking about race. The conversations might be uncomfortable, but without them, racial inequities continue to exert power at every social level. Without talking about race, there is no way to understand how racism plays a role in everyday life and the way the U.S. societal structure and institutions support certain Americans at the expense of others. There is also no way to push back against racist beliefs, violence, and systems unless society can discuss the truth of the situation and take action. While there are certainly risks in talking about race, individuals shouldn’t worry about saying the wrong thing or being misinterpreted. Everyone should simply do their best to have productive conversations that advance equality and justice, and be prepared to apologize and correct themselves in the event of a misstep. Until U.S. society can learn to talk about race in ways that might be hard but that are also honest, racial injustice will persist. 

“We couldn’t talk about the ways in which race and racism impacted my life, because he was unwilling to even acknowledge the racism that was impacting my life and he was unable to prioritize my safety over his comfort—which meant that we couldn’t talk about me.”

In Chapter 2, Oluo shares a personal experience of how being unwilling to talk about race left her feeling vulnerable. When Oluo tells a friend about a draining racist conversation with a colleague, her friend tells her he thinks racism doesn’t affect people in everyday ways. For Black people in America, race is omnipresent and inescapable. So when a white person refuses to talk about race, that person is exercising a privilege that Black people do not have. That person is drawing a cloak around themselves and saying, in effect, “I am not affected by this problem, and I refuse to allow it into my thoughts.” That cloak is not available to Black people. Summoning it further isolates and segregates the races but it doesn’t make the problem go away.