“Race as we know it in the US is closely integrated with our economic system.”

In Chapter 1, Oluo establishes the systemic nature of racism by placing it within the American economy. Like money, race is a social construct. However, both remain significant and powerful. In fact, because America is a capitalist society, money is one of its most powerful social constructs, dictating aspects of American culture from social class to educational opportunity to community power. Similarly, race underlies every major system in America from government to business to education.

“White supremacy is this nation’s oldest pyramid scheme.”

In the first chapter, Oluo bluntly describes American society as a white supremacy. She argues that this social construct permits whites in America to benefit from the oppression of Black people in ways that self-perpetuate the oppressive power system, much like a pyramid scheme. Pyramid schemes rely upon a large base of participating but low-earning drudges who feed money up the pipeline to a select few at the top. American society is constructed so that minorities labor at exploitative wages so the white majority can attain wealth and success.

“Often, being a person of color in white-dominated society is like being in an abusive relationship with the world.”

In Chapter 1 and throughout the book, Oluo likens racial oppression to abusive relationships. Specifically, such relationships are systemic and cumulative. Abusers build a network that allows them to adopt and maintain power over their victims. Abusive acts are rarely egregious at first, but they are not isolated incidents. They build in intensity over time, and their cumulative power causes deep psychological scars. Similarly, racism often manifests in microaggressions that themselves are not blatantly harmful but that over time do tremendous damage.

“When an officer shoots an unarmed Black man and says he feared for his life, I believe it. But that fear itself is often racist and unfounded.”

In Chapter 6, Oluo explains how systemic racism extends from the individual to the cultural level. In this case, one thoughtless individual shares a common cultural stereotype that Black people are aggressive or criminally dangerous. Oluo acknowledges that this one individual is not necessarily a hateful or evil person. However, this particular thoughtless individual is a police officer who has the power to exert deadly force and with system of administrators, council members, and attorneys supporting him. By absorbing the cultural attitude toward race and by virtue of being in a position of power, this one individual has the ability to inflict mortal damage on another. And that’s how systemic racism inflicts unconscionable harm on minorities.