Top positive review
I can't reduce this book to a headline. It's too important.
Reviewed in the United States on January 18, 2018
What author would write a book with a target audience that is likely to consider reading it, much less paying for it, akin to wishing for a root canal? Apparently, Ijeoma Oluo.
I am a white, sexagenarian, male, and former CEO. I am, therefore, a r#cist. (And yes, I am being sensitive to the censors who will look at this before posting it.) And I accept that because this isn’t about me. My personal tolerance is irrelevant. If a picture says a thousand words, an action is worth ten thousand pictures. That is how we should judge each other.
From my very privileged position in America, I have had a bird’s eye view of the systemic, institutional privilege (which in the negative is discrimination) that currently defines virtually all Western institutions today, including virtually all corporations.
Women have not shattered the corporate glass ceiling because the corporate institution was designed and built by men. Blacks have not achieved equity in the economic arena because it was designed by white men. Which is why, as Ijeoma points out, it really doesn’t matter if the man in charge is a racist or a misogynist or not.
The #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements are all about gender and racial discrimination. What has enabled misogyny and racism, however, is the definition and allocation of power in our institutions and our society. Tolerance is great, but it’s nowhere near enough. Until we challenge the structure of power, we will not address the underlying cause of social and economic injustice.
Here are the main takeaways I got from this book:
- It’s not about me or Ijeoma. This is about structural injustice.
- It’s not about the tone of the discussion. This is about structural injustice.
- It’s not about intent. This is about structural injustice.
- It’s not about who is right and who is wrong. This is about structural injustice.
- It’s not about who can use what words. This is about structural injustice.
In the end, the great strength and the great weakness of our political economy is our over-riding emphasis on the individual and his or her opportunities and rights. There’s nothing wrong with that per se. But in this crowded, technologically enabled world we live in, it’s not enough. We can live individually but we can only be judged collectively. Our insistence that every conversation be about me, or you, or Ijeoma, or that person over there, is blinding us to the degree that we really are all in this together.
Scientists used to view the environment as a collection of independent and discrete parts. There was a prairie here, an Arctic ice field there, and a rain forest someplace a long way away. They now realize, however, that there is only one ecosystem and what happens in the rain forest is just as important as what happens in the Iowa corn field.
Other scientists have discovered the same thing about the other hard and soft sciences. Biology and economics don’t cut it any more. We have to think in terms of evolutionary biology and behavioral economy. Real understanding lies not just within a functional discipline, but also in the spaces that separates them and the overlaps that interconnect them.
So, I go back to my original question. Why did Ijeoma write this book? I won’t pretend to know the answer but it is clear that she has a genuine desire to see us face the issue. And after reading this book it is clear that the desire is genuine. And while it is theoretically true that if she is successful she will have to find something new to write about, so what? That is exactly the kind of binary, digital thinking that is at the heart of the problem. Life is not either/or. It is, with tolerance, and/but.
Ijeoma has a perspective. And the tone is sometimes a bit harsh. But how could it not be? In the end I think the most amazing and laudable thing about her language is that she obviously worked so hard to keep a lid on her passion. If she were white, we would elect her to high office.
Am I appropriating Ijeoma’s book by writing this review? Yes. But that’s irrelevant. I am not her. And my appropriation is going to paint racism with a white brush and, potentially, demean that pain. But that is the thinking of a binary thinker—either/or. And that, in the end, is what we have to overcome. Tolerant people are not binary thinkers. Tolerance is not a function of embracing the other side of the binary issue. It is about eliminating the binary divide. Ultimately, the racism talked about here is about institutional models of power that disadvantage one group over another. (And, as Ijeoma points out, there are many.)
In the end, I won’t say this was the most pleasant read. It was, however, a good read. It made me think. And for that I am grateful to the author. I won’t say, “well done,” because that would be an appropriation, as if I could evaluate how well she had represented her pain. I can’t. It’s hers, not mine. I will say, however, that “I listened.” And I listened because you were clear and authentic. And I do thank you for that.
A must read. Period.