Speaking Up in Verse: Black Girls’ Voices in The Poet X

The cover of The Poet X

Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X (2018) is a young adult novel in verse that follows the story of a young woman named Xiomara. The poems that make up the novel are framed as entries in Xiomara’s secret journal, where she writes poetry that she shares with no one. Over the course of the novel, Xiomara struggles to navigate high school as a young woman who experiences sexual harassment and often clashes with her strict mother. She develops a relationship with a boy in her class, joins a poetry club, and eventually begins to perform her poetry in front of her community. Her experiences are individual, but informed by the fact that she is a young Black and Latina woman. In the United States, stereotypes and negative media images of Black girls and girls of color contribute to the day-to-day and systemic racism that these girls face. Acevedo uses slam poetry, a form uniquely capable of elevating the voices of young people, to center the voice of a Black girl in a society that silences and essentializes Black girls and women.

In the United States, damaging stereotypes of Black girls and women have existed since the era of enslavement, shifting to accommodate changing times (Dagbovie-Mullins 749). Many of these images serve to hypersexualize Black women and girls. In the present day, media images of Black femininity infantilize Black women and portray Black girls as overly mature. The conflation of Black womanhood and girlhood and the stereotyping of both has damaging consequences for Black girls. As Sika A. Dagbovie-Mullins points out in her article “Pigtails, Ponytails, and Getting Tail: The Infantilization and Hyper-Sexualization of African American Females in Popular Culture” (2013), the public perception of Black girls as sexually developed and aggressive has led people to defend their victimization. Online commenters responding to musician R. Kelly’s assault of a minor justified his actions, citing the supposed maturity of the Black girl he abused (745-6). Dagbovie-Mullins points out that many people didn’t see a problem with Kelly’s actions because they believe

that an adolescent’s physical maturity is reason enough to believe that she is emotionally ready for sexual autonomy. This harmful and skewed reasoning reflects a national troubling tendency to view black adolescent females as sexually savvy and therefore responsible themselves for the sexualization and exploitation of their bodies. (746)

Dagbovie-Mullins points out that multiple “sexual scripts” control depictions of Black women in the United States (747). The supposed sexual “savvy” of Black girls is perpetuated through the trope of the “sexy schoolgirl,” which infantilizes Black women and blurs the lines between Black womanhood and girlhood. Dagbovie-Mullins considers this trope a spin-off of the “freak.” While the “freak” can theoretically derive power from her sexual aggression, the “sexy schoolgirl” can not, and a young girl certainly can not derive power from a sexual performance beyond her maturity (747).

In The Poet X, Acevedo engages with the issue of the sexualization of Black girls by portraying Xiomara’s encounters with hypersexualization. At the beginning of the book Xiomara writes about the beginning of summer in a poem titled “Stoop-Sitting.” In the poem, a group of men catcall Xiomara, saying,

‘Ayo, Xiomara, you need to start wearing dresses like that!’

‘Shit, you’d be wifed up before going back to school.’

‘Especially knowing you church girls are all freaks.’ (4)

The offensive diction that the men use demonstrates that Xiomara is sexualized and objectified because she, in the words of her mother, has “‘a little too much body for such a young girl’” (5). One man says that Xiomara could be “wifed up” before school starts, implying that her attractiveness will help her to achieve a goal of womanhood more valuable than education: marriage. Another man undermines the domestic connotations of “wife” by implying that Xiomara is a “freak.” He uses a trope that is, as Dagbovie-Mullins points out, primarily applied to Black girls and women, who are seen as sexually aggressive. To further complicate matters, the men believe Xiomara to be a freak because she is religious. Her religion requires her to remain chaste, but the men read this as a sign that she has a pent up sexuality available to the first man who tries to access it. The men who catcall Xiomara read her body, the physically developed body of a young Black woman, as a sign of her readiness to fulfill the demeaning sexual roles they attribute to (Black) womanhood. They negate her childhood and diminish her personhood.

Xiomara’s experience with the cat-callers is an example of how media representation can create and/or perpetuate negative stereotypes that then have tangible consequences on the lives of Black girls. The negative perception of Black girls in the United States leads not only to sexual harassment and abuse but also to disproportionate punishment and unfair treatment. In 2017, an important report from the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown Law shed light on the unequal treatment Black girls receive in the United States. The report, titled “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood,” demonstrated that adults in the United States believe that Black girls need less nurturing, protection, support, and comfort and that Black girls are more independent and know more about “adult topics” such as sex (1). In essence, they do not treat Black girls as children. The process by which children are perceived as or forced to act like adults is known as “adultification” (4). Black children in the United States have experienced adultification since the era of enslavement, when enslaved children were punished for displaying age-appropriate behaviors (4). Children in the United States have come to be viewed, both socially and legally, as not yet mature and therefore innocent. However, this construct of childhood has been applied primarily to white children, and Black children have been denied the same leniency (2-3). They are more likely to receive harsher punishment in school and to receive more punitive treatment in the juvenile justice system (9, 12).

In the process by which negative media portrayals and historical stereotypes become negative perceptions that lead to unequal treatment, the actual voices of Black girls are silenced. In The Poet X, Acevedo speaks back against such damaging images of Black girls by allowing Xiomara to tell her own story. By centering Xiomara’s voice and her own articulations of her thoughts and emotions, Acevedo allows a young Black woman to push back against the harassment she faces and express the complexity of navigating her transition to adolescence. When Xiomara receives attention from men, she experiences a “sancocho of emotions” (32). In the poem “After,” Acevedo uses anaphora to emphasize the gut-punching regularity of sexual harassment in Xiomara’s life:

It happens when I’m at bodegas.

It happens when I’m at school.

It happens when I’m on the train. […]

It happens when I wear shorts.

It happens when I wear jeans.

It happens when I stare at the ground.

It happens when I stare ahead. (52-3)

The parallel structure of the lines reinforces Xiomara’s helplessness: no matter what she does, the result is the same. The sexualization of her body by strangers simultaneously adultifies her— sometimes her abusers are “grown-ass men” — and strips her of agency. Through Xiomara’s reaction to the attention she receives from men, Acevedo depicts a Black girl not as invulnerable and sexually mature but as a victimized girl with a strong voice attempting to navigate adolescence.

Acevedo uses the genre of slam poetry to elevate Xiomara’s voice, and to demonstrate one path by which marginalized youth can gain refuge and agency as they begin to understand their identities in an unjust society. In their article “Slam Poetry: An Artistic Resistance Toward Identity, Agency, and Activism” (2016), Gholnecsar Muhammad and Lee Gonzalez articulate the multiple ways in which slam poetry can empower young people. First, slam poetry communities are spaces of refuge within which youth can learn to understand their identities. They write, “Slam provides an avenue to explore the world and self. It feels important in a way that other literary experiences may not be able to do” (450). Secondly, slam provides young people with a “platform to share the ideas, values, and beliefs they negotiate, which provides a sense of control in their struggle for identity” (450). This gives them a sense of agency they may not be able to access elsewhere. Finally, slam poetry creates an opportunity for young people to engage in activism. Because slam poetry is open to direct political expression and is performed, it can be a form of activism. As Lee and Muhammad write, “Language is used to warrant social change and because there is an audience and a critique of the world, it is a social and collective process” (450). Young people, especially marginalized young people, can engage in slam poetry in order to understand their identities both individually and within a wider social sphere, to gain agency in relation to those identities, and to participate in activism.

Acevedo also depicts slam poetry as an empowering genre for young people. In the process of writing and eventually gaining the courage to perform her poetry, Xiomara benefits in all of the ways outlined by Lee and Muhammad. Throughout her poems, Xiomara questions various aspects of her identity— her body and how it is perceived, whether or not she is a poet, her attractions and desires, her friendships, her family relationships. The process of writing helps her to articulate her emotions, and the process of performing helps her to express her voice within a community that will listen. It is through poetry that Xiomara attempts to make sense of the way society sexualizes her body. When Xiomara is sexually harassed, she feels an urge “[t]o grab my notebook, / and write, and write, and write / all the things I wish I could have said” (53). Poetry is a space in which Xiomara can express the thoughts and feelings that she can not safely express in other ways. However, this expression is incomplete without performance. Xiomara is only honest with herself, not with her community. This is evidenced in poems titled “Rough Draft” and “What I Actually Turn In,” which recur throughout the book (39-41, 126-7,  179-80, 244-8). In her first drafts, Xiomara writes honest poems in response to prompts. However, she turns in polished prose that does not contain her true feelings on the subject. Until she performs her poetry, Xiomara does not feel that she can be open about her actual thoughts and emotions.

Through performing her poetry, Xiomara finds a supportive community in which her voice is heard. In the poem “At the New York Citywide Slam,” Xiomara finally performs onstage in front of her family and friends.

With Ms. Galiano’s assistance: I let the poem rise from my heart,

With Twin helping me practice: I hand it over like a present I’ve had gift wrapped,

With a brand-new notebook: I perform like I deserve to be there;

With Aman’s (and J. Cole’s) inspiration: I don’t see the standing ovation,

With YouTube and English class: I don’t see Caridad and Isabelle cheering, or

With Caridad holding my hand: Aman and Twin dapping each other up,

With Mami and Papi in the front row: I don’t see Father Sean in his collar smiling,

With Father Sean in the audience: I don’t see Papi telling people “Esa es mi hija.”

With Isabelle and the club cheering: I look at Mami and I give her a nod:

 

I stand on stage and say a poem. There is power in the word. (Acevedo 353)

Acevedo uses the split form of the poem to highlight how the act of performing poetry is both a deeply individual experience of expressing one’s voice and also an act of relying on and creating community. The phrases on the right hand side of the colons all begin with “I,” and can be read as a standalone poem, highlighting Xiomara’s individuality as she stands on stage. When Xiomara “let[s] the poem rise from [her] heart” she assumes agency and expresses her voice. Throughout the phrases that begin with “I,” Xiomara repeats that she doesn’t see her supporters in the audience: the rest of the world falls away and she is alone with her voice. The phrases on the left hand side of the colons are dependent clauses that don’t all line up with the phrases that follow them, exaggerating their interdependency. All beginning with the word “with,” these phrases emphasize that Xiomara could not have achieved what she did without the support of her teacher, her brother, her boyfriend, her inspirations, her best friend, her parents, her priest, and her slam poetry club. They also emphasize the communal nature of performance poetry: it is the audience that gives a voice meaning by hearing it. The “power in the word” derives from the fact that it is heard. In this poem, Acevedo emphasizes the unique nature of slam poetry as a genre that can help a young Black woman find her individual place within a wider community.

Acevedo performs her poetry

Acevedo, a slam poet herself, makes use of the verse novel to elevate the voice of a young Black woman and to provide young people with a “tangible” way to interact with and perhaps be inspired by slam poetry (Grochowski). In an interview with Sara Grochowski, Acevedo says that she decided to write a novel when she realized her performed poems were not something that young people could physically “carry” with them (Grochowski). Writing in verse was also important to her. In a different interview with Sylvia Vardell, Acevedo states,

I knew from the moment I started the manuscript that I wanted to write [Xiomara’s] story in verse, not only because she herself was a poet, but because it was important for the story to be as close to the character as possible. (35)

Poetry allowed Acevedo to center Xiomara’s voice and perspective without distraction. Through the immediacy and complexity of Xiomara’s voice, Acevedo counters damaging images of Black girlhood in the United States. Xiomara’s experiences do not stand for the experiences of all Black girls. Instead, they demonstrate exactly what is missing from media representations that erase the voices of Black girls and women.

 

Works Cited

Acevedo, Elizabeth. The Poet X. HarperCollins, 2018.

Dagbovie-Mullins, Sika A. “Pigtails, Ponytails, and Getting Tail: The Infantilization and Hyper-Sexualization of African American Females in Popular Culture.” Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 46, no. 4, 2013, pp. 745-771.

Epstein, Rebecca, Jamilia J. Blake and Thalia González. “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood.” Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality. 2017. https://www.law.georgetown.edu/poverty-inequality-center/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2017/08/girlhood-interrupted.pdf

Grochowski, Sarah. “Q & A with Elizabeth Acevedo.” Publisher’s Weekly, 6 March 2018. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/76224-q-a-with-elizabeth-acevedo.html

Muhammad, Gholnecsar and Lee Gonzalez. “Slam Poetry: An Artistic Resistance Toward Identity, Agency, and Activism.” Equity & Excellence in Education, vol. 49, no. 4, 2016, pp. 440-453.

Vardell, Sylvia M. “New Voices in Poetry.” Book Links, vol. 28, no. 1, 2018, pp. 34-37.

 

Op Ed Draft

Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X (2018) is a young adult novel in verse that follows the story of a young woman named Xiomara. The poems are framed as entries in Xiomara’s secret journal, where she writes poetry that she shares with no one. Over the course of the novel, Xiomara struggles to navigate high school as a young woman who experiences sexual harassment and often clashes with her strict mother. She develops a relationship with a boy in her class, joins a poetry club, and eventually begins to perform her poetry in front of her community. Her identities as a Black and Latina woman inform her experiences throughout the novel.

In the United States, young Black women are hypersexualized in the media and their voices are undervalued in school, and in society as a whole. Complex and affirming representations of Black girls are scarce in literature and media. Acevedo enters this lack of representation and provides a story that is rooted in a young Black woman finding her voice. As a spoken word poet, Acevedo highlights the genre as an important pathway for marginalized young people to find their place in society and elevate their voices.  

In the poem “At the New York Citywide Slam,” Xiomara finally performs onstage in front of her family and friends. She writes,

With Ms. Galiano’s assistance: I let the poem rise from my heart,

With Twin helping me practice: I hand it over like a present I’ve had gift wrapped,

With a brand-new notebook: I perform like I deserve to be there;

With Aman’s (and J. Cole’s) inspiration: I don’t see the standing ovation (Acevedo 353).

Acevedo uses the split form of the poem to highlight how the act of performing poetry is both a deeply individual experience of expressing one’s voice and also an act of relying on and creating community.

The division of the poem allows the reader to experience both Xiomara’s sense of being powerfully individual in the act of performing her poem, and also her simultaneous knowing that her poem, and she herself, couldn’t exist without the support of her loved ones. The phrases on the right hand side of the colons all begin with “I,” highlighting Xiomara’s individuality. In these phrases she speaks of the poem moving from her heart to her hands, presented to an audience she doesn’t even see. She is speaking her truth into existence without allowing anyone to censor it. At the same time, she is very aware of the support she receives, and the fact that the audience’s willingness to listen gives purpose to her performance. Each phrase on the left hand side of the colons begins with “With,” making each phrase a dependent clause that is left hanging without its second half. Together, the “with,” and “I” phrases form a cohesive whole. Xiomara’s voice would not have its power without her individual truth, but it would not have meaning without her supporters and her audience.

 

BP 6

Elizabeth Acevedo

Multiple Cultures, Multiple Understandings

Just as cultures vary widely across the world, so do approaches to multiculturalism. Not every multiethnic or multicultural society operates in exactly the same way, so multiple frameworks are required to understand multiculturalism in various societies.

Image result for malaysia

In “Postcoloniality, Race, and Multiculturalism,” the introduction to Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009), Daniel P. S. Goh and Philip Holden argue that the race-based models of multiculturalism that currently predominate in Singapore and Malaysia derive from colonial systems of racial categorization that have become entrenched in the societies and politics of the nations (3, 6-8). In order to understand how multiculturalism in Singapore and Malaysia differs from Western multiculturalism, Goh and Holden define it as postcolonial multiculturalism, and the citizens of Singapore and Malaysia as postcolonial actors (2, 4). The authors define postcolonial actors as those who “have no choice but to negotiate the colonial legacies of racialization and transform them into postcolonial multiculturalisms” (4). They understand multiculturalism in Singapore and Malaysia as different from multiculturalism in many Western nations because of their continuous grappling with a colonial legacy.

I am intrigued by the fact that multiculturalism in Malaysia is based on ethnic categories that were imposed during colonial rule. Goh and Holden point out that the official categories of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Others (CMIO) were originally implemented by the British, who believed that people in Malaysia had “‘no clear conception of race’” (4-5). All of these ethnic groups were present in Malaysia and Singapore when British colonization began. This contrasts with the way multiculturalism is represented in the U.K., where immigration, primarily from formerly-colonized nations, has changed the ethnic makeup of the nation. Anti-immigration groups depict England as an ethnically homogenous place being “invaded” by “other” ethnicities, while those who support multiculturalism still expect those who are not white and ethnically English to culturally assimilate. Interestingly, the ethnic categories considered in both national contexts derive from British ideas about what constitutes race and ethnicity and how people should be categorized. British colonialism has played a large role in the way multiculturalism is conceived and practiced around the world.

Works Cited

Goh, Daniel P. S. and Philip Holden. “Postcoloniality, Race, and Multiculturalism.” Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. Routledge, 2009, pp. 1-8.

 

B5

The Color of Family

The wisdom of market psychology tells us that colors affect how we feel about the world around use— for example, McDonalds’ signature red and yellow make people feel hungry and happy. Whether or not this pop psych explanation is true (do people also feel hungry and happy when they see China’s flag?), it points to the significance we assign to colors as conveyors of emotion. In the graphic memoir Vietnamerica (2010), G.B. Tran also makes use of the emotional significances attached to colors by selecting particular colors in conjunction with specific characters, settings, and types of scenes.

Between pages 5 and 39 of his graphic novel, Tran depicts his family arriving in Vietnam for his grandmother’s funeral, then flashes back into his mother’s memories and depicts the lives of his two grandmothers, Thi Mot and Le Nhi. During Tran’s reunion with his extended family, the sky, the ocean, and sometimes peoples’ clothes are light but vibrant shades of blue. This color evokes a sense of peace and carefree joy, like the sky on a day free of worrisome clouds. The blue is complemented by the delicate yellows of buildings, some clothing, food, and incense smoke. The yellow in these scenes, like the sun in the blue sky, communicates straightforward warmth. In combination, these colors suggest a happy and loving atmosphere among Tran’s family.

When Tran’s father, Tri Huu, visits his own father’s widow, Tran complicates the color palette to reveal the pain and conflict of family. In these scenes the yellow darkens and shifts to the sky, while buildings and clothing become gray. Only the sweater of Tri Huu Tran’s father’s widow remains yellow, and this yellow echoes the only other yellow in the room, the star on the Vietnamese flag. The flag evokes the fact that Tri Huu’s father abandoned him to fight for the Vietminh, and the widow becomes a reminder of this. The continuation of yellow in this scene reminds us that the widow is family, but works to emphasize conflict rather than warmth.

Finally, Tran reveals that the family’s blues and yellows represent the confluence of two women’s lives and choices. When he flashes back to the stories of Thi Mot and Le Nhi, Tran depicts Thi Mot’s experiences in blue and Le Nhi’s in yellow. These colors not highlight the personality differences between the two—bold yellow shows how Le Nhi “wasn’t the type to give up without a fight” (37) and calm blues represent Thi Mot’s peacekeeping nature (33) — and represent the women as the family’s origins.

 

Works Cited

Tran, G.B. Vietnamerica. Villard, 2010.

B4

Interrogating Identity–Literally

The word “identity” is often thrown around as if it is something constant that everyone has. However, identity can be incredibly difficult to navigate. In her novel Home Fire (2017), Kamila Shamsie tells the story of the Pasha siblings, who are British, Muslim, and orphaned. Parvaiz, twin of Aneeka and the only boy of the siblings, falls for ISIS propaganda because he feels lost, longs for a connection to his dead father, and because the racism and anti-Muslim violence of Britain make it difficult for him to construct an identity as a British Muslim. In Parvaiz’s narrative, Shamsie uses rhetorical questions to illustrate what Parvaiz comes to feel is the irreconcilability of the United Kingdom’s history of violence against Muslim people and British Muslim identity.

After he learns that his eldest sister, Isma, will be moving to America and selling the family home, Parvaiz drifts under the influence of Farooq, an older ISIS fighter who seeks to recruit him. In the process of recruiting Parvaiz, Farooq asks him a series of rhetorical questions that target Parvaiz’s precarious sense of national and religious identity.

M15 officers were present at Bagram, Farooq told him, and showed him evidence to corroborate that. Your government, the one that took taxes from your family and claimed to represent the people, knew what was going on. How can you live in this place, accepting, after all that you now know? How can you live in this mirage of democracy and freedom? What kind of man are you, what kind of son are you? (Shamsie 150-1)

These questions contain their own answers. By calling Parvaiz’s home “this place,” Farooq distances him from it. By juxtaposing his connection to Britain with Britain’s histories of violence and a lack of masculinity and family loyalty, Farooq makes it impossible for Parvaiz to answer that he can live in Britain. This quote is part of Parvaiz’s third-person internal monologue, which shows how Farooq’s questions have entered his mind and begun to shape every aspect of how he sees the world.

Farooq’s questions also get at a true inconsistency in Parvaiz’s supposed citizenship and belonging. Although Farooq’s intentions are manipulative, many of the images and facts that he presents to Parvaiz are accurate. Britain does participate in torture abroad, and racism at home. By presenting questions that contain their own answers, Shamsie demonstrates how untenable British Muslim identity is for Parvaiz.

 

Works Cited

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017.

B3

The Power of Declaration

Speech is not easy in the face of tragedy. Words can’t capture the depths of grief, but they can circle slowly at its edges and, in their circling, evoke the empty center. In “February 26, 2012/In Memory of Trayvon Martin,” published in Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), Claudia Rankine uses short, declarative sentences to evoke and validate Black Americans’ grief in the face of racist violence.

In her poem, Rankine uses declarative sentences to develop an informative or factual tone. The poem begins with a paragraph composed almost entirely of declarative sentences, and this form of syntax repeats throughout the poem. In the first paragraph she writes, “My brothers are notorious. They have not been to prison. They have been imprisoned. The prison is not a place you enter. It is no place. My brothers are notorious” (Rankine 89). Here, Rankine asserts that the criminal justice system and white America at large criminalize Black men and limit their opportunities. She explains that her “brothers” have not physically been to jail, but are still “imprisoned” by their notoriety and their inability to perform simple (non)activities like “waiting” unmolested. Rankine’s syntax breaks the various parts of these assertions into deceptively straightforward statements. Declarative introduce a subject, describe its action, and end with a period, creating the appearance of simplicity and factuality by drawing an apparently uncomplicated connection between a subject and an action. Rankine expresses sentiments of great political and figurative complexity as matters of what simply “is” or “is not.” This gives her statements the feel of common (and unremarkable) knowledge.

Image result for black lives matter protest

Rendering her ideas as common sense both evokes the numbing effects of continual tragedy and challenges the racist strategy of denying the validity of Black people’s experiences and knowledge. The accumulation of declarative sentences on the topics of imprisonment, racism, and the inability to exist creates a contrast between tone and subject. The factual tone combined with the sorrowful subject matter mirrors the detached manner of a person who is experiencing shock, or who has become numb to grief through the proliferation of tragedy. When dehumanization is part of the fabric of a person’s everyday life, pain must, at times, go underground for the sake of survival. Rankine’s detached tone adds to the power of her poem by underscoring the constant nature of racist violence. Furthermore, her tone is an implicit valorization of the knowledge Black people gather through their daily experiences— knowledge that white people devalue in order to maintain our power. By stating these appearances in a factual tone, Rankine asserts their truth.

 

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. “February 26, 2012 / In Memory of Trayvon Martin.” Citizen: An American Lyric, Graywolf Press, 2014.

B 2

From Big Thoughts to Big Talks: Racial Projects in Action

In casual conversation, many of us tend to avoid complex academic theories and topics that will elicit divergent and heated reactions. So how likely is it that we’ll strike up a conversation about racial formation in the United States? Despite their trickiness, such conversations are essential.

In Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge 1994), Michael Omi and Howard Winant define a racial project as “an interpretation, representation, or explanation of racial dynamics, and an effort to reorganize and redistribute resources along particular Image result for omi and winantracial lines” (Omi and Winant 56). Such a project could be essentializing and racist, or explicitly anti-racist. Racial projects abound in the United States— but we don’t often think of them by that name, or even recognize their presence.

In her book So You Want to Talk About Race (Seal Press 2018), Ijeoma Oluo, without using this language, asks readers to recognize racial projects and undertake one of their own. She asks white people to consider the underlying assumptions and goals of their racial beliefs and asks everyone to engage in meaningful discussions around race Seattle writer Ijeoma Oluo as one step in the process of dismantling systemic racial injustice. Oluo writes, “…if you are white, and you don’t want to feel any of that pain by having these conversations [about race], then you are asking people of color to continue to bear the entire burden of racism alone” (Oluo 51). Here, she points to the burden of emotional labor, time, and energy created by a system that asks people of color to both experience and solve racism. If white people were to take on more of the responsibility of educating ourselves and each other, the crucial resources of time and energy would be more equitably distributed. Although Oluo does not conceive of her work explicitly as a racial project, Omi and Winant’s definition illuminates this aspect of her work.

Just as Omi and Winant’s theory provides insight into Oluo’s strategies, Oluo’s anecdotes and praxis-based arguments show the importance of understanding racial projects in action. Making harmful racial projects visible and refusing to normalize them is essential in the work of dismantling racism. Often, theory can appear intangible and inapplicable to daily life, while pragmatic strategies that lack theory can be misguided and therefore unsuccessful. Reading Omi & Winant and Oluo in conversation with each other reveals how a symbiotic relationship between the theory of racial formation and the everyday work of creating meaningful conversations about race enriches both projects.

Works Cited

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. Seal Press, 2018.

Omi, Michael and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s. Routledge, 1994.

B1.