Ijeoma Oluo wants to talk about race—and she wants readers to understand that such talks have been going on for a long, long time.
“I want people to understand that real systemic change is based on efforts that are happening year-round, regardless of what’s happening in the headlines,” she said during the morning’s keynote, a Q&A between Oluo and HarperOne executive editor Rakesh Satyal. (Satyal will edit Oluo's forthcoming book, which has the working title of Be a Revolution; its release date is yet to be announced.)
The collective calls to dismantle systemic racism that followed the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police last year, Oluo explained, were not the start of a movement nor a part of some recent trend. Rather, she says, activists, scholars, writers, and many other people of color have long engaged in the struggle to create a more equitable society—and it's vital to know the history.
“It can seem, if you haven’t been in the struggle, like we’re suddenly making this big progress,” Oluo said. “Actually, what we’re doing is trying to push forward based on work that’s been put forth for years, for decades.”
Oluo asked readers to consider the prevalence of systemic racism in So You Want to Talk About Race and its history in her second book, Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America. Now she wants to encourage them to act upon that knowledge. Be a Revolution will feature the stories of ordinary people creating meaningful change in their communities. As an example of such grassroots community activism at work, Oluo pointed to the BIPOC entrepreneurs who, on the verge of opening restaurants in Seattle early last year, instead banded together to operate a rotating community kitchen during the pandemic.
“Looking at that creative approach to community care and looking at how it really was a mutual success for everyone—it’s just beautiful to see,” Oluo said. She hopes Be a Revolution will provide “an entryway for people who say this matters but don’t know what to do.”