Ijeomo Oluo, a Seattle-based writer, speaker, and self-proclaimed “internet yeller,” made her debut appearance in New York City at Fordham on Sept. 30 as part of the University’s ongoing partnership with The Bronx Is Reading, the sponsors of the Bronx Book Festival. 

Oluo aimed to provoke and address difficult questions as she discussed the topic of her first book, So You Want to Talk About Race (Seal Press, January 2018), with Ashley C. Ford, the moderator of the event and author of the upcoming memoir Somebody’s Daughter.

In Keating Hall’s auditorium, the pair candidly described their experiences growing up as black women in America. Ford said she went to a high school in Indiana where 80% of the students were black, yet most of her teachers were white. 

This paved the way for Oluo to share the way she navigates the education system as a mother. 

“What I try to get teachers to understand is that when you think you are not talking about race, you’re talking about race. Often teachers don’t realize when they are teaching white history, white language, white science 90% of the time.” 

Oluo encouraged parents to show up and speak up on behalf of their children. When pressed by an audience member on what teachers can do to help students from low-income or minority backgrounds, Oluo said the best thing is to try to find resources for their parents. Doing things like translating the paperwork that gets sent home can make a big difference. 

Under Ford’s guidance, the evening’s tone varied from serious to light. When Ford asked whether social media is a good place for tough conversations, Oluo said with a laugh, “You should stop fighting with your family members on Facebook.” After a pause, she added, “Don’t get me wrong, social media is horrific, but I wouldn’t exist without social media. It is the biggest tool for marginalized voices to be heard.”

The audience leaned in when Oluo talked about the many different kinds of people who were impacted by her book. She described a black woman she met at a book signing in the Bay Area.

“She was dressed in a suit, she had obviously just come from work. She said, ‘I never knew that the things that happened to me were something that could be written in a book. I’m 56 and I’m now just figuring things out. I’m going to give this book to my daughter who is 32 so she doesn’t have to wait as long as I did.’”

Ford, who was named to Forbes magazine’s list of 30 Under 30 in Media in 2017, confessed that she was obsessed with Oluo’s YouTube channel Lessons in Shades, where Oluo talks about difficult topics while applying make-up. “There’s something about this reveling in this creative process, especially for a black woman,” Ford said. “It’s a little more serious than people take it at first. I have been watching you do your face and your eyes. It’s very beautiful and empowering.”

Oluo smiled and said, “I do it because it’s creative and it’s a celebration of myself.”

This event was sponsored by Fordham’s Office of the Chief Diversity Officer.