Ijeoma Oluo delivers talk on solidarity and accountability
Jackie Richardson ’21 | Associate Editor
On Nov. 13, Ijeoma Oluo — author of “So You Want to Talk About Race” — gave a talk called “The Only Way Out is Through: Solidarity and Accountability” at the Weinstein Auditorium.
After President McCartney introduced her, Oluo began her talk by discussing how she first became a writer. Growing up in Seattle, a predominantly white city where people espoused liberal politics, she couldn’t understand why — although people made sure to say all the right things — they refused to discuss race in the context of their community. She started writing out of a desire to express her thoughts about racism in her community and to know that she wasn’t the only one thinking these thoughts. The initial response to her first writings was negative — because of it, she lost a majority of her friends — but they helped launch her career as an established writer.
As her career as a writer and public figure began to take off, she began to have more complex ideas about solidarity and accountability. She experienced frustration at editors who, though usually enthusiastic about her work, would ask her to change it when they saw themselves in it. But she also discovered how she could erase other people as a light-skinned, cis woman in a comfortable economic position.
Both these experiences — as someone whose experiences could be erased and as someone who could erase other people’s experiences — as well as current events led her to think more deeply about solidarity and accountability. It could be easy to wonder, especially as a public figure, when people would come for you. She said that this would happen and that you should welcome it because being held accountable for the things you say and do, or have said and have done, slows the ease with which you can erase other people and their experiences. She put it another way: rather than asking disempowered people to stand with you and call it solidarity, you should stand with them and call it accountability. She ended her speech on this note, and there was time for questions and group discussions afterwards.
The Presidential Colloquium Series are lectures free to the public that feature speakers who are leaders and experts in their fields. Previous speakers included Pam Bosley and Stasha Rhodes, Nancy Malkiel and Martha Minow, who spoke on gun violence, the struggle for coeducation and freedom of the press, respectively. There will be two more speakers this year. The first is Martha Nussbaum, who will speak March 29. She is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago and the author of “The Fragility of Goodness,” “Sex and Social Justice” and “Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, and Species Membership.” On April 8, Pomona College President and English literature scholar Gabrielle Starr will speak. Her research blurs the boundaries between academic disciplines as she studies the brain’s response to art. Her most recent book, “Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience,” came out in 2013.