Tell Me Who You Are
As soon as I saw this book, I knew I had to have it in my hands.
Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing our stories of race, culture & identity, was written by Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi, two young women from Princeton, New Jersey. The pair took a gap year between high school and university to complete the research for this book, which involved traveling all over the U.S. to interview hundreds of people about their racial, cultural, and ethnic identities. The result is a collection of profiles, perspectives, and experiences that come together to form an insightful picture of the U.S.’s large and diverse population.
I’m so excited to blog about this book! So let’s jump right in. Here are the parts of Tell Me Who You Are that stood out the most to me…
The U.S. is an Incredibly Diverse Place
It may seem obvious to some, but depending on where you live, it can be easy to forget that the U.S. is an incredibly diverse place.
Through reading this book, I was reminded how infinite the level of diversity is in the U.S. There is no single, defining American identity. Guo and Vulchi touch on many aspects of U.S. Americans’ personal identities, including race, culture, family background, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, occupation, and socioeconomic status. Through reading this book, I was reminded how infinite the level of diversity is in the U.S. There is no single, defining American identity. The authors did a great job of selecting interviewees from widely varying backgrounds.
Broad Themes with Personal Meaning
Guo and Vulchi do an excellent job of balancing the broader themes of the book with the unique and personal characteristics of each interviewee. The narrative style of the stories, the photos, and the “fun facts” about each interviewee make each “case study” feel more personal and more real. The authors make it clear that although race and ethnicity are at the center of the book’s discussion, each interviewee is defined by much more than just their race.
This is why I think that Tell Me Who You Are could be a valuable tool for educators, leaders and other individuals who want to facilitate conversations about race. Conversations about race often risk becoming one-dimensional, because the diversity of personal experiences within cultural/ethnic/racial groups is sometimes overlooked. Tell Me Who You Are balances discussion of shared experiences with intersectional personal anecdotes. In addition, this book can be a means for taking conversations about race beyond the theoretical. By using individual stories, Tell Me Who You Are shows the impact of race on the everyday lives of real people living in the U.S.
An Anthropological Perspective
There are many anthropological aspects to this book, especially in the use and explanation of terms like intersectionality, code-switching, positionality and privilege. Tell Me Who You Are is, in many ways, an ethnography, as it describes the experiences of a group of people (U.S. Americans) and frames these experiences within their historical and cultural context.
Tell Me Who You Are emphasizes what I believe is one of the most important assertions of modern anthropology—race is a social construct. By allowing interviewees (as the title of the book states) to define and explain their own identities, Guo and Vulchi highlight the ways in which one’s personal identity interacts with the labels that societies perpetuate.
At the beginning of the book, Vulchi and Guo put U.S. race relations into context through a couple of pages devoted to “A Brief History of Whiteness.” This section is an excellent explanation of how “whiteness”—and by extension, race in general—has been socially constructed overtime. This contextualization makes many of the stories in the rest of the book much more meaningful.
At the end of the book is a section titled “How to Share Your Story.” This section is essentially a practical guide to talking about race with others. Many of the tips shared in this part of the book could prove useful to anthropologists conducting ethnography with people who are culturally/ethnically/racially different than themselves. Many of the tips promote reflexivity (although they don’t use that exact word).
Tell Me Who You Are encourages the reader to hold conversations about race with empathy, openness, and respect. I think anyone, anthropologist or not, can benefit from this message.
In this heated political and social climate, it is tempting to believe that we would be better off just not talking about issues such as racism. Tell Me Who You Are makes the case that race is a topic worth discussing, and it does so with compassion.
Let’s talk about race with compassion and respect. Photo by Harrison Moore on Unsplash