The white woman who runs the popular social justice Instagram account @soyouwanttotalkabout has apologized to author Ijeoma Oluo for using a handle nearly identical to that of Oluo’s book, So You Want to Talk About Race.
Oluo said she learned of the Instagram account last year, when her book—first published in 2018—rejoined the New York Times bestseller list amid the mass protests for Black lives. As her book’s popularity “skyrocketed,” she said she began getting messages from friends wondering if the Instagram account was associated with it. The account broke down many of the same concepts Oluo tackles in her book, but in the form of shareable, aestheticized slideshows.
“And so in the middle of this, while dealing with the trauma of being a black person in America … I’m getting these messages from people saying … ‘is this you?’” Oluo recalled in a recent Instagram story. “I’m like, this is exactly one word short of my book title that is currently selling out in stores everywhere, and it’s talking about race and other issues. So I reached out to the page and I was like, this is really similar to my book title, I would like to know who is behind this account.”
Though Oluo said the woman who runs the account—Jessica Natale—didn’t respond to her message at the time, she noticed a disclaimer appeared on the page, stating that @soyouwantotalkabout wasn’t affiliated with Oluo’s work. Natale’s identity wasn’t publicly revealed until April of this year, according to the Guardian, when Natale earned a book deal of her own, for a how-to guide titled So, Let’s Talk about It: A Tool Kit for Unlearning.
Oluo said it was “duplicitous and shady” for Natale to name her page something so similar to her book, and accused her of “capitalizing off the work of other people of color and other marginalized populations.” In response, Natale changed the handle of her Instagram account to @so.informed and posted a slideshow apologizing for the “harm” she caused Oluo and announcing that she’s paused the publication of her book, which was scheduled for release in October.
“I recognize that once again people of color have had to carry the burden of education, and I regret that my actions have increased that burden,” Natale wrote. “This page is about truth and dialogue. This conversation will be ongoing. Thank you all for holding me accountable.”
But setting aside the issue of apparent plagiarism, Oluo made clear that she also objects to the underlying ethos of Natale’s account and others like it (of which there are many). Oluo wrote on Instagram:
“I am not interested in the meme-ification of anti-racist and social justice work. I am not interested in making this over-400-years complex system simple for white people to digest. I’m not trying to give you an easy way to feel like you have been doing something just by reading a post. I hope that from here on out those 2.8 million people who come for easy, quick, feel-good information to help them feel informed will actually be connected to the people doing real work.”
Anyone who’s been on Instagram in the last year or so knows exactly what Oluo means—that these accounts makes keeping up with the news seem like a moral virtue in and of itself. Sharing it, of course, is even better, and no doubt an active way to consume news bordering on actual activism. Luckily, accounts like Natale’s allow Instagram users to do so while hewing to the aesthetics of the platform. One may barely notice a disruption.
It’s questionable enough to profit off of this kind of pseudo-social justice activism, but even more so when it borrows so shamelessly from the people who have dedicated themselves to rigorously interrogating ideas that undoubtedly take more than a few slides to explain.