Race, Culture, Identity: Alumna Turns a Road Trip Into a Book

“Of the 17 people who went to South Africa with me on the 2016 Experiment Leadership Institute program, all 17 contributed in some significant way to this project. On the program, we were in the middle of creating our (now sold-out) racial literacy textbook and one program leader, for example, let me use all of his carefully-budgeted wi-fi to make that happen. Another agreed to be interviewed, and her story is the only one now re-published in Tell Me Who You Are. After the program, students and adults alike from the broader Experiment community joined our team (our non-profit advisory board, our transcribers, our book editing squad), hosted us in at least 5 of the 50 states, funded us, fed us, connected us, reviewed or attended our first and second TED Talk, drove us around, guided us, sent us both messages of love and support that continue to mean the world… We are indebted to the Experiment for all the ways it has enabled this work. Our hearts (and minds) feel so full and so strengthened by this extraordinary community.”

– Winona Guo, co-author of Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing Our Stories of Race, Culture, & Identity

In Tell Me Who You Are, Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi recount talking to people from all walks of life about race and identity during their cross-country tour of America. Spurred by the realization that they had nearly completed high school without hearing any substantive conversation about race in school, the two young women deferred college admission (to Harvard and Princeton, respectively) for a year to collect first-person accounts of how racism plays out in this country every day.

Traveling to all 50 states via bus, train, and so on, they asked over 500 people, “How has race, culture, or intersectionality impacted your life?” They report that the stories they heard pulsated with truth and power. These identities had so significantly shaped the lives of those they spoke to that it often felt as if they had simply requested, “Tell me who you are.”

In Tell Me Who You Are: Sharing Our Stories of Race, Culture, & Identity (TarcherPerigee, June 4, 2019), Guo and Vulchi share the diverse voices they heard across the nation; examine what these experiences of race reveal; pair stories to statistics; and share tools to address racial inequity.

These stories illuminate the extraordinary breadth and depth of American experience, but they also depict the complexity and intensity of racial and cultural division. As Guo and Vulchi describe, “Millions of Americans — both white people and people of color — still don’t come close to fully understanding people outside their mostly homogeneous immediate communities. Many of us have not truly broken out of our racially divided bubbles. In fact, three out of four white people in America don’t have a single friend of color, and the average white American has 91 percent white friends.”

Furthermore, race is inextricable from daily life. It can determine anything from where we live to whom we know and how we walk through the world. The culture of silence and denial about race perpetuates these divisions. In Tell Me Who You Are, Guo and Vulchi reveal how telling our stories and listening deeply to the stories of others are the first, most crucial steps we can take towards negating racism and discrimination in our culture.

Featuring interviews with over 150 Americans accompanied by their photographs, this book offers an examination of the myriad seeds of racism and strategies for effecting change. Above all, this book shines a light on hope. It humanizes people, reaching beyond issues of race, and shows that we can heal the communities we are part of so that they are defined not by division but by love and justice.

If you want to see them in action, check out their TED Talk “What it takes to be racially literate.”