I started reading Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist” just after the death of George Floyd. I read Kendi’s “Stamped from the Beginning” a couple of years ago and had just added his and Reynold’s “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” to my library’s purchase list, and as protests started in Minneapolis, I knew it was time to read “How to Be an Antiracist”.
In this book, Kendi proposes that there is no such thing as “not racist”. Like Beverly Daniel Tatum’s moving walkway analogy, he believes that the only opposite to racism is antiracism – he states that “there is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist’. The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism” (p. 9). Kendi’s work presents racism through two main lenses: racist policies and racist ideas, which then create racial inequities. The writing is pleasantly conversational and Kendi presents facts and figures interspersed with personal stories from his own upbringing that demonstrate how racism impacted him. He talks about both the internalized racism he developed as a child, as well as the policies and ideas in American history and current American law, schools, and society that allow racism to continue to grown and prevail. He compares American racism to cancer and ends the book with hope and a forward direction: “When it comes to healing America of racism, we want to heal american without pain, but without pain, there is no progress… WE CAN SURVIVE metastatic racism” (pg. 236-237).
I’m not going to give this title a Defects and Delights list. I think works like this, works that are meant to challenge the reader, that ask the reader to grow, are a highly personal experience that takes time to process. I think that reading titles that challenge a reader’s personal biases (some deeply ingrained from birth) is good. Add to it that Kendi’s conversational tone makes the book easily digestible while the ask of the book – to make yourself an anti-racist and help purge racism from our society – will require some to chew the content longer and harder than others. I highly recommend Kendi’s book to anyone who wants to dive into anti-racism work and look at themselves. We (white people) have a LOT of work to do.