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How to Be an Antiracist

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Ibram X. Kendi's concept of antiracism reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America--but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. In How to be an Antiracist, Kendi asks us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it.

In this book, Kendi weaves together an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science, bringing it all together with an engaging personal narrative of his own awakening to antiracism. How to Be an Antiracist is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond an awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a truly just and equitable society.

305 pages, Hardcover

First published August 13, 2019

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About the author

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University, and the founding director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research. He is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News racial justice contributor. He is the host of the new action podcast, Be Antiracist.

Dr. Kendi is the author of many highly acclaimed books including Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, making him the youngest ever winner of that award. He had also produced five straight #1 New York Times bestsellers, including How to Be an Antiracist, Antiracist Baby, and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, co-authored by Jason Reynolds. In 2020, Time magazine named Dr. Kendi one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He was awarded a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship, popularly known as the Genius Grant.

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Profile Image for Thomas.
1,465 reviews8,576 followers
June 9, 2020
I appreciated this book and felt disappointed by it too, so if you want a non-controversial review scroll over to something else for now. I felt most grateful for Ibram Kendi’s argument that you either are racist or antiracist and there’s no real in between – that by passively being “non racist,” you collude in racism by allowing racist policy and ideology to persist. He applies this argument to several pertinent issues such as the racist nature of standardized testing, police brutality, intersectionality and racism against Black women and Black queer folk, and more. I liked his vulnerability in sharing about his personal life and how it connects to the concepts raised throughout the book.

I felt most disappointed by Kendi’s claim that you can practice racism against white people. For example, in the section of the book where he addresses colorism, he writes that “I hardly realized my own racist hypocrisy: I was turning the color hierarchy upside down, but the color hierarchy remained. Dark people degraded and alienated Light people with names: light bright, high yellow, redbone.” Kendi essentially equates dark-skinned people’s jokes about light-skinned people to racism, which ignores the difference between prejudice and racism and how someone making jokes about a light-skinned person does not carry the same repercussions at all as opposed to the entrenched colorism against dark-skinned people that permeates society. He also dedicates a whole chapter titled “White” that argues that stereotyping white people is colluding in anti-Black racism which seemed like such a flawed argument, as my friend Bri tweets about here and writer Melanie Curry dispels in this succinct article about reverse racism, which is not a thing. He goes on to write that people who make arguments similar to those of Curry disregard Black people's power, which I found a lackluster thought process. Yes, Black people and people of color can accumulate power and use it in racist ways against fellow Black people and people of color, but this presence of power still exists within a system of white supremacy, so you can both possess power and be marginalized within the greater landscape of white supremacist racism.

While I feel glad that this book’s rise in popularity will prompt people to take more explicit action against racism, I feel somewhat distressed that people may equate prejudice against white people to racism against Black people and people of color. As Goodreads user Raphael Nelson writes in his review, How to Be an Antiracist does appear to have a white audience in mind in certain sections (e.g., the “White” chapter) and does not explore the deeper reasons why Black people and people of color may have prejudice against white people. For those interested in more reading on this topic, I’d highly recommend Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Again, I feel grateful for a lot of Kendi’s insights, such as his thoughts on internalized racism and its effects, though I’d definitely hesitate to recommend this book on its own, even though that opinion will most likely provoke some reactions.
Profile Image for Raymond.
339 reviews246 followers
October 21, 2019
It is only fitting that this book is being released after the past several weeks of racists attacks by politicians and mass shootings in the name of White Supremacy. After witnessing these acts many Americans will say "I'm not like that, I'm not a racist. I don't have a racist bone in my body". Ibram Kendi’s newest book addresses that mindset. In his follow up to Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Kendi argues that the dichotomy of either being a racist or not a racist is a false one. We must choose to be racist or antiracist. Kendi tells the reader how to be an antiracist by using history and his own biography. He chronicles his own personal evolution of espousing racist ideas at a young age to his transformation as an adult.

Kendi places himself amongst the five individuals that he profiles in Stamped and in turn challenges us to question our own racist views that we all espouse. This is an extremely personal book not just from the author’s standpoint but from my own. Before reading his last book Stamped from the Beginning, I would have considered myself “not a racist” but realized as I read "Stamped" that I held many assimilationist views. I also believed that I couldn’t be a racist because I am Black. In this book, one of Kendi’s most effective chapters dispels the myth that Blacks can’t be racist because they are a racial minority. He effectively shows that Blacks hold racist views of other Blacks which have been passed down to us by racist Whites. Ultimately he argues that people of all races (White, Black, Latinx, Asian, Native American, etc.) can be racists. But the good news is that being racist is not set in stone. Kendi tells us that we can change and become antiracist. Read his book so you can figure out how. Just like Stamped from the Beginning, How to Be An Antiracist has changed my thinking for the better.

Overall, Kendi’s writing is amazing and beautiful. I especially loved his use of transitions between chapters, it makes the book hard to put down.

Thanks to One World and Net Galley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. #HowToBeAnAntiracist #NetGalley

Favorite Quotes:
"The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it-and then dismantle it."

"THE GOOD NEWS is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be racist one minute and antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what-not who-we are."

"I no longer believe a Black person cannot be racist."

"A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way."

Review is also posted on Medium: https://medium.com/ballasts-for-the-m...
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
797 reviews3,640 followers
August 16, 2020
It´s not enough to just one deem oneself no racist, it´s the action, self-reflecting, changing habits, thoughts, ideologies, and activism that matters.

Some of the main points:
Showing that each ethnic group can be racist, not just white people.
Defining the important term of anti racist instead of just being not racist, leading to active improvement instead of passive stagnation and thinking that just believing is enough.
Rethinking many of the stereotypes and prejudices regarding how society deals with established norms.
Trying to open new ways of thinking about race and identify.
Integrating feminism and LGBTQ.
Critical self reflection, introspection, self analysis, considering were the own blind spots may lie.
The irony of white supremacy against other white people they don´t like.

Kendi is in a special position, he does amazing research, lives in a moment where many other, progressive authors spread positive ideas he can work with, and culminates it to some of the best writing about one of the crucial themes of the 21st century.

Some reviewers may mock that there are no real solutions offered, just well argued tips, personal experiences, and self-improvement manuals, but that´s unfair. I would rather say that there is, at the moment, just no real solution, it´s a question of time and cultural evolution. The people who would really have to read this work won´t and the readers that are already active and trying to do something can get better in their endeavors, but breeding new and better epigenetic traits just takes time.

The criticism is especially unfair too because Kendi offers much of himself, very personal and intimate details, to provide enough examples and illustrative material, and that´s always coming with the problem of the replication crisis. It worked well for one person, ok, but what about me? And the billions of others, what about them. But it´s meant as an example to show that everyone can be successful in self detecting potential racism bombs inside one´s mindset.

There is not much new under the sun, so most of the ideas have already been thought, but it´s Kendi´s enthusiasm and deep, honest belief in a real option for change that makes this book special. It´s also something for the more optimistic, emotional, humanities focused readers, because it doesn´t really focus on meta, but on the personal level.

There is a bit of a contradiction between Kendi´s other work Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning
and this one.

Because the sheer description of the extent and causes of the dilemma seem so overwhelmingly daunting, it subjectively seems as if Kendi is trying to spread optimism and hope, although the current state of the affairs around the world is more than intimidating.

Old pessimist that I am, I prefer the direct in your face approach of books like 2 of the best current nonfiction describing the problems this book tries to solve.
DiAngelo Robin´s White Fragility

and Eddo Lodge Reni´s Why I am no longer talking to white people about race

They both show the not so obvious, hidden prejudices, resentments, and all the evil isms growing on this and similar ground, their mechanisms, and sad real life examples.

Not giving real hope, but sensitizing for forgotten, subconsciously working problems. Subjectively, I deem understanding the meta problems more important than personal growth (because just the ones willing to change will go through this difficult process), while a change in politics affects everyone, no matter what she/he thinks, but this also has to start at a point with each individual. And that´s where How to be an Antiracist shines.

I am absolutely not sure if this is ingenious or a bit overhyped, I simply don´t know enough about this extremely complex and new contexts, but everything enabling an open debate is worth it. The only problem and small criticism I have is that the true, great ideas of how to improve one´s mentality are mixed up with some unnecessary, possibly not standing the test of time, ideas, that are based on subjective opinion and own thesis. Especially the difference between white on black racism vs black on white racism, not to forget the hundreds of varieties not mentioned. Without that, it would have been better, because that´s still an open field of study, happening at the moment, involving statistics, sociology, psychology, politics, economics, and similar stuff, just far too complex and interwoven to come up with one solution or explanation and this could lead to confusion and misunderstandings and it could be used to criticize this amazing work.

A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real life outside books:
Profile Image for Carolyn Kost.
Author 3 books106 followers
August 15, 2020
Some cultures mandate that rape victims must be killed and adulterers stoned; that females shouldn't be educated, drive, or show their faces in public. Some cultures revere nature and strive to live in harmony with it while others endeavor to control it down to the chromosomal level and/or pollute indiscriminately. Some produce the Magna Carta and Shakespeare and others dissolve into violence and a failed state. Despite these self-evident facts, Ibram Kendi's [postmodern] foundational principle is that we must regard all cultures as equal. Even the countless articles about corporate and school cultures indicate that some are unhealthy; some lead to poor performance; others seem to foster happiness and productivity. No, all cultures are decidedly not equal.

Kendi recants his youthful denunciations of promiscuity and teen pregnancy, drug dealing and gun violence in the Black community. Astonishingly, he still regards these as features of Black culture, but now believes he was influenced [brainwashed] by white supremacy culture to regard them negatively. He was right the first time: the practices he mentions are harmful because they prevent individuals from realizing their potential and living purposeful lives that contribute to the common good. The most base and venial behaviors, self-indulgence [see seven deadly sins] have been denounced for millennia as anti-social. Conversely, a cross-cultural regard for the virtuous and true, courageous self-sacrifice for the benefit of others and for truth has endured until this quite recent and objectionable postmodern posture (to which no one can truly subscribe) that no behavior or quality should be regarded as superior to another. It is universally agreed that one may play the flute well or poorly. Similarly, one can conduct one's life well or poorly.

Kendi's other significant assertion is that we must only regard individuals as such rather than individuals as members of groups, yet he refers to Black people as a group consistently. We cannot ignore statistics. While they can be used to distort, they can also be quite revelatory when specific categories are applied. Kendi writes "Since assimilationists posit cultural and behavioral hierarchy, assimilationist policies and programs are geared toward developing, civilizing and integrating a racial group (to distinguish from programs that uplift individuals)," which implies the policies that target Black and economically disadvantaged groups are misguided. Kendi repeats this delineation between group and individual many times and contradicts himself just as often as he vacillates between group and individual causes and effects, "not because I believe Blackness...is a meaningful scientific category but because our societies, our policies, our ideas, our histories, and our cultures have rendered race and made it matter." Kendi ratifies the existence of the category while simultaneously urging its deconstruction.

Kendi concedes that it took time for him to truly come to terms with the diversity within the group encompassed by the term Black. The life experience of a person of African ancestry whose ancestors were free men and women in 18th century Boston and who currently occupies the top socio-economic quintile is different from one whose African American ancestors didn't have the means and/or wherewithal to leave the Deep South after historical enslavement [McMillan Cottom's "black black"]. Both groups, however, diverge from the experience of 20th or 21st century immigrants and their descendants from the West Indies, Africa and the Americas ["ethnic black"] who enjoy the "migrant advantage" (and comprise 2/3 of the Black students in the Ivy League, which Kendi doesn't mention). Race is a baseless social construct, but ancestry does have genetic (and epigenetic) roots. A Bantu is genetically distinct from a Mbuti.

Kendi's insistence on referring to the Latinx category is equally problematic. The Hispanic category didn't exist for census purposes until 1970. Until then, Mexican Americans, for example, were simply counted as White. There is little beyond shared humanity to connect a German-Chilean oligarch with an impoverished indigenous Quechua and an Afro-Cuban loyal to the revolution in La Habana. Within this absurd non-category, predominant skin tones range from alabaster to eggplant, heights from towering to well under five feet. They may not share a common language, foods, music, literature, etc. The idea that these can somehow share a category when they arrive in the USA is laughably ignorant and begs for subdivision to evaluate obstacles to progress.

Like many in the Critical Race Theory camp, Kendi attributes disparities in rates of school discipline and incarceration between White and Black to racism, an unexamined causation. As an educator, when I read Kendi's descriptions of his behavior as a student, I see a precociously and unpleasantly oppositional and defiant kid. Wherefore the anger at so young an age? A preternatural sense of injustice at the age of seven --or a character flaw? Wrath is one of those seven deadlies... Similarly, we are meant to consider the racism exposed by incarceration of African American males at five times the rate of whites. It's widely held as a given that racism is a factor. However, the FBI statistics indicate that the perpetrators of over half of all homicides committed in the USA are Black males, who constitute just 6% of the population. That is one egregious statistic not often exposed because it challenges the prevailing narrative. Kendi might also take a look at Harvard Law Review's May 2018 article on the role of Black politicians in striving to increase policing in their communities after too many years of insufficient police presence.

Kendi is at his best when he instructs us lovingly regarding how to be antiracist. Thankfully, he departs from DiAngelos's incendiary, horrifying and irrational declarations in the wretched White Fragility. He counters the assertion that Blacks "can't be racist because Black people don't have 'institutional power'" first by confessing his own racial biases and second by refusing to "strip Black policymakers and managers of all their power." To do otherwise is pernicious: "Racist ideas make Black people believe White people have all the power, elevating them to gods." (See that Harvard Law Review article cited above).

Critical race and gender theory value personal experience more than empiricism. See See Harvard Law Record on Critical Race Theory: http://hlrecord.org/racism-justified-... In keeping with that premise, Kendi ends the book by telling us that the metaphorically cancerous reading about and recalling racist experiences transformed into physical cancer for him and his family. Perhaps, perhaps not. Kendi's book may be worth a read, but only with a critical and informed eye.

The hundreds of hours I've spent with webinars, articles, and books on eliminating racism leads me to question whether we are headed for re-segregation. Kendi insists that "Through lynching Black cultures, integrationists are, in the end, more harmful to Black bodies than segregationists are." Add this to essays by Dr. Bettina Love [White educators "spirit murder Black children"], Jamilah Pitts, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad and others [at least watch the last 5 minutes of this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJZ3R... ]; the many universities creating living learning communities [dorms] just for Blacks; the disproportionate success of graduates of U.S. Historically Black Colleges and Universities, who comprise 40% of the Black members of US Congress, 12% Black CEOs, 40% Black engineers, 50% Black lawyers, 80% Black judges. Does the support of homogeneous communities outweigh the benefits of diversity? Can we ever get live together when we can't get along with our own family members? Right now, the indicators are depressingly negative.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews717 followers
February 28, 2020
Someone lent this to me because they found it really useful and resourceful for thinking about antiracism especially in the context of doing organizing. I did enjoy the reading the book but I also think personally I had been exposed to a lot of these same ideas already, especially by women of color activists/organizers. So while I think it's a really good book for anyone still trying to gleam out their own concepts of race and how to actively engage with racism, I didn't come away with that much reading this. Which I personally think is a positive and shows what a great job people who engage in antiracism work have been doing! I know Kendi is less hopeful about the power of education/awareness and I agree that it has limitations when it comes to just creating positive outcomes but I think it's really important work for allies to help them engage in a helpful and fruitful manner. I actually also really liked the way Kendi traces his own evolution over time with regards to race and I think its quite helpful for making it easier for readers to engage with their own thinking on race without feeling the typical shame and defensive people can face when confronting their own ideology on race. Anyway overall I really think it's a good read and would definitely recommend it to people who at this moment are also trying to figure out their own thinking on race and the best ways on engaging to help reduce the racial disparities rampant in the US.
Profile Image for Samantha.
417 reviews16.7k followers
July 23, 2020
I listened to this book on audio and it is narrated by the author, so I highly recommend that format. Although I fully intend to buy a physical copy in order to tab it up for future reference as well.

This is an excellent book that covers not only the history of racism in the United States, but also both the individual responsibility and systemic responsibility for racist ideals in society. I was pleasantly surprised by how intersectional it is as well, as it discusses intersections of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. The author balances both his justified anger and his desire to teach by leaning in to the reader and sharing his own experiences with his own racist ideas and learning throughout the years. The prevailing theme is that an individual can be both racist and antiracist depending on their behavior at any given moment, and that the work, both individually and on a policy level, is never finished. Kendi shows how pervasive racism is in society, while also giving a sense of hope and guidance about how we as individuals can work to change the policies that allow it to continue to exist.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,646 reviews5,111 followers
November 21, 2020
I'll start off with a mea culpa: I came to this book with some cynicism. Some of that due to my very bad experience with the execrable White Fragility, a gross book that demeans Black people, generalizes about White people, and that sadly has a similar level of popularity. Some of my cynicism was also due to my admiration for Coleman Hughes, a Black contrarian who wrote a pretty negative review of it.

Oh how wrong I was. I loved this book. I had issues with some of its stances, but by the time I finished this book, those issues were inconsequential. At least when it comes down to my overall positive regard for it as both a personal story and a call for change. I may disagree with my allies on some topics, but an ally is still an ally. Much more importantly, I may disagree with certain parts of this book, but other parts have literally changed how I will be looking at racism and activism from here on. You can disagree with a friend on certain things, but you can still respect where they're coming from. This book is my friend.

I loved that How to Be an Antiracist is not specifically designed to educate only White people! This book is having a conversation with all races. Including White people in America, of course. Whites are in many ways a central focus. But it is a split focus because Kendi is also addressing his own race. He is all about uplifting Black American culture. But he is also not shy about critiquing Blacks who have upheld systems of white supremacy and racist policy, racist thought, racist reactions. Including himself. Happily, he critiques from a place of love and admiration. No reactionary critique of common targets like "inner city" violence, hip hop culture and rap music, Black separatism. His critiques are based on whether or not a person - or a policy - upholds inequity. Any person or policy. The book is a great tool for those who want to understand and address the systemic inequities forced upon Black communities (and many others) and the harm done by generations of White policy makers (and those who abetted them).

The writing is simple. Basic, even. Definitions are stated and then restated. The repetition can be a bit much! But Kendi is educating people. Repetition is important when teaching. This is not my favorite style of writing but guidebooks rarely feature exciting prose. What is exciting are the ideas.

The best sort of travel books feature the writers themselves, going on a journey. And so this travel book, this guidebook, features the journey that Kendi himself went on to become an antiracist. We learn a lot about him, step by step. He literalizes the personal made political.

As a mixed-race queer guy who is trying to support the implementation of antiracist policies at my workplace, this book really helped me out. That may sound like a limp way to end this so-called review, but it's also the basic truth. I read it for a work book club, a pleasant activity in my weekly work load - work that often involves heavy emotions, oppressed communities, poverty, disease, death. Despite its anger, this book often functioned as a sort of healing tonic for all of that. Looking forward is a healing activity. Some of these ideas have resonated with me in ways that I hope will impact my agency's push for positive change, internally and externally, personally and professionally. Lots of important lessons to be learned here. Everything is a work in progress.


 What I particularly loved:
- Kendi's personal story. awesome to read about him growing up, and all about his parents' lives

- the opportunity to re-examine my own definitions of "racist" and "racism". Kendi has a surprising stance on this that challenges me, in a good way. I'm more comfortable with the idea that racism = prejudice + power (i.e. Blacks cannot be considered racist in the current U.S. system). Kendi is not so comfortable with that definition; he's more old school: racism can be displayed by any race (including internalized racism, of course).

- segregation vs. assimilation vs. antiracism: feels so true. we talk about this during work trainings

- the perspective on biological racism and the idea that "race" is both a construct and a reality. too often people choose one or the other when both can be true

- history re. slavery and how there are two different eras of slavery: multiracial slavery across all ethnicities, followed by a focused enslavement of Africans

- history re. how the term "microagression" came about

- crime rates linked to unemployment rates rather than crime rates linked to demographics. YES!

- history re. the SAT. I would really like to read a whole book on why standardized testing is problematic. such an unknown to me. I'm reminded about how many of my peers and I are committed to the idea of hiring people based on life experiences rather than on college degrees. the idea of there being a standardized assessment of intelligence and therefore capability has always been suspect to me.

- Kendi's focus on individuals not groups is admirable. totally with him on that

- I'm an admirer of the Black contrarian John McWhorter but oh boy Kendi is not! Had to chuckle when Kendi reminded me of McWhorter's foolish statement that the U.S. was now post-racial since Obama was elected. Oh John, I love you but you're never gonna live that one down.

- had to LOL at Kendi's comparison of Blacks bleaching their skin with Whites using tanning beds! Not sure I agree but I love the comparison, mainly because I can't stand either ridiculous activity. pale is beautiful, dark is beautiful, right?

- the back to back chapters WHITE and BLACK are incredible. so eye-opening and powerful. I admire how Kendi positions his own changing feelings, his mistakes and his epiphanies, as a battle between anti-Black racism, anti-White racism, and antiracism. the humility on display and the willingness to describe his mistakes are so real. I love how anti-White Fragility/Robin DiAngelo these chapters are, with his attack on "conflating the entire race of White people with racist power". Even more, I really love how he's challenged me to reject my own ideas on how Blacks can't be racist due to lacking systemic power because then I am actually, literally, saying that Black people don't have power enough to be racist against other Black people - for example, by supporting institutionalized racism and racist processes (e.g. certain voter suppression tactics). Which is also, even more importantly, ignoring the power that many Black people have attained in this country. And that is then... disempowering Black people and their many continuing accomplishments. Which is not something I will be doing from now on. Didn't expect this book to so fully shift my paradigm on that definition.

- I should also note that the above ideas are by no means Kendi defending the problematic phrase "reverse racism" - a phrase which so far has yet to appear. The focus is mainly on how Blacks can also oppress other Blacks due to internalized racism, and capitulation to and support of white supremacist structures. Happily, there is nothing in these chapters admonishing Black people to be nicer to White people, as some fools on Twitter appear to think.

- Interesting take on Elizabeth Warren's definition of capitalism! Basically he is saying that what she is espousing - capitalism should have fair market rules and benefits - is not actually "capitalism" but is something else entirely, a new thing that has yet to exist. I don't really agree, but I love the argument, it's eye-opening.

- very enjoyable review of classic intersectionalism. glad that chapter didn't delve too deeply into modern intersectionalism (I have issues with it. or maybe just issues lol). LOVED the number of times my idol Audre Lorde was mentioned in this and the following chapter.

- super inspiring take on queer antiracism. appreciated that Kendi owned his prior homophobia. always nice to see straight men address this topic & be allies. And I really respect that Kendi identifies as a queer antiracist. Reminds me of some of my own very crush-worthy straight friends. Be still my beating heart! ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

- fascinating chapter titled FAILURE that focuses on the idea that the "race problem" is rooted in "powerful self-interest" and not in hate or ignorance. This is institutional versus individual racism. Kendi posits that a true activist wields power and creates or forces policy change, and that a demonstration is weaker than a protest. He argues that reaching hearts & minds, educating racists out of ignorance, is not the logical first step in creating change. Creating policy that forces change and upends racist structures is the true path. Of course this echoes MLK's own thoughts. I'm reminded of Van Jones' successful work to have the Trump White House and the Republican-led Senate approve criminal justice reform legislation via the First Step Act. This was a particularly powerful and illuminating chapter.

-Emotional and moving last couple chapters as he focuses on the anger leading to action springing from the murder of Trayvon Martin, and on how his and his wife's dual cancer diagnoses compelled him to look at racist policies as a cancer and so to refocus away from confronting individual racism and towards bringing down institutional racism and the policies that support it.

 What I didn't love so much/food for thought:
- Kendi's pushing back on "microagression". Is it simply racist abuse and should be called out as such? I dunno. I don't love the idea but I don't hate it? food for thought.

- he's pretty judgmental regarding his parents' decision to take "mainstream" jobs instead of remaining activists

- I'm really challenged by the idea of "cultural relativity" being the essence of cultural antiracism. despite being a committed multiculturalist, I still think there are norms that all cultures must ascribe to, at least to be considered cultures that truly respect their people. Norms around treatment of women, children and norms around freedom of movement, expression. etc. Cultural relativity will often excuse oppressive behavior in its perhaps too-liberal attempt to not be seen as racist.

- not in love with this quote: "As long as the mind oppresses the oppressed by thinking their oppressive environment has retarded their behavior, the mind can never be antiracist." I don't think it makes complete sense to not recognize that oppressive environments often do not encourage growth. Hard to think outside of the box when you are struggling to survive in that box. But it's also true that challenging environments can often produce vital communities, art, individuals, music, movements. Hmm, more food for thought.

- I don't think capitalism & racism are necessarily conjoined twins (love the metaphor though, one he uses poetically throughout the chapter). I guess I'm not an anticapitalist? I subscribe to Warren's ideals on what capitalism could be.

- Some mixed feelings about how Kendi is so against integration efforts.

When thinking back on on Kendi's central position that everything should be considered as either racist or antiracist, I'm surprised to realize that despite how much I admired this book, I still don't buy into that thesis. I don't think every idea (or policy or practice or activity or action) is either antiracist or racist. I just don't believe in such reductive binaries. And I refuse to believe that everything is always about or impacts race. Even though this is one of his foundational ideas, I'm also somewhat surprised that Kendi himself engages in this sort of binary thinking e.g. check out the last quote I included, my favorite one.

I don't want to end on a critical note because overall I loved this book, so here's some

 Great quotes:
"Black people are apparently responsible for calming down the fears of violent cops in the way women are supposedly responsible for calming the sexual desires of male rapists. If we don't, then we are blamed for our own assaults, our own deaths."

"One of racism's harms is the way it falls on the unexceptional Black person who is asked to be extraordinary just to survive - and, even worse, the Black screwup who faces the abyss after one error, while the White screwup is handed second chances and empathy."

"Antiracism means separating the idea of a culture from the idea of behavior. Culture defines a group tradition that a particular racial group might share but that is not shared among all individuals in that racial group or among all racial groups."

"White racists do not want to define racial hierarchy or policies that yield racial inequities as racist. To do so would be to define their ideas and policies as racist."

"Like every other racist idea, the powerless defense underestimates Black people and overestimates White people. It erases the small amount of Black power and expands the already expansive reach of White power."

"The pathological ghetto made pathological people, assimilationists say. To be antiracist is to say the political and economic conditions, not the people, in poor Black neighborhoods are pathological. Pathological conditions are making the residents sicker and poorer while they strive to survive and thrive, while they invent and reinvent cultures and behaviors that may be different but never inferior to those of residents in richer neighborhoods."

and my favorite quote:

"To be antiracist is to recognize there is no such thing as the 'real world,' only real worlds, multiple worldviews."
Profile Image for Sofia.
258 reviews6,510 followers
March 17, 2021
Disclaimer: In no way am I trying to undermine what the Black community has gone through. I can’t fully judge the content in this book because I haven’t experienced the racism, discrimination, and prejudice that Black people go through every day. These are just my opinions on the book itself, not the topic. To find ways to support Black Lives Matter, visit this website.

This book is important. In a world where just sitting back and letting racism go its own way is “not racist,” it’s essential to spread awareness about the internalized prejudices we have. This was one of the author’s best points-- “not racist” doesn’t mean antiracist. “Not racist” implies sitting back and not doing anything about racist policies, but maintaining that you aren’t racist just because you haven’t called anyone slurs. But that’s actually racist, because you’re not doing anything about racist policies, which allows them to spread.

Another great point that stood out to me was when the author talked about how anyone can be racist. Everyone can have some prejudice inside them, and by saying they can’t just because they don’t have power (ex. “Black people can’t be racist”), you’re actually undermining them further.

My favorite chapter was the section on gender and how being antiracist means being feminist and vice versa.

I highlighted so much in this book. There were so many little things the author pointed out that I hadn’t realized before, or hadn’t dedicated much thought to. The little nuggets of wisdom were excellent.

However, I sometimes felt like this book tried to do too much. It was at once a biography, a history lesson, and a how-to guide. In my opinion, the most helpful part would have been the how-to section (how to be an antiracist) because it would show us what we should be doing. But these parts were very short and I didn’t feel like they actually had much substance. If the aim of this book was to teach us history, it would have been better, but I came to learn how to be an antiracist, and it fell short there.

I was expecting this to cover more races, too. It mostly focused on the Black community with the term Latinx thrown in occasionally just as a statistic. Obviously this is extremely important and needs a lot of attention, but the title was kind of misleading. I’m not taking off any stars because of this--there wasn’t a problem with it, necessarily, I was just expecting something different, and I wanted to let people know before they started reading.

In the end, I just don’t feel like stereotyping white people is as big of a deal as racism against Black people, but the author seems to phrase it that way. White and lighter-skinned people will automatically have an advantage in society and will actually benefit due to racism, so saying that reverse racism is as big of a problem as racism is a flawed argument, in my opinion.

There was an entire chapter on Light vs. Dark within the Black community, which included statistics. My main question was about where the cutoff was. What defines “Light?” What defines “Dark?” And how, exactly, do you measure that?

The author attempts to address everyone who is interested in becoming an antiracist, and as an effect, the audience is unclear. Sometimes he addresses the Black community, sometimes I’m not really sure who he’s talking to. I would have preferred if he picked one audience and stayed with it. This book tried to be a sweeping assessment of racism, but it just felt like it was spread out really thin.

Finally, there was one part that made me kind of uncomfortable. It was the scene where the author and his friends were celebrating the acquittal of O.J. Simpson. They were talking about all the innocent Black people who had been accused of crimes they didn’t commit and how the release of Simpson was justice for that, but that logic doesn’t make sense to me. Obviously it’s terrible that innocent people are being killed and arrested just because of the color of their skin, but it doesn’t feel right to let off a person who is actually guilty, and (correct me if I’m wrong) Simpson has committed many crimes. I haven’t done much research on this topic, so I’m not the most knowledgeable, but this part hit me the wrong way.

All in all, this book helps raise awareness about internalized racism, making it a very important read. I just thought that the structure was a bit messy and it didn’t quite know what it wanted to be and who it wanted to address.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Christine.
6,619 reviews480 followers
May 10, 2019
Disclaimer: I received an ARC via Netgalley.

Shortly after I finished this book, I put a quote from it up on the board in my classroom. At one point, Kendi argues that white supremacy is also anti-white and a form of genocide on whites. This is in addition to the attacks on non-whites. The interesting thing is that the black students (I use black because not all of the students are American citizens) were all nodding their heads, and the while students were all WTF.

But that idea of challenge of re-defining, defining, and expanding terms is, in part, the point of this excellent book.

Kendi contends that “not racist” isn’t the term we should be using, that it is a true neutral a phrase, too defensive and lets people who say it off. He says the term that is the opposite of racism is anti-racism, and that is what we all should aim to be. He includes himself in this, well for lack of a better term quest, and the book is also a chronicle of his becoming an antiracist.

While reading this, I kept thing of Coates’ Between the World and Me, and in many ways this book is a letter to all the world. For Kendi also details intersectional anti-racism, applying not only to feminism but also support of the LGBTQ community as well as classism (this is where the white supremacy being anti-white comes in).

He also dissects and challenges terms and ideas – such as his discussion about microaggressions or the connection between racism and power. He challenges you, as he challenges himself, to become antiracist.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews54 followers
July 16, 2020
The entire book is powerful - valuable - informative - engaging - straight to the point -
I own it....and am keeping it.
I purchased these books… ( knowing nothing specific)....
the Audio and physical book ....
knowing I was going to have a book discussion.
I was PLEASANTLY surprised how much I enjoyed every moment of it! ( Cheri....thank you, to you too, for encouraging me to read it: Ali and Adam had already started their reading). I jumped right in.

Discussing this book (and others on this topic), with my daughter and her husband is part of my daily ‘to-do’s now...
.....including a conversation on the phone today...while I was out in the woods listening to the audiobook...
I had to stop walking - stand very still - otherwise I was going to lose phone reception...for an hour!!!! Geeee a girl might need to pee before I making it back to the car - after a 8.5 mile hike.

Lazy reviews from me today......
I want to share one thing....
It’s a personal heart- wrenching story.....connecting a bigger heart wrenching story. I FELT THE PURPOSE. I GOT THE POINT. I BUY THE THEORY!
Part of it made me ached - deeply- with sadness -
The other part, (of the same chapter), took me to a new universe.

These books about racism, inequality, are transforming me. I kid you not.
Our entire family are committed to NOT BEING RACIST...TO DOING WHAT WE CAN TO TRANSFORMING this issue ....
Looking at the difference between individual racism vs. policy racism is ( forgive me?), is new to me. I’ll continue to engage in the conversation....
Keep learning ....and keep being on the right side of justice.
I’m sooooo sorry soooo many black people have suffered!!! REALLY SUFFERED......been treated unfairly!!!{
I want to end this nonsense about skin color, class, and being different....
My God...ENOUGH!!!

This book ‘is/was’ an eye opening education for me about POLICY RACISM.

Ok...one more thing....then a shower & pool please. I’m stinky.

I must say something about THE AUTHOR....
Ibram X. Kendi......is in my heart - now - forever!

Thank you, Ibram.... VERY HELPFUL BOOK.
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
547 reviews9,884 followers
September 11, 2020
So great. What an amazing human Kendi is. His ability to reflect on his own racist actions and thoughts is profound. I love his approach and think his insights are fantastic. The use of memoir with the definitions of types of racism and antiracism are really smart. I really enjoyed this book, though if you’ve read Stamped from the Beginning (his previous book) you may find this one redundant or slightly more elementary. If you haven’t attempted Stamped because it’s intimidating this might be a better place to start.

Profile Image for Beverly.
808 reviews292 followers
November 27, 2020
Kendi's theme is that anti racism can not be achieved in society by well intentioned people observing people of colot's success and changing their racist ideas to make society more equal. It can only come through policy change. Each individual black person has felt the onus to be an upstanding citizen, as if the power of equity rests on their shoulders. Each person's actions will lead to equality or nonequality. This notion is wrongheaded and has been promulgated by studies from the thirties and forties and even earlier.

As Kendi points out racism has had a long history in the world and in the United States, but people were not placed in a hierarchy of good and bad races until the 1500s, so this sequence of entrenched thought can be overturned , like any other. It takes policy change and for laws to change in order for this to happen though. The most the individual can do is vote for those politicians and elect leaders who change policies to make things more fair. You can do more, of course, if you own your own business or are a person who hires for your company.

I was really surprised by how many ideas about race that I have as a white person came out of these position papers, books and essays on race that I have never read, but become part of the zeitgeist. All of our ideas about race come from people in power putting a horrific policy in place, like slavery, and then using position papers to enforce and make concrete in the mind, a travesty of justice against our fellow humans.
Profile Image for Jessaka.
889 reviews121 followers
May 12, 2022
Dancing in the Street

I stopped to ask an elderly black man
that was walking down the street
In a small southern town
“Are you a Jehovah’s Witness?”
“Why, yes, I am.”
He was not wearing a suit, nor a tie.
Nor did he carry a briefcase.
I just knew because I used to be one of them.
“I have always admired the Jehovah’s Witnesses,
They are antiracists,
and mingled with one another. “
“Here in the South
we have separate congregations.”
I was disillusioned.
This was in the late 90s,
Even schools were integrated.

We dyed or bleached our hair.
We permed or even straightened it.
Just to change that which
we did not like in us.
We laid out in the sun
Or on tanning beds.
Some of us even
bleached our skin.
The 60s freed us all
but only for a while.
Because in our racist society
We are not allowed
to be ourselves.

Her mother was half Cherokee,
Her daughter’s skin
a warm brown.
It was like her grandmother’s
Her mother declared
And she was very proud.
Then she met a Cherokee
And fell in love.
And her mother said,
“He is too dark for you.
What will people say?”
Shades of color mattered.

“I bet you can’t answer every
question with the word ‘chocolate.’”
“Yes, I can.” I said.”
“What is your favorite cake?”
“What is your favorite ice cream?”
“What color of boys do you like?
“Chocolate.” I giggled.
My brother is now an antiracist.
Just as am I.
My friend told me this story,
Of walking down a sidewalk
In Tulsa:
“John and I were walking
down a sidewalk in Tulsa,
and it wasn’t long ago.
An elderly black man was
walking towards us
When he was close enough,
he stepped off the sidewalk
to let us pass by.”
Shocked, they just
continued walking.
Knowing this now,
I would be prepared,
If it ever happened to me.
I would step off the sidewalk,
and soon we would be
dancing in the street.

The above writing came to me as I was reading this book, but I don't consider it a great review of this book, and now I am rereading it in order to take notes.

I cana say this about it so far: It is the best book that If have read on racism. I would give it ten stars, if I could.

I have had people tell me that I should be friends with racist because thdy have other good qualities or that I should be tolerant. I don't see that happening. I had a Buddhist monk once tell me that he could not listen to vulgar words, and I can't listen to racism. It is immoral. Would someone who claims to be a Christan be friends with a criminal, a murderer? Does not their Bible say to not be unevenly yoked with unbelievers? or are they friends with these people because they desire to be tolerant? And isn't their asking for tolerance just an excuse to continue to be racist? Shaming us for not accepting them? Can an antiracist really be friendws with a racist? And what does it say about them if they do? To me it says that it is okay for you to be a racist.
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,738 reviews649 followers
June 14, 2020
There is so much in Kendi’s book that is useful and challenging.

"One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism."

"THIS BOOK IS ultimately about the basic struggle we’re all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human."

"The source of racist ideas was not ignorance and hate, but self-interest."

"The language used by the forty-fifth president of the United States offers a clear example of how this sort of racist language and thinking works. Long before he became president, Donald Trump liked to say, “Laziness is a trait in Blacks.” When he decided to run for president, his plan for making America great again: defaming Latinx immigrants as mostly criminals and rapists and demanding billions for a border wall to block them. He promised “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Once he became president, he routinely called his Black critics “stupid.” He claimed immigrants from Haiti “all have AIDS,” while praising White supremacists as “very fine people” in the summer of 2017. Through it all, whenever someone pointed out the obvious, Trump responded with variations on a familiar refrain: “No, no. I’m not a racist. I’m the least racist person that you have ever interviewed,” that “you’ve ever met,” that “you’ve ever encountered.” Trump’s behavior may be exceptional, but his denials are normal. When racist ideas resound, denials that those ideas are racist typically follow. When racist policies resound, denials that those policies are racist also follow. Denial is the heartbeat of racism, beating across ideologies, races, and nations. It is beating within us. Many of us who strongly call out Trump’s racist ideas will strongly deny our own."

And here is the nub of what Kendi is getting at: we have trouble seeing ourselves for what we are. (This may be a particular problem of liberal (or should I say progressive) white people who are often looking to have their friends of color reassure them of their lack of racism.

Kendi states the situation succinctly: "What’s the problem with being “not racist”? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “antiracist.” What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist."

It may be because Kendi is black; or it may be because racism against blacks is a particular feature (both historically and now) of the USA. But other forms of racism and related prejudices: Against Asians, Indigenous peoples; Latin Americans; Muslims; Jews; Irish; Italians; etc.
"I do not regret seeing myself as black at such a young age. I still see myself as black. Even though race is not a strong biological category and the way in which we see race is mostly a mirage, society dictates that race is important."

"Black people are constantly forced down by bad policy and ordered to uplift themselves again through good behavior."

"We didn’t attend the march in Washington that year but we cheered enthusiastically as the O.J. Simpson verdict was read. My father recalls that his white coworkers were baffled by the verdict and he and the other black workers had to excuse themselves to celebrate in another room. It’s not that we thought he was innocent of murder, but we felt that the justice system was far more corrupt. We wanted revenge for the beating of Rodney just four years earlier. We wanted justice for all the unarmed minorities who were beaten by cops on a daily basis."

Here is where I have the most difficulty with Kendi: He says: "I represent only myself. If the judges draw conclusions about millions of Black people based on how I act, then they, not I, not Black people, have a problem. They are responsible for their racist ideas; I am not. I am responsible for my racist ideas; they are not. To be antiracist is to let me be me, be myself, be my imperfect self."

And ---

"I do not represent black people. White individuals do not represent white people." Yet, he seems to come close to solipsism as he believes his experiences ARE always ones that can be generalized for a complete view of racism. Further, he takes this later in the book to pushing an analogy between racism and cancer.
"I HAD TROUBLE separating Sadiqa’s cancer from the racism I studied. The two consumed my life over the final months of 2013 and during the better part of 2014 and 2015."
"OUR WORLD IS suffering from metastatic cancer. Stage 4. Racism has spread to nearly every part of the body politic, intersecting with bigotry of all kinds, justifying all kinds of inequities by victim blaming; heightening exploitation and misplaced hate; spurring mass shootings, arms races, and demagogues who polarize nations; shutting down essential organs of democracy; and threatening the life of human society with nuclear war and climate change. In the United States, the metastatic cancer has been spreading, contracting, and threatening to kill the American body as it nearly did before its birth, as it nearly did during its Civil War."

Having criticized the analogy, I do not dispute his assessment of the threat of racism and its ability to destroy much of what we hold dear about American life, democracy and common values. So I will close with one of Kendi’s uplifting statements:

"THE GOOD NEWS is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what—not who—we are. I used to be racist most of the time. I am changing. I am no longer identifying with racists by claiming to be “not racist.” I am no longer speaking through the mask of racial neutrality. I am no longer manipulated by racist ideas to see racial groups as problems. I no longer believe a Black person cannot be racist. I am no longer policing my every action around an imagined White or Black judge, trying to convince White people of my equal humanity, trying to convince Black people I am representing the race well. I no longer care about how the actions of other Black individuals reflect on me, since none of us are race representatives, nor is any individual responsible for someone else’s racist ideas."
Profile Image for Raphael Nelson.
15 reviews9 followers
January 21, 2020
While the initial premise of this book is relevant and essential to building policy against racist policies the book seemed very surface level. There were multiple experiences (having a him pointed at him on the bus, his religious journey, his college experience) that felt rushed in with tidbits that doesn’t do these rich experiences service. Unfortunately felt like this was a book aimed at white liberal rather than a text that was appropriate for multiple audiences. He makes a weak argument that Black people can exhibit anti-wHite racism while not delving past Black people having prejudice. A statement like that warrants in depth analysis and historical account of why black people harbor prejudice against white people. The flow of the book was very off ice and there came a point where it seemed he was pushing verbiage rather than anti-racist scholarship.
642 reviews28 followers
August 27, 2019
I have read STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING and was captivated by Ibram X. Kendi's intellect, acuity, and straight talk. I left that book seared and shaken.

This is a much weaker outing, organized haphazardly, and unclear about its focus; a memoir; textbook; history book; wake up call?

There is an old adage that Eskimos have 40 words for snow, and each word describes a distinct type of snow; important information when your survival depends on knowing and understanding snow. Kendi is working to bring such distinctions to the world of racism and on the whole, making some very important distinctions that cut through the murkiness that permeates the complicated world of racism. Important and necessary work.

But, in my view, he didn't execute this intention consistently or very well.

He starts by defining terms: Racist, antiracist, biological racist, biological antiracist, etc. And some of those definitions were so convoluted as to make no sense at all.

"Ethnic Racism: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized ethnic groups.
Ethnic Antiracism: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about racialized ethnic groups."

Okay. Doesn't really cut through the miasma, in my view.

He then delves into the origins of racist ideas, policies, and words by taking us back in history. Enlightening and also a good refresher course for those of us who read the heavy-hitting, Stamped from the Beginning.
Then, for reasons I don't really understand, except maybe to let us know how Kendi himself was brought up to believe racist ideas, he interweaves his own life story throughout the book and his process of awakening from the racist attitudes he had absorbed and held.

Unfortunately, it makes the whole endeavor a hot mess, in my view.

Kendi is a 37 year old academic, suffering from Stage 4 Colon Cancer, determined to start a movement that transforms racism into antiracism. He posits the fight against Cancer with the fight against Racism as a similar kind of fight. The body (physical and political) is being attacked from within and one has to BELIEVE it is possible to cure ourselves. After a whole book that details the ugliness, pervasiveness, and consequences of self-interested racism, I was left shaking my head. Kendi's optimism, although I know important in his fight against Cancer, seems ill-placed when dealing with selfish human nature. That doesn't mean we don't fight, we do, because being antiracist is the only moral way to be human. And I agree with him, we don't change human minds (impossible), but we change policies that alter human behavior. But let's get real, only until the next totalitarian government re-institutes racist policies.

This book had some very strong moments but it is not one that I will be recommending. Stamped from the Beginning is far superior.

I hope that Kendi is successful with his health challenge and is around for many years to come, to bring intelligence and insight about our human condition. His is a necessary voice in the fight for equity for all.
Profile Image for Audacious.
29 reviews18 followers
September 7, 2020
I have seen people raving about this book and Professor Kendi for about a year now. Professor Kendi recently joined the faculty of Boston University, and since his arrival in Boston his work has been widely hailed as essential reading, unwavering and visionary. I have been invited to more virtual workshops and conferences and trainings which feature Professor Kendi as a headline than I can count. More than this, I have had countless white people or white adjacent folks rave about how enlightening and transformative it has been for them. This feedback make me skeptical and hesitant to read the book, quite frankly. But, after receiving a free copy of the book in conjunction with my attendance at an event hosted a Black philanthropic organization in Boston - Professor Kendi was the featured guest - I decided to read it. My thoughts about the book follow.

- This book is written for a white and white adjacent audiences. It certainly is not written with any Black audience in mind (despite the fact that he spends a lot of time focusing on Black people's behavior and ideas and whether we can be racist or not). There's no escaping this fact. One of several "tells" is the level of detail that Kendi uses describe very mundane aspects of Black American life from a certain era. The clothes we wore. Our popular music. Even the unnecessary translation of of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) phrases and words into standard American English. This book is intended to be palatable to white people, first and foremost.

- The message of this book is essentially that Black people can be racist too. Fret not white people, you are not the only ones that can be racist! is the pervasive theme here. Not only is this an irrelevant premise, and not even practical in the U.S. context, it completely dilutes the connection between American racism and the power structure, and this is one of THE most important connective tissues. The issue at hand in this country is not that all human beings or groups have the capacity to be racist or that Black people can be racist too. The issue is that a very specific type of racism and white supremacy are pervasive in the U.S. and that every American institution and nearly every American policy is inherently racist and white supremacist. That is the actual issue.

- There is a chapter on ethnicity where Professor Kendi says that white slavers preferred to enslave Africans from certain ethnic groups based on who they thought would be most subservient, that slavers thought some Africans were born to serve or were faithful to serve. Nowhere does he mention that slavers were intentional about selecting Africans for very important skills in building empires. Metalworking. Architectural and design expertise. Irrigation knowledge. Rice growing and other agricultural techniques. To omit the very real fact that white slavers were familiar with the expertise of various groups of Africans and chose to plunder their expertise seems like a tremendous oversight for someone who is steeped in the history. It also perpetuates the racist notion that Africans were only brought here because they were good laborers and not because of their intellectual skill. The Europeans knew what they were doing when they stole all of that talent to build their shit. This omission in the book annoyed me a great damn deal.

- Kendi's definition of segregationist seems narrow and white-focused. I'm not saying that his definition is wrong but it's a very narrow way of defining what it means to be segregationist and to have segregationist views. There is a point in the book where he says that segregationists believe that other racial groups cannot reach their superior cultural standards. But he doesn't seem to consider, for example, Black segregationists who do not strive to achieve white standards or that Black segregationists think assimilation is detrimental to the well-being of Black people. This is a very different view of what it can mean to be segregationist.

- Kendi says that every time someone racializes behavior and, for example, describes something as Black behavior, they are expressing a racist idea. The converse - describing something as white behavior - is also racist. But racism and racist ideas are based on things that aren't true. If how racism and whiteness plays out in the world is real, then it is not racist to racialize behaviors that white people exhibit when defining those behaviors and knowing how to identify and navigate them is literally a matter of life and death for Black people. White people expressing false ideas about Black people's sexual drives or propensity for violence are expressions of racist ideas. Black people describing white fragility and the other ways that white people behave that threaten Black lives is pointing out facts.

- There is no treatment of race within the Latinx community which includes Black people. In fact, there is a point in the book where Kendi says, "Latinx people are a race." They are not, in fact, a race. The Latinx community is neither a racial group nor an ethnic group. The community consists of various racial and ethnic groups, including Black people. In 2020 (or 2019 when the book was published) it's unacceptable for any race scholar to not comprehend and communicate clearly that Latinx is not a race and that Black Latinx people are, in fact, Black.

- He uses the term Black on Black criminals several times to describe Black people who have anti-Black racist views. On maybe one occasion he gives a weak example of White on White criminals. Given that most of the history he calls out in the book are illustrations of white led racism I'd expect him to offer up way more examples of White on White criminals. There are plenty. Far more examples than black on Black criminals, that's for sure.

- Dinesh D'Souze, an utter and completely irrelevant loser, is quoted in the book at least twice.

The best aspects of this book are Kendi's personal journey. He's very open, and he details his own anti-racist journey. It can't be easy to lay bare your own racist (and other harmful ideas) as he does in this book. And yes, we all have them (although we don't all have the power to act on our racist ideas in ways that cause systemic harm). And it's clear that he does believe that we are not condemned to being a racist society if we're willing to do the hard work. I commend his efforts.

My gripe is that he overlays his personal journey onto a historical and social and political context in a way that essentially conflates his individual and familial experiences - which are also rooted in a certain kind of religiosity and respectability which complicates things - with what it means to be Black and the recipient of racism in America. This book is less "how to be an anti-racist" and more "Professor Kendi's personal journey to becoming less anti-Black". Or something like that.

If a book about racism is going to be written primarily with a white audience in mind, and if the book is going to be elevated by academic and literary power structures and hailed as an essential work, there is a level of caution that needs to be exercised when communicating ideas and theories and guidance about what racism is and is not, who can and cannot be racist, and what can be done to eradicate racism. I don't believe that this work exhibits the right amount of caution, and I'm really disappointed.

Racism is not pleasant. There is no way to make an honest book about racism, particularly one that targets a white audience, and simultaneously make it palatable. No one could write an book about sexual violence against women that was geared toward men in a way that was palatable and be taken seriously, so why is it ok to do this with racism?

I really hope that people read this book with a critical eye before they start recommending it as a must-read and putting all of their white friends and colleagues on to this book as if it's the end-all be-all. I don't want anymore white people or white adjacents telling me about how amazing this book is. I see it potentially doing some unintended harm.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
September 29, 2019
I pre-ordered this book the day it was announced because I loved Kendi’s first book, but then I delayed reading it because I thought it was going to be a lecture and that it would go over familiar material. That’s not what the book was. It was a fascinating memoir that is pretty humble and humane. I like that he searches his past for his mistakes and how he brings compassion to this topic. This one is probably required reading.
Profile Image for John Devlin.
Author 21 books71 followers
January 27, 2023
There’s not much to write here. Kendi is wrong.
Today, no one in America is denied their life’s ambition because of race, creed, sex, etc.

Kendi, like so many race obsessed is big on the past but not so much on the present. Long spiels and quotes from people as far back as the 1,400’s that supposedly support his generalized arguments about today’s America; they don’t.

Like Ta Nehisi Coates, who’s a better writer, he labors in a fictitious world where whites are dangerous racists. Coates had two personal examples of racism: one he got pulled over by a cop, and two he got into a shouting match with an old white woman when Coates’ young son got underfoot- Selma, it ain’t.

Kendi has one example of actual racism. He’s seven and his white teacher calls on the white girl in front of the class and not the shy black girl in the back. Yeah, that’s not open to too many interpretations.

Many black people are like the soldiers who came of age in the seventies. Generations of older soldiers could wax nostalgic about Ww2, Korea, and Vietnam, while these FNG’s had nothing. No stories no experiences that defined a soldier.

Black folks today are the same. Without the experiences of facing true racism in Jim Crow,segregation, cross burning, angry white cops, and water cannons they have no ‘war stories’ and feel less than, like those soldiers who never saw battle.

So what happens? They invent racism with who their third grade teacher picks, or a son who nearly trips an old woman, or in the case of Michelle Obama being asked to grab an item of the top shelf of a store or being not seen when in line at an ice cream store, or when her husband imagines as a teenager women are holding their purses tighter.

It’s understandable. It’s human. Everyone see themselves as the hero of his or her own life. And to be a hero one needs the deepest, darkest villain, and who better than the racist white man and racist white society? They did exist after all, but like rotary phones and 8 track tapes, structural, institutional, systemic racism is a relic of times past.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,431 reviews2,517 followers
August 13, 2020
With protests over George Floyd taking place as I type, this book could hardly be more timely. Kendi's intervention into current race debates is to expose any assumed position of neutrality as subterfuge: there is and can be no position of 'non-racist', 'colour-blind', 'post-racial', he argues: the only viable opposition to racism is to be actively and consciously antiracist.

What makes this such a strong book is that it is also a confession: Kendi's antiracist stance is hard-won and actively striven for. Part memoir, he discusses his own upbringing and indifferent schooldays when he internalised anti-black racism, when he grew up imbibing sexist and homophobic ideologies, and recounts with honesty his struggles at university to free himself from his own prejudices. It's this humility combined with a scholar's critical intelligence (his PhD was in African-American studies) that give this book its heft.

While it is based on primarily the particularities of America's history of race based on chattel slavery (and Kendi is himself the descendant of slaves), this is a book which speaks to other geographies and also other -isms - many of the arguments could be applied to sexism, for example, to offer another strand to activism. Kendi is also attentive to intersectionality which, he generously admits, came to him relatively late as a doctoral student.

There may be some simplicities of analysis at times, but Kendi is a charismatic writer: an inspiring, hopeful and heartfelt book based on honesty and intelligence.
Profile Image for rosalind.
489 reviews65 followers
August 23, 2020
It happens for me in successive steps, these steps to be an antiracist.

I stop using the “I’m not a racist” or “I can’t be racist” defense of denial.

I admit the definition of racist (someone who is supporting racist policies or expressing racist ideas).

I confess the racist policies I support and racist ideas I express.

I accept their source (my upbringing inside a nation making us racist).

I acknowledge the definition of antiracist (someone who is supporting antiracist policies or expressing antiracist ideas).

I struggle for antiracist power and policy in my spaces. (Seizing a policymaking position. Joining an antiracist organization or protest. Publicly donating my time or privately donating my funds to antiracist policymakers, organizations, and protests fixated on changing power and policy.)

I struggle to remain at the antiracist intersections where racism is mixed with other bigotries. (Eliminating racial distinctions in biology and behavior. Equalizing racial distinctions in ethnicities, bodies, cultures, colors, classes, spaces, genders, and sexualities.)

I struggle to think with antiracist ideas. (Seeing racist policy in racial inequity. Leveling group differences. Not being fooled into generalizing individual negativity. Not being fooled by misleading statistics or theories that blame people for racial inequity.)

let me preface this review by saying that this is, overall, a good book. most of my review is critical, but that’s because it made me think, not because i think it’s horrible or anything. however, i’m not sure i’d call it revolutionary—some of the analysis and terminology gave me pause, and the chapter on sexuality is frankly questionable at best.

i think this is a very ambitious project that fell short of its goals. the combination of personal narrative, historical contextualization, and modern discussion can work, but i think it worked to kendi’s disadvantage in a lot of ways. sometimes it feels like he’s trying to match the timing of his sourcing to his own revelations, and in some of the chapters on gender and sexuality it feels a bit like listening to some dude tell you omg i was so x-ist, see how much i’ve grown? which only really works if you’re using sources later than 1897.

kendi’s basic thesis is that antiracism is an action, rather than an identification. here’s his basic outline from the introduction:

What’s the problem with being “not racist”? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “antiracist.” What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism. This may seem harsh, but it’s important at the outset that we apply one of the core principles of antiracism, which is to return the word “racist” itself back to its proper usage. “Racist” is not—as Richard Spencer argues—a pejorative. It is not the worst word in the English language; it is not the equivalent of a slur. It is descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it—and then dismantle it. The attempt to turn this usefully descriptive term into an almost unusable slur is, of course, designed to do the opposite: to freeze us into inaction.

this is a great point, and most of the early chapters are excellent. i agree that this is an important framework; only when white people stop being terrified of being called racist will we be able to be really effective at fighting racism. in general kendi’s commentary on Blackness is very good; it’s just that when he talks about stuff that’s not necessarily based on personal experience, the book goes a bit off the rails.

some of the language and sourcing is very out of date or awkward. kendi discusses internalized racism or interracial violence as “black-on-black” but doesn’t call white violence “white-on-white,” and he discusses “ebonics” rather than “aave,” to give a couple of examples. it’s oddly jarring. in general his sources are out of date; in the “gender racism” chapter he mostly discusses a kimberlé crenshaw text from 1991, and some of the chapters don’t get any more recent than w. e. b. du bois. obviously crenshaw and du bois are invaluable sources, but for a sweeping overview of intersectionality it strikes me as negligent. people have written about all these things in the last 30 years. it feels like he only brings up the modern day when it’s to denounce some right-wing hack, which just strikes me as very strange. is that liberalism or is it some weird affect specific to this book? idk.

i highly recommend skipping the chapter on sexuality, which is just a huge clusterfuck. kendi starts it off with, “Homosexuals are a sexuality. Latinx people are a race. Latinx homosexuals are a race-sexuality,” which, let’s break that down, shall we? first off, “homosexuals” is not a sexuality, it’s a marginalized group. “homosexual” is the word he’s looking for, and it’s a word straight people are Not Allowed to say (which kendi does, 10 times). it medicalizes the hell out of us. secondly, considering that Literal Day 1 of my mexican-american studies class was “latine people are not a race, also ’latinx’ isn’t a universally accepted term and is actually contested by a lot of people bc the x is unpronounceable in spanish,” asserting that “Latinx people are a race” is not a great move either. it’s a nice thought, but this chapter is a vivid demonstration of why making sweeping assertions about racist homophobia and latine studies should be left to qpoc and latine people.

kendi writes [emphasis mine]:

I am a cisgendered Black heterosexual male—“cisgender” meaning my gender identity corresponds to my birth sex, in contrast to transgender people, whose gender identity does not correspond to their birth sex. To be queer antiracist is to understand the privileges of my cisgender, of my masculinity, of my heterosexuality, of their intersections. To be queer antiracist is to serve as an ally to transgender people, to intersex people, to women, to the non-gender-conforming, to homosexuals, to their intersections, meaning listening, learning, and being led by their equalizing ideas, by their equalizing policy campaigns, by their power struggle for equal opportunity.

ok, let’s break this down, bc it’s a whole ass mess.
1. it’s not “cisgendered.” it’s cisgender. a google search will tell you that. “cis” is an adjective. yikes.
2. talking about “birth sex” as something your gender identity corresponds to is still transphobic, and it’s not exactly intersex-friendly, either. julia serano breaks it down here, but basically “biological sex” is a construct too, and using the term “birth sex” to discuss trans issues isn’t progressive in the Year of Our Lord 2019, and hasn’t been for a hot minute. just say “assigned gender” or “assigned sex.”
3. “my cisgender” kendi… dude… what are you even talking about here. just say “being cis.” i am so tired
4. this is more semantic than anything, but separating out “women” from “transgender people” is a little uh. uhhhhhh. also there he goes saying “homosexual” again.

this is a particularly egregious paragraph, but the whole chapter “sexuality” reads like this. kendi’s like “transphobia bad!” and then goes on to still use words like “male” and “female,” which a fair amount of trans people will tell you can be dehumanizing as fuck. i know that he places a lot of emphasis throughout the book on individual action/ideologies and struggles for liberation being about universal equity, but the way it comes across in this chapter is very much “i am definitely No Longer Homophobic because i discovered that gay men will not assault me and these lesbians also hate other gay people.” it’s well-intentioned, but i have to wonder at the fact that it seems like no queer person ever laid a hand on this chapter before its publication. it’s troubling, tbh. there’s a point at which your own personal experiences with a topic don’t measure up, and i think that’s what’s happening here. #cishets

kendi seems to be doing his damndest to stay away from anything even resembling a leftist mode, which makes some of this a bit contrived. like, i understand what he's trying to do in the chapter on whiteness, but i think most of the stuff he addresses is also still... just racialized classism? like, this book is making a case that bc of intersectionality, racism amplifies different kinds of marginalization. but I don't feel like you have to call it "class racism" to get that across? it feels like a lot of this book rejects more contemporary language and terminology to try to define everything as racism, which is useful in some ways, but in others feels like a bit of a snub to the really important work we've done in the last three decades. i understand how and why academic language and terminology can be alienating, but i think some parts of this book might have benefited from engaging with it, if only to refute it. a lot of the internal self-correction that kendi laments the absence of happens within theory, in my experience. yeah, it can be alienating—but i think you can make the argument that if judith butler hadn’t gone totally hogwild with gender trouble, we wouldn’t be able to talk about gender performativity so simply today. etcetera.

i had this problem with stamped from the beginning too, where it seems like his analysis is basically materialist but doesn’t go all the way there, probably due to the general liberal terror of actually reading marx. he calls classism “elitism” too, which is just… i dunno. it’s not the most progressive argument in the world. i would be more interested in a book that talks about different intersectionalities in a way that isn't so dedicated to keeping it within the very specific framework of "x racism.” some of the discussions try so hard to fit into the racism/antiracism binary that kendi’s posited that i think sometimes he neglects to just call antiblackness antiblackness. again in the “gender racism” chapter, a lot of the subject matter specifically addresses misogynoir, but the binary says he has to keep calling it “gender racism,” even when he addresses issues that specifically affect Black women.

overall stamped from the beginning was better; this book is doing a lot of important work, but it's work that you probably don't need to engage with if you already understand what intersectionality is and read about racism and activism on your own time. also, fair warning that it gets repetitive in terms of style/sentence structure/overall layout. i understand why kendi does that, formally, but it makes for a very dry read.

at the end of the day, though, kendi does tell you—as the title claims—how to be an antiracist, or at least how to try. support equitable policy; view people as individuals; be critical, patient, and kind. it’s a good lesson, even if he takes some odd roads to get there. i think that this is once again a case of me just not being a book’s target audience—i need to stop reading intro books and start reading theory. kendi’s proposed actionable moves (wrt politics) pretty much boil down to “put people in power who care about stuff and will change policy.” while antiracist policymaking is revolutionary in the sense that it makes the world better, it’s not revolutionary in the sense of revolt. it’s action within a system, which is just liberalism. progressive liberalism, but still liberalism. i guess it’s just frustrating to me to give in to the idea that the most helpful actions possible still involve begging a centralized state authority not to kill people. it feels like… the us government is literally mass murdering migrants, and there’s nothing i can do now to change that? it’s a really unsatisfying answer.

tl;dr this is a good, if dated, overview of intersectionality wrt racism that suffers from the general liberal inability to engage with materialism (and contemporary theory in general) head-on. i can see this being useful as a reference text or an introductory material. skip the chapter on sexuality.

eta 220820, since this review has blown up in a small way: i am no longer claiming this book is “good” overall. “fine,” perhaps. the more stuff kendi publishes and the general tone of his twitter make it clear that he’s in it for the grift as much as anything else. if you’re looking for an introduction to racism, i recommend starting with the autobiography of malcolm x. ✌️
Profile Image for David.
659 reviews319 followers
July 7, 2020
So you've dipped your toe in the anti-racist syllabus with Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility and now you're ready for some meatier fare. Ibram X Kendi is arguably the most recognized name in the growing anti-racist awakening that is gripping the West right now. But he wasn't always its greatest champion. Here he reflects on his own past, buying into racist ideas of laziness and lack of effort keeping Black people down in an inflamed and righteous sounding speech he made in high school. His own colorism and acceptance of White notions of beauty. His eyes being opened to his own homophobia and struggle to embrace intersectionality.

It's clear to him that no one is completely immune to the cancer that is racism when it is so embedded in our culture and such an integral part of our systems. And it is in this environment that simply calling yourself not-racist is no longer enough. You are either complicit in allowing racist ideas to proliferate or your are antiracist and expose and eradicate these ideas wherever you encounter them. Which is to say an activist produces power and policy change, not mental change. Changing minds is not a movement. Critiquing racism is not activism. If a person has no record of power or policy change, then that person is not an activist.

Time to step up your game.
Profile Image for Ashlee.
104 reviews5 followers
June 30, 2020
Gonna elaborate on why I was not a fan of this book. I'm sure there are people who will find it beneficial. I was not one of those people. I would never recommend this book for three primary reasons.
1. Dr. Kendi essentially wrote a memoir about his own racial identity development with a sprinkling of theory and unfortunately, his personal narrative and the theory would be better served as being two different books.
2. In his quest to tackle the harm of internalized racism this book spends a lot of energy unpacking the way that Black people struggle within their own communities while minimizing the the amount of power that whiteness has in our society, he engages in both sidesism on topics such as colorism, classism, and racism as a whole.
3. Kendi, engages in some straw man arguments especially in his engagement with Black Power & Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and I think it does a disservice to his argument by taking the time to critique the very valid claims by the writers of these books
4. The way that he chooses to define racism and confine racism to policy does not really give space for there to be important conversations had about the way that interpersonal racist behavior contributes to things such as racial weathering and racial inequalities especially in education and the workplace
5. I feel like overall the writing of this book is uneven in that some chapters are very well fleshed out and then others (namely the ones on Sexism and Homophobia) feel very rushed.
Overall, I came into this book with an open mind, however, I felt that this book does not live up to its reputation or even its own premise.

I did give two stars because I do think that chapters 12/13 and the actual narrative of his life story are compelling I just wish he hadn't tried to fit so much content in such a short book.

Other note: FOOTNOTES, yes there are notes in the back of the book, I read the Kindle Version and I found that the nonexistent footnotes made it very difficult for me to follow the references that Kendi made throughout the book.

So overall, no I would not recommend this book, especially not to someone who is just trying to get their toes wet into understanding racism, or to anyone who is going to read it on their own, this book would probably best work in a setting with a trained facilitator who could pair Kendi's work with other important texts in order to contextualize his thoughts and why they represent only one perspective not THE perspective on anti-racism.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,335 reviews118 followers
April 8, 2020
Kendi won the National Book Award for Nonfiction for Stamped from the Beginning—a history of racist ideas by progressive intellectuals including Frederick Douglass, and E.B. DuBois. In this book, Kendi examines his own intellectual journey to believe that there are only two categories of people in society—racists and anti-racists. Racists are people who allow racist ideas to grow without opposition. Anti-racists actively fight racist ideas.

Kendi highlights the myriad of ways that racism is embedded in policymaking. He suggests that it is policies that foster individual racism, not the other way around. Evaluating a group based on stereotypes is racism. Anti-racists should evaluate the individual separate from the group. Sounds good—something I will definitely aspire to do. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Aoife - Bookish_Babbling.
301 reviews310 followers
June 18, 2020

Pain is usually essential to healing. When it comes to healing America of racism, we want to heal America without pain. But without pain there is no progress.
(I am well aware racism is an issue worldwide but the author is American and thus his quote in this case is specific)

Plenty food for thought in this insightfully intersectional somewhat autobiographical look at how our own preconceived notions colour how we see the world - becoming antiracist will be a permanent work in progress as we must continue to check and hold ourselves accountable for the things we don't even necessarily realise we do!

Perhaps a bit more textbook'y and heavy duty reading than I typically reach for, so I opted for the audio which is narrated by the author himself. However it wasn't the easiest listening experience for me as not only is the topic itself is a lot to unpack and start to digest. But it meanders between a combination of essay style explanations and the authors own anecdotes which lead to the pacing seeming jumbled at times making the narration a bit of a slog.

Still a must read, hopefully the audio works better for you than it did me as I continue to strive to learn to be a better ally. I am also absolutely going to keep my eyes peeled for a copy of this author's earlier release and look forward to seeing his future work as well.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews870 followers
April 2, 2022
"What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what -- not who -- we are.”

2021-22 Book: 'How to Be an Antiracist' | UC Davis

Ibram X Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist contains much of what I'd read in Stamped from the Beginning, but alongside his personal narrative. In that way, he shows how his thinking has evolved and how people can move from an awareness of racism to become antiracists. One of the things that surprised me was his chapter on gender. I thought it worked really well here in addressing how we can move to a more just and equitable society. Even if some of the information isn't new, Kendi's story is engaging and his appeal is important.
Profile Image for Andrea Brooks.
8 reviews
June 20, 2020

Good idea to recognize the individual versus the race/group/etc. but this book equates racism/racist ideas with being conservative and/or republican/homophobic. So many times in this book the author does exactly what he is trying to get everyone away from - generalizing ideas to an entire group rather than the individual.
Profile Image for Kaa.
560 reviews51 followers
July 25, 2020
There are some valuable ideas in this book, but it's not one I'll be recommending without some major caveats, especially to white folks new to anti-racism conversations.

ETA: I recommend Ijeoma Oluo's So You Want to Talk About Race instead - I think it covers most of the valuable stuff, avoids the pitfalls, and offers more concrete suggestions for action.

My biggest concern: I can't take an anti-racism book seriously if it's going to talk as if anti-white racism is a real thing. And this book spends much more time on the topic of Black people being racist than I think any book intended to teach white people anti-racism needs or ought to. Of course internalized oppression is real, but Kendi is hardly the first person to identify it, and addressing internalized oppression is never the job of people in the oppressor group. This should be an in-group conversation - let Black people talk to other Black people about the ways that they replicate anti-Black ideas. White people need to focus on the ways white people and institutions uphold racism, which is the MUCH larger problem anyway.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,510 followers
August 1, 2020
The impetus for me to read this book was a book group I belong to on Goodreads which made a special focus for the month for readings on “Black Lives Matter.” “How to Be an Antiracist” as a title might be inviting for many but was off-putting to me. Sounded too didactic and directive rather than personal and experiential, but that was wrong. Yes, there is a lot of effort to achieve well-founded definitions and principles about the many layers and dimensions of racism, but the narrative is well-leavened with vignettes from Kendi’s personal life. Each excursion taps into his anguish over experiences that led him to various forms of racism on his own part and courage to transform his thinking and attitudes in stages. That honesty about straying down false pathways enhance the power of the book and inspired fruitful dwelling on the painful parts of my own development with respect to race issues. Listening to his voice in the audiobook version as I did also increases the power of his narrative for me.

Kendi grew up in a middle class family with an accountant father and mother working in healthcare technology, parents who were inspired by the black liberation theology. His experience with an integrated grade school made him painfully aware that his blackness was linked to lower expectations from his predominantly white teachers. Despite nurturing of a sense of worthiness from his parents, they and his school led him to forever after feel he was a representative of his race and subject to prejudices beyond his control:

At seven years old, I began to feel the encroaching fog of racism, overtaking my dark body. It felt big, bigger than me, bigger than my parents or anything in the world, and threatening. …What a powerful construction race is—powerful enough to consume us. And it comes for us early.

He is so laser-like in his compelling logic:
What is racism? Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities.”

Sounds a bit circular, but his thinking conveys a clarifying convergence. He favors the term “anti-racist” for the proper mission of enlightened people:
The opposite of racist isn't 'not racist.' It is 'anti-racist.' What's the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of 'not racist.
…The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what -- not who -- we are.

As examples of his own drift into racism, he inculcated culturally racist attitudes about the dangerousness of people in poor, low-class neighborhoods from his fearmongering parents. In a MLK Day speech at his high school in Virginia, where his family moved, he faulted blacks as a people for not completing the achievement of an equal society instead of blaming the policies that keep them back. In his teens he went through a phase colorist racism, expressed divergently in using lightening contact lenses and in a commitment to date only dark women. Later, as a student at an historically black college in Florida, the election of Bush over Gore due to voter suppression in 2000, Kendi found himself in the camp of a haters of all white people (reinforced by the impact of comparable voter suppression in Ohio on Bush’s defeat of Kerry in 2004). He also admits to overcoming elements of sexism and homophobia from inspiring black lesbian teachers and fellow students in his black studies graduate program at Temple University in Philadelphia. When he became a black studies professor, his students helped him work through his own tendencies toward ethnic racism with respect to seeing the social and economic successes of black immigrants such as the West Indians as a basis for judging African Americans as comparatively lazy with poor family values. All these progressions are variants of his experience of the dual and dueling consciousnesses that DuBois identified in his “Souls of Black Folk” in 1903, reaching for a sense of pride in being black while yearning to be or attain the privileges of whites.

This is a perfect book to shape up the mess of thoughts most Americans must feel about racism as a pattern of personal behavior, a social norm of communities, and a cultural tradition of history. He makes the case that activism to change the behavior of individuals is less important than changing policies that further racial inequity and inequality of opportunity or freedom. He dispels the notion that racist ideas are the major cause of racist policies, eloquently arguing that the more significant causality is that racist policies make the groundwork for spawning and sustaining racist ideas. Instead of hate as a prime mover, the institution of racist policies derives from a long history of self-interest, starting with the economic benefits of black slavery from the 15th century:

The history of racist ideas is the history of powerful policymakers erecting racist policies out of self-interest, then producing racist ideas to defend and rationalize the inequitable effects of their policies, while everyday people consume those racist ideas, which in turn sparks ignorance and hate.

I got the most reshaping of my thinking from his analysis of the history of the assimilationist frameworks. How no matter how you link it to humane motivations of integration policies like school busing, the thrust ends up to an attempted obliteration of cultural differences and a continuation of the old colonialist perspective of raising inferior peoples up to the noble white European standards. He is a bit short on practical solutions beyond somehow valuing cultural differences and programs to increase economic opportunities for neglected low-income neighborhoods. Even though conceiving of resident of the “ghetto” as victims of a cycle of despair and blacks as a whole psychologically damaged from a pervasive historical trauma of slavery and oppression of segregation, he warns of the dangers of generalizing this to a view that blacks are a debilitated or traumatized people.

Generalizing of all forms from the attitudes and behaviors of individuals to stereotypes of entire peoples and races is a type of thinking that is a core target for his conception of anti-racism, as well as for anti- versions of racist intersections with cultural, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation differences. Thus we come to the tricky issue of categorizing people by race in the first place. An approach invented by the European colonizers, reinforced by construction of a spiritual hierarchy by religion and a biological hierarchy epitomized by Linnaeus’ conception of 5 cardinal biological races--white, black, brown, yellow, and red. Darwinism and Social Darwinism had a long impact in reification of this sweeping scheme, but then the Human Genome Project came along and revealed how much we are all one race, the human race. For example it showed that 99.9% of genes are common among the races, and other work showed there to be more genetic variation with African native peoples than between blacks and Europeans. For me as a biologist for much of my life the conclusion can only be that we all have the same genes critical to essential human traits and that race is more of a construct related to genes for non-essential features such as for skin color and hair. In other words, race is a mirage. Yet we should still not seek to ignore race as a first step:

But for all of that life-shaping power, race is a mirage, which doesn’t lessen its force. We are what we see ourselves as, whether what we see exists or not. We are what people see us as, whether what they see exists or not. What people see in themselves and others has meaning and manifests itself in ideas and actions and policies, even if what they are seeing is an illusion. Race is a mirage but one that we do well to see, while never forgetting it is a mirage, never forgetting that it’s the powerful light of racist power that makes the mirage.

These issues affect how we think about our responsibility to enact policies to enhance more equity among peoples. In my role in public health and health care delivery projects over the last 20 years, it is critically important to continue to gather self-perceived racial and ethnic identifications to help measure linkage to economic, health, and health accessibility disparities. Such official recognition of the reality of racial distinctions is what keeps us in touch at this time with racial inequalities in COVID19 disease health and income impacts, rates of victimization from police violence, participation in census counts, and access to voting . Kendi’s logical progression on this subject is compelling:

Race is a mirage but one that humanity has organized itself around in very real ways. Imagining away the existence of races in a racist world is as conserving and harmful as imagining away classes in a capitalistic world—it allows the ruling races and classes to keep on ruling. Assimilationists believe in the post-racial myth that talking about race constitutes racism, or that if we stop identifying by race, then racism will miraculously go away. They fail to realize that if we stop using racial categories, then we will not be able to identify racial inequity. If we cannot identify racial inequity, then we will not be able to identify racist policies. If we cannot identify racist policies, then we cannot challenge racist policies. If we cannot challenge racist policies, then racist power’s final solution will be achieved: a world of inequity none of us can see, let alone resist.

Putting all this together into a personal perspective, Kendi gets pretty eloquent on the healthy current state of his identity tapestry:
I still identify as Black. Not because I believe Blackness, or race, is a meaningful scientific category but because our societies, our policies, our ideas, our histories, and our cultures have rendered race and made it matter. I am among those who have been degraded by racist ideas, suffered under racist policies, and who have nevertheless endured and built movements and cultures to resist or at least persist through this madness. I see myself culturally and historically and politically in Blackness, in being an African American, an African, a member of the forced and unforced African diaspora. I see myself historically and politically as a person of color, as a member of the global south, as a close ally of Latinx, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Native peoples and all the world’s degraded peoples, from the Roma and Jews of Europe to the aboriginals of Australia to the White people battered for their religion, class, gender, transgender identity, ethnicity, sexuality, body size, age, and disability. The gift of seeing myself as Black instead of being color-blind is that it allows me to clearly see myself historically and politically as being an antiracist, as a member of the interracial body striving to accept and equate and empower racial difference of all kinds.

Though Kendi doesn’t provide any detailed plan for fixing what ails our society, he should be pr
oud of his efforts to provide a conceptual foundation. I can see how he goes beyond just standing on the shoulders of others whose works I have been reading this month (Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth”, Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time”, and John Lewis’ “Crossing that Bridge”). In his current role as founding director of “The Antiracist Research and Policy Center” at American University he is in a good position to lead and inform efforts to improve policies. Toward the end he elaborates an extended metaphor of racism being like metastatic cancer, a vision inspired by an unfortunate but successful struggle he and his wife both went through. I didn’t feel the metaphor useful for understanding racism, but I root for the power of his experience as a motivational force for his important work.
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