How to be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi (2019)



“The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.  It is ‘antiracist.'”  Read that again.  It took me a few reads for the concept to sink in, but as Kendi points out many times, “there is no neutrality in the racism struggle.”  If we’re not actively confronting racial inequity then we’re allowing racial inequity to exist–as bystanders. Kendi argues that there is no in between. If we say we’re “color blind,” then we’re not seeing race, and if we’re not seeing race, then we’re passive–because people of color always see race. Not seeing race is a privilege. That idea made me stop in my tracks.  How often do people–myself included–say “I’m not racist.” But how often do we say we’re “antiracist?” He goes on to discuss how we can be both–as he has been–sometimes in the same day or event or even moment. Throughout the book, he defines “racist” in multiple ways, but the overarching definition seems to be that believing problems are rooted in groups of people (racist) vs. believing problems are rooted in power and policy (antiracist) that disproportionately affects groups people. 

This is a challenging book–both in ideas and in style. Sometimes the writing feels very academic and scholarly and other times it feels almost stream-of-consciousness. If I hadn’t already read Waking up White, I may not have been ready for this book, but I came into this one with a new awareness and some new vocabulary which helped. The relationship between racism and power comes up again and again in both books, and this excerpt struck me: “The source of racist ideas is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest” (230).  This book could easily take a second read, but along with Waking up White and Between the World and Me, I feel like I’m getting a deeper understanding of racism and how it works and has always worked in our society. And how embedded it is in so many policies, laws, and constructs–whether we see it or not.

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