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.
I’ve been working through Dr. Kendi’s work backwards starting with his coauthored book with Jason Reynolds, Stamped which was brilliant and then proceeding to this one. But it all started when I got the opportunity to listen to him speak about this book in an event last fall and it was such an emotional experience even though I’m not Black. And listening to this book through audio narrated by him felt very similar.
I expected this one to read more like an academic work like Stamped and it is that, but in equal terms, it is also the author’s part memoir. While each chapter talks about a different intersection of racism/antiracism, it’s also told through a progression of his own life beginning with his parents’ life and as an evolution of his own ideas from racist to antiracist. And that is one major reason this book clicks – the author uses his own experiences and how he had to confront his own wrong beliefs and actions to start antiracist work as the basis for the book – which allows us a reader also to be able to question ourselves, without feeling defensive, and challenging ourselves to be better and act better. And I really appreciated how the book discusses lots of intersections of racist policies, including but not limited to ethnicity, colorism, gender, sexuality, class, culture etc. It really shows how we can embody antiracist ideas across one spectrum but be racist across another, and how it is our duty to introspect and get rid of our racist ideas across the board and start working towards antiracism.
Other than the author’s framing of the importance of action and the immense need for the repealing of racist policies, what I also took away was the importance of defining clearly what we are talking about. In this day and age of social media and trolling, where the difference between who gets to speak their opinions without critique and who doesn’t is even more stark – it’s a necessity that we have the right vocabulary to talk about and defend our policies and positions, because there are too many people who would question us and engage in bad faith. And giving any unjust action the right word gives it a weight that helps us in understanding and explaining its significance as well as its impact. One such example that really resonated with me was the author’s explanation that “microagressions” as a word might sometimes feel minimizing because of the usage of “micro” in it and how the affect of facing microaggressions on the daily by Black people is in no way micro in the way it traumatizes them; and so it should be called what it is – “racial abuse”. There are many such examples and it’s this personal touch that really ensures that we can’t forget the ideas in the book easily.
To conclude, I think this is a great work to help us realize what kind of racist ideas we have been believing knowingly or unknowingly, and what should we do to dispel them and start on the path to do actual antiracist work and confront the racist policies that are deeply entrenched in our society. And the fact that the author wrote this book when he was undergoing treatment for stage 4 colon cancer and confronting his own mortality gives more heft to the anger and urgency that we feel seeped through its pages. We have to do the antiracist work, and we have to do it now, and waiting for someone else to come save us will only be a detriment for our society and country. I would also recommend the audiobook because he narrates it himself and you can feel the passion behind the words.