Title/Author: How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Publisher: One World
In a nutshell (Publisher):
Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. At its core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.
Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.
My verdict: This book opened my eyes to the many forms of racism and also gave me a glimpse into Dr. Ibram’s life as a racist and antiracist. This book needs to be read and reread.
Dr. Ibram likened racism to cancer, a disease that ‘has been spreading, contracting, and threatening to kill the American body…’ The chapters below show how racist policies spread its cancerous cells all over the American body:
My Introduction to Racism, Chapter 1: Definition, Chapter 2: Dueling Consciousness (Assimilationist vs Segregationist), Chapter 3: Power (Race), Chapter 4: Biology (Biological Racist, Biological Antiracist), Chapter 5: Ethnicity (Ethnic Racism, Ethnic Antiracism), Chapter 6: Body (Bodily Racist, Bodily Antiracist), Chapter 7: Culture (Cultural Racist, Cultural Antiracist), Chapter 8: Behavior (Behavioral Racist, Behavioral Antiracist), Chapter 9: Color (Colorism, Color Antiracism), Chapter 10: White (Anti-white Racist), Chapter 11: Black (Powerless Defense), Chapter 12: Class (Class Racist, Antiracist Anticapitalist), Chapter 13: Space (Space Racism, Space Antiracism), Chapter 14: Gender (Gender Racism, Gender Antiracism), Chapter 15: Sexuality (Queer Racism, Queer Antiracism), Chapter 16: Failure (Activist), Chapter 17: Success, Chapter 18: Survival.
‘How To Be An Antiracist’ opened my eyes to many things, and below is some of my reflections on what I’ve learned and what stuck with me.
How many of us often tell people that we are not racist? That we are color blind? I’m guilty of it, although I thought to myself how ridiculous that sounds (I mean how can one not see color?), yet I say it because it makes me feel better of myself. ‘The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism.’ The thought process from being a racist to an antiracist is challenging.I have often caught myself guilty of it, easily labeling other races, and easily calling others racist but not myself. Rewiring the mind is like teaching an old dog new tricks. It needs commitment, time and perseverance.
‘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.’
Racist policies tilt the playing field, benefiting one race over the others, robbing them of their opportunities, then they spread racial ideas. How so? They give the white people more help and resources such as their schools and housing developments (white spaces), more pay (white authors get paid more than black authors; a recent example #publishingpaidme, link here), and more job opportunities, leaving behind the Blacks and POC, making everyone to believe they’re poor because they’re lazy, less smart therefore don’t deserve success.
‘Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy. It’s a pretty easy mistake to make: People are in our faces. Policies are distant.’ We have been taught to fear black people, especially in hoodies (#TrayvonMartin), to stay away from ‘ghettos’, to see them as an inferior, troublesome race. On the other hand, ‘We are not meant to fear suits with policies that kill’ or white armed police even after the many cases of #policebrutality and abuse of power (#GeorgeFloyd #BreonnaTaylor).
But this can be undone. We are not born racists.
‘Race and racism are power constructs of the modern world. For roughly two hundred thousand years, before race and racism were constructed in the fifteenth century, humans saw color but did not group the colors into continental races, did not commonly attach negative and positive characteristics to those colors and rank the races to justify racial inequity, to reinforce racist power and policy. Racism is not even six hundred years old.’
The racist policies make us racists. ‘A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups.’ ‘By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people.’ Racist policies make the rich richer, the poor poorer, the powerful more powerful, the helpless more helpless, the discriminated pushed further down the ladder (black women, transgender people, homosexuals).
I have always thought assimilationist ideas are formed with good intentions. While they are, they are racist ideas. ‘…assimilationist ideas are rooted in the notion that certain racial groups are culturally or behaviorally inferior, and segregationist ideas spring from a belief in genetic racial distinction and fixed hierarchy.’ What we need are not assimilationist ideas but antiracist ideas and policies that call for equity between all racial groups.
According to Dr. Ibram, racism can be treated in the way cancer is treated. ‘Remove any remaining racist policies, the way surgeons remove the tumors. Ensure there are clear margins, meaning to cancer cells of inequity left in the body politic, only the healthy cells of equity.’
Of course what I mentioned here is just tip of the iceberg. Dr. Ibram has more to point out such as history on racism, its other forms (such as colorism, ethnic racism, gender racism, queer racism) and how we can be an antiracist and beat this disease. He also takes us on his journey of his struggles about finding himself (‘I wanted to be Black but did not want to look Black’) and his voice in this racist world; relearning and reeducating himself on racism; of abandoning his dream to become a sports journalist when he found himself pulled towards works on racism; meeting people who inspired and challenged him, to fighting his own battle with cancer and winning it.
This book reads like a semi-autobiography, interspersed with themes that are connected to each other by chapters, making the entire book flow seamlessly. A thoroughly researched book, written in a clear, concise manner making it very accessible and readable.
Racism is everywhere. It is as prevalent here as it is in my home country, Malaysia, where books have been banned, protesters have been imprisoned, and organizations have been shut down if the government believes that they shed a negative light on the government and its racist policies.
We must fight racism if we want a better, fairer world for our children and those we love.
‘…the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it – and then dismantle it’, which is why it is extremely important to read about it, to be fully aware of what racism is, to be able to identify it when it takes place, then fight it.Tweet
Have you read this book? What were your thoughts? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Have you read any other books on racism which you’d like to recommend? Please share with me your thoughts!
Here’s a link on how else we can support #blacklivesmatter.
Here’s a list of books on understanding racism recommended by Dr. Ibram, a list he specially created for O Magazine. He has also written ‘Stamped from the Beginning’ which I hope to read too.
There are many other books on racism that we can read as well. Here are some I’ve read and reviewed. (Clink on picture for the review)