How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi – My Six Lessons and Takeaways

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How to be an Antiracist copyWhat’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.
There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism.
Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist


Our country is so divided.  In so many ways.

Race is one of those ways.

And there are plenty of folks who say, in one way or another, that America suffers from systemic racism.  Others say there is no racism, and certainly no systemic racism.

I come down on the side that says that, alas, racism is still alive, and well, and even openly present and visible, in so many places; in so many ways.

Just recently (as I write), there have been multiple stories of raciest actions, and statements, and images, from the Ft. Worth Police Department, to a legendary advertising firm in Dallas, and many, many more across our land.

For the last four months, I have been presenting one book a month on racial issues at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  (I normally present two business books a month.  For these months, it was one business book and one book on racial issues).

I am not new to this.  I have been presenting books on poverty, social justice, and racial issues for over 15 years for the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare.  In addition, I focused a great deal on the rhetoric of the Civil Rights movement in my graduate work, and my wife and I have taken some history-focused vacations, with emphasis on civil rights history, over the last few years.  We have visited Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, Little Rock, and Memphis.

All of this is to say that I have done more than just read a book or two.  And I feel like I chose four very good and needed books for this short series on race.

In this post, I will share my lessons and takeaways from the 4th book I presented in my short series at the First Friday Book SynopsisHow to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X.Kendi.

This book is…a true must read; an essential book for this era.

In my synopses, I always begin with:

What is the point? — In addition to the actual harm of (overt) racism, the ongoing danger comes from nonracists who, by their silence and lack of activism, help perpetuate a racist society.

And I ask, why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons for this book:

#1 – This book is another candid, heart-wrenching look at the overt racism in our past as a country; including the racism of our elected, influential officials and leaders. 
#2 – This book is a painful reminder that policies are enacted and protected that perpetuate the racism in our society. 
#3 – This book is a clear call to be an antiracist.  It provides strategies, and a touch of motivation, to keep fighting the antiracist battle.

I always include many (a few pages of) Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages.  Here are a few that I included in my synopsis handout ( a few more than I usually include in my blog posts):

• Denial is the heartbeat of racism, beating across ideologies, races, and nations.
• And I’ve come to see that the movement from racist to antiracist is always ongoing—it requires understanding and snubbing racism based on biology, ethnicity, body, culture, behavior, color, space, and class. 
• I cannot disconnect my parents’ religious strivings to be Christian from my secular strivings to be an antiracist. And the key act for both of us was defining our terms so that we could begin to describe the world and our place in it. 
• 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. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups. 
• Racist policies have been described by other terms: “institutional racism,” “structural racism,” and “systemic racism,” for instance.  “Racist policy” is more tangible and exacting, and more likely to be immediately understood by people, including its victims, who may not have the benefit of extensive fluency in racial terms.  “Institutional racism” and “structural racism” and “systemic racism” are redundant. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.  …Focusing on “racial discrimination” takes our eyes off the central agents of racism: racist policy and racist policymakers, or what I call racist power.
• So what is a racist idea? A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.  An antiracist idea is any idea that suggests the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences—that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group. Antiracist ideas argue that racist policies are the cause of racial inequities.
• 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. 
• 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. 
• The history of the United States offers a parade of intra-racial ethnic power relationships: Anglo-Saxons discriminating against Irish Catholics and Jews; Cuban immigrants being privileged over Mexican immigrants; the model-minority construction that includes East Asians and excludes Muslims from South Asia. It’s a history that began with early European colonizers referring to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole as the “Five Civilized Tribes” of Native Americans, as compared to other “wild” tribes. 
• Unarmed Black bodies—which apparently look armed to fearful officers—are about twice as likely to be killed as unarmed White bodies. 
• Black people are apparently responsible for calming the fears of violent cops in the way women are supposedly responsible for calming the sexual desires of male rapists. 
• A study that used National Longitudinal Survey of Youth data from 1976 to 1989 found that young Black males engaged in more violent crime than young White males. But when the researchers compared only employed young males of both races, the differences in violent behavior vanished. …Another study found that the 2.5 percent decrease in unemployment between 1992 and 1997 resulted in a decrease of 4.3 percent for robbery, 2.5 percent for auto theft, 5 percent for burglary, and 3.7 percent for larceny.
• WHEN THE REACTION to the Nazi Holocaust marginalized biological racism, cultural racism stepped into its place. 
• In 2007, MSNBC’s Don Imus compared Rutgers’s Dark basketball players—“that’s some nappy-headed hos there”—to Tennessee’s Light players—“they all look cute”—after they played in the NCAA women’s championship.
• Blacks were ten times more likely than Whites to have their ballots rejected. …That left one explanation, one that at first I could not readily admit: racism. A total of 179,855 ballots were invalidated by Florida election officials in a race ultimately won by 537 votes.
• White officers are far and away more likely to be racist than Black officers these days.
• Nearly all (92 percent) of White officers surveyed agreed with the post-racial idea that “our country has made the changes needed to give Blacks equal rights with Whites.”
• Only 6 percent of White officers co-signed the antiracist idea that “our country needs to continue making changes to give Blacks equal rights with Whites,” compared to 69 percent of Black officers.
• There were multiple ways of seeing the world, he argued. But too many Black people were “looking out” at the world from a European “center,” which was taken as the only point from which to see the world—through European cultures masquerading as world cultures, European religions masquerading as world religions, European history masquerading as world history. …“The rejection of European particularism as universal is the first stage of our coming intellectual struggle,” Professor Asante wrote.
• Banks remain twice as likely to offer loans to White entrepreneurs than to Black entrepreneurs.
• “For many years it was the theory of most Negro leaders…that white America did not know of or realize the continuing plight of the Negro.”
• They were reacting to the same moderate and liberal and assimilationist forces that all these years later still reduce racism to the individual acts of White Klansmen and Jim Crow politicians and Tea Party Republicans and N-word users and White nationalist shooters… …‘Respectable’ individuals can absolve themselves from individual blame: they would never plant a bomb in a church; they would never stone a black family,” Toure and Hamilton wrote. “But they continue to support political officials and institutions that would and do perpetuate institutionally racist policies. The term “institutionally racist policies” is more concrete than “institutional racism.” (Du Bois). …Today there can be no doubt that Americans know the facts; and yet they remain for the most part indifferent and unmoved.”
• What gives me hope is a simple truism. Once we lose hope, we are guaranteed to lose.

Here are a few of the points and key thoughts from the book, that I included in my synopsis:

  • The options:
  • you can be racist
  • you can (claim to be) nonracist
  • you can be antiracist 
  • A key point — definitions matter:
  • Definitions anchor us in principles. This is not a light point: If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals.
  • Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities.
  • Racial Inequity: Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing. …Here’s an example of racial inequity: 71 percent of White families lived in owner-occupied homes in 2014, compared to 45 percent of Latinx families and 41 percent of Black families.
  • We can unknowingly strive to be a racist. We can knowingly strive to be an antiracist.
  • About systemic racism
  • two kinds of racism in Birmingham — In the way investigators can figure out exactly who those church bombers were, investigators can figure out exactly what policies caused five hundred Black babies to die each year and who put those policies in place.
  • Racism has its tentacles everywhere — Do-nothing climate policy is racist policy…    
  • Assimilationist ideas are racist ideas
  • Assimilationist ideas and segregationist ideas are the two types of racist ideas, the duel within racist thought.
  • The centrality of the notion of hierarchy; “my group is above your group…”
  • From the beginning, to make races was to make racial hierarchy.
  • That is the central double standard in ethnic racism: loving one’s position on the ladder above other ethnic groups and hating one’s position below that of other ethnic groups.
  • Whoever makes the cultural standard makes the cultural hierarchy. The act of making a cultural standard and hierarchy is what creates cultural racism.
  • About strategy
  • it all revolves around policy change — Individual behaviors can shape the success of individuals. But policies determine the success of groups.
  • Thus, the call is to be an activist:
  • Changing minds is not a movement. Critiquing racism is not activism. Changing minds is not activism. An activist produces power and policy change, not mental change. …If a person has no record of power or policy change, then that person is not an activist.
  • We use the terms “demonstration” and “protest” interchangeably, at our own peril, like we interchangeably use the terms “mobilizing” and “organizing.” — A protest is organizing people for a prolonged campaign that forces racist power to change a policy. A demonstration is mobilizing people momentarily to publicize a problem.
  • So, what to do?
  • Admit racial inequity is a problem of bad policy, not bad people. Identify racial inequity in all its intersections and manifestations. Investigate and uncover the racist policies causing racial inequity. Invent or find antiracist policy that can eliminate racial inequity. Figure out who or what group has the power to institute antiracist policy. Disseminate and educate about the uncovered racist policy and antiracist policy correctives. Work with sympathetic antiracist policymakers to institute the antiracist policy. Deploy antiracist power to compel or drive from power the unsympathetic racist policymakers in order to institute the antiracist policy. Monitor closely to ensure the antiracist policy reduces and eliminates racial inequity. When policies fail, do not blame the people. Start over and seek out new and more effective antiracist treatments until they work. Monitor closely to prevent new racist policies from being instituted. 

And here are my five lessons and takeaways:

#1 – Quit pretending that racism is not still a problem.  It is.
#2 – Maybe do some serious study.  What you don’t know is probably worth learning, and worth knowing.
#3 – Maybe do some serious self-examination.  How have you contributed to the racism in our society?
#4 – Learn to separate your preference from what is right and wrong.
#5 – Maybe it is time to _________________.  {You fill in the black, with the action(s) you feel like you need to take).

We are all “ignorant” (i.e, uninformed) about many things.  But maybe it is time to get much better informed about issues of race.  If you would read this book, and the earlier book by Mr. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning, you would likely become a more informed person about this crucial subject – this crucial societal and human issue – so important in this critical time on our country.

White Fragility

Here are the four books I presented on racial issues at the First Friday Book Synopsis:
July, 2020 — Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (National Book Award Winner) by Ibram X. Kendi. Bold Type Books; Reprint edition (August 15, 2017).
August, 2020 — White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, Foreword by Michael Eric Dyson. Beacon Press. 2018.
September, 2020 — The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein.  Liveright. 2017.
October, 2020 — How to Be an Antiracist – August 13, 2019 by Ibram X. Kendi. One World; First Edition (August 13, 2019).


My synopses are available to purchase.  Each synopsis comes with my full comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, and the audio recording of my presentation.  Click here for our newest additions.  This synopsis will be uploaded and available soon.

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