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How to Be an Antiracist Hardcover – August 13, 2019
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“Ibram Kendi is today’s visionary in the enduring struggle for racial justice. In this personal and revelatory new work, he yet again holds up a transformative lens, challenging both mainstream and antiracist orthodoxy. He illuminates the foundations of racism in revolutionary new ways, and I am consistently challenged and inspired by his analysis. How to Be an Antiracist offers us a necessary and critical way forward.”—Robin DiAngelo, New York Times bestselling author of White Fragility
“Ibram Kendi’s work, through both his books and the Antiracist Research and Policy Center, is vital in today’s sociopolitical climate. As a society, we need to start treating antiracism as action, not emotion—and Kendi is helping us do that.”—Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race
“Ibrahim Kendi uses his own life journey to show us why becoming an antiracist is as essential as it is difficult. Equal parts memoir, history, and social commentary, this book is honest, brave, and most of all liberating.”—James Forman, Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Locking Up Our Own
“A boldly articulated, historically informed explanation of what exactly racist ideas and thinking are . . . [Kendi’s] prose is thoughtful, sincere, and polished. This powerful book will spark many conversations.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A combination of memoir and extension of [Kendi’s] towering Stamped from the Beginning . . . Never wavering . . . Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth. . . . This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory. . . . Essential.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“In this sharp blend of social commentary and memoir . . . Kendi is ready to spread his message, his stories serving as a springboard for potent explorations of race, gender, colorism, and more. . . . With Stamped From the Beginning, Kendi proved himself a first-rate historian. Here, his willingness to turn the lens on himself marks him as a courageous activist, leading the way to a more equitable society.”—Library Journal (starred review)
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For example, Kendi starts out each chapter by defining a word like "racist" or "success," supposedly in an effort to clarify things. But these definitions end up being more confusing than clarifying. Kendi's definition of racist is, "One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea." He uses the word "racist" twice to define the word "racist."
Similarly, the central idea of antiracism seems to be that all racial groups are equal, and therefore, any inequality is proof of racism, and any policy that arguably contributed to that inequality is also racist. This too, does not make sense. If inequality is due to racism, how can we explain inequality within racial groups? Why do white people in one state make more money than in another state? Why do chlidren from two parent households generally do better academically than children from single parent households of the same race? Racism can't be the answer. And Kendi rarely offers any proof that racism is the primary source of inequality between groups, let alone the only source. The book also feels overly long and highly repetitive, with Kendi driving home the same handful of points/ideas over and over again.
Racism is a real problem that requires legitimate, evidence-based solutions. How To Be An Antiracist is not that. It is a half-baked philosophy that many other black academics like John McWhorter have effectively picked apart. This book will undoubtedly earn plenty of praise from other self-described "antiracists" and white people who wouldn't dare say a critical word about a book about racism written by a black man, but the book is not convincing, nor intellectually rigorous. If you're looking for a guide to fighting against racism, look elsewhere.
I am White. I am an immigrant. My family came to this country when I was 6 years old, by far the youngest. I learned English fluently; while you would hear the accent of my older relatives to this day, you would not know that I was not born here, that English was not my first language.
I grew up on the idea of the Great American Melting Pot. Throughout my childhood and teen years, I was always seen as the person from the country of my origin. It wasn't until my college years that I was relieved to finally be seen as simply American, from California rather than from my country of origin.
The Great American Melting Pot with its goal of assimilation made a lot of sense to me. We kept our family traditions, brought with us from the Old Country, at home. But outwardly, I wanted to fit in, to be simply American. It also made sense from an historical perspective. There was a time when Italians, Irish, Germans, and others fresh off the (literal) boat were seen as unwelcome newcomers, much as many from south of our border are sadly seen today. These European groups needed to assimilate. Imagine if Italian-Americans and German-Americans in this country had been seen as the enemy come World War II. Americans never could have come together to fight Hitler's armies or Japanese forces in the Pacific.
But you may note that I've only mentioned the assimilation of white people from Western Europe. People from China and Japan also faced persecution when they first arrived here (as no doubt did many others). The internment camps created during World War II for those of Japanese descent living in this country were a disgrace. (Please read They Called Us Enemy by George Takei.) To mention nothing of the Black or Hispanic experience of being American in this country.
What hit me hardest about this incredible book is largely summed by by the following paragraph:
“Assimilationist ideas and segregationist ideas are the two types of racist ideas, the duel within racist thought. White assimilationist ideas challenge segregationist ideas that claim people of color are incapable of development, incapable of reaching the superior standard, incapable of becoming White and therefore fully human. Assimilationists believe that people of color can, in fact, be developed, become fully human, just like White people. Assimilationist ideas reduce people of color to the level of children needing instruction on how to act. Segregationist ideas cast people of color as “animals,” to use Trump's descriptor for Latinx immigrants—unteachable after a point. The history of the racialized world is a three-way fight between assimilationists, segregationists, and antiracists. Antiracist ideas are based in the truth that racial groups are equals in all the ways they are different, 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.”
I have always fancied myself to be not racist. But I can see that I have a long way to go: from assimilationist to antiracist. Even my assimilationist ideas were clearly not well thought out.
Read this book. It's eyeopening, even for those of us who consider ourselves to be enlightened.
Well written. Extensively researched, with a good deal of history, including personal and family history. Extensively footnoted. Highly readable.
Top international reviews
Expect the unexpected.
Transformative. Made me rethink my own personal experience and beliefs in relation to class, gender, sexuality and disability.
Can't recommend it highly enough.