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How To Be An ANTIRACIST Book Review (2019)

Updated: Nov 10, 2022

Book Author: Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

👆🏾 Audio for your listening pleasure 👆🏾


Dr. RL Booker's Ratings

SUBJECT: 5/5

CANDIDNESS: 4.5/5

SIGNIFICANCE: 5/5

WRITING STYLE: 4.5/5

DID IT MOVE ME: 4.5/5

(Rating: 5 highest & 1 lowest)


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. It’s a cancer that we’ve caught early. (Kendi, 2019, p. 238).


Through the lens of his own childhood, college years, and adult life, Dr. Ibram Kendi takes great care to explore how the social construct of race and racist ideas have manifested within American society. Each chapter starts with definitions as to how he defines specific terms, which I found very helpful. He also teaches how one can combat all the systems of racial inequity by becoming an Antiracist. In the past, Dr. Kendi made it clear that he is not only writing to white America. He is also writing to black America because we too can be a racist, which he defines as one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea. Any time a person suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way, they are engaging in racist ideas. One specific example he gives in the book was how his parents held racist ideas towards other black folks.


My parents-even from within their racial consciousness-were susceptible to the racist idea that it was laziness that kept Black people down, so they paid more attention to chastising Black people than to Reagan’s policies, which were chopping the ladder they climbed up and then punishing people for falling. (p. 27)

It is very easy for us as people to look at other’s struggles and assume or conclude that they are where they are due to decisions they made rather than the problems of policies. In order to move towards becoming an antiracist, it is vital for us to wake up and recognize the issues of policies that have affected generations of families for centuries. Dr. Kendi defines an Antiracist as one who is supporting and antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea. Becoming an Antiracist should be the ultimate goal of everyone.

Dr. Kendi also goes on to discuss racism and how to become an antiracist in 12 specific areas, which are: biology, ethnicity, one’s body, cultural, behavioral, skin color, anti-whiteness, class, powerless defense, space, gender, and sexuality. The two that I will specifically highlight are “Class” and “Powerless Defense”. Dr. Kendi defines a Class Racist as one who is racializing the classes, supporting policies of racial capitalism against those race-classes, and justifying them by racist ideas about those race-classes.


He believes that it is impossible to understand racism without understanding its intersection with capitalism. In American society, capitalism has and continues to prey on unprotected consumers, workers, and environments. It also undermines small businesses and cushions corporations. Dr. Kendi stated that capitalism keeps, “poor people poor and middle-income people struggling to stay middle income, and make rich people richer” (p.161). Racism and capitalism are what Dr. Kendi calls the conjoined twins. To love capitalism is to end up loving racism and to love racism is to end up loving capitalism. He believes that we must all strive to be Antiracist Anticapitalist, which is one who is opposing racial capitalism.


Dr. Kendi defines Powerless Defense as the illusory, concealing, disempowering, and the racist idea that Black people can't be racist because Black people don't have [institutional] power. Over the past few years, I have heard many Black people verbalize that they believe that Black people cannot be racist. Dr. Kendi not only gives numerous examples of Black people who have held and still hold power, but he also elaborates on his definition by explaining that, “the powerless defense shields its believers from the history of White people empowering people of color to oppress people of color and of people of color using their limited power to oppress people of color for their own personal gain” (p. 136). I have personally seen this happen. Black people can be racist and we too need to come to grips with the fact that we are capable of using racist policies and justifying them with the same racist ideas as White people. Dr. Kendi explains that he understands that the United States is controlled by White power, but this power is not absolute. Black people do have limited power that can make a difference.


Overall, this book was a great read and really challenged me to address some of the racist views that I hold/held as a black man. I too, like Dr. Kendi used to be racist, but I am changing. I would recommend that everyone read this book with an open mind, open heart, and willingness to be challenged in all aspects of your preconceived ideas that you hold.


One of the concepts in the book that I do not quite agree with was Dr. Kendi's belief that racist policy must be changed before you can change racist minds via moral and education suasion. As a diversity trainer who engages in moral and education suasion, I have seen first hand how people have shifted their views on racist ideas and how they now vote for antiracist policies and express antiracist ideas. He himself stated that Black people have limited power and can make a difference in society if they utilize their power. So, to say that moral and education suasion cannot come before changing racist policies is not totally accurate. I say this because that person who changes their mind today about racist policies and ideas may one day hold power to change things on a much higher level. Nonetheless, this book was not just a good personal and academic adventure, but I believe this book will transcend time as the issues Dr. Kendi addresses are issues that America and other countries have been struggling with for centuries. (End of Book Review)


To learn more about Dr. Ibram Kendi's Antiracist idea view this interview with Jemele Hill on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzuOlyyQlug

 

Notable Quotes in the Book

"I used to be racist most of the time. I am changing...I no longer believe a Black person cannot be racist"


"An anti-racist world in all its imperfect beauty. It can become real if we focus on power instead of people, if we focus on changing policy instead of groups of people"


"White people have their own dueling consciousness, between the segregationist and the assimilationist...Blue Lives Matter and the All Lives Matter, the non-racist nationalist and the non-racist American."


"Racist is not the worst word in the English language; it is not the equivalent of a slur. It is descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it-and then dismantle it"


"We all have the power to discriminate. Only an exclusive few have the power to make policy."

 

Dr. Kendi's Definitions

Racist - One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.


Racist idea - is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior to or superior to another racial group in any way. Racist ideas argue that the inferiorities and superiorities of racial groups explain racial inequities in society.


Racist policy - is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people.


Racism- A marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities.


Antiracist - One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.


Assimilationist - One who is expressing the racist idea that a racial group is culturally or behavioral inferior and is supporting cultural or behavioral enrichment programs to develop that racial group.


Segregationist - One who is expressing the racist idea that a permanently inferior racial group can never be developed and is supporting policy that segregates away that racial group.


Antiracism - One who is expressing the idea that racial groups are equals and none needs developing, and is supporting policy that reduces racial inequity.


Race - A power construct of collected or merged difference that lives socially.


Biological Racist - One who is expressing the idea that races are meaningfully different in their biology and that these differences create a hierarchy of value.


Biological Antiracist - One who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully the same in their biology and there are no genetic racial differences.


Ethnic Racism - A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized ethnic groups.


Ethnic Antiracism - A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about racialized ethnic groups.


Bodily Racist - One who is perceiving certain racialized bodies as more animal-like and violent than others.


Bodily Antiracist - One who is humanizing, deracializing, and individualizing nonviolent and violent behavior.


Cultural Racist - One who is creating a cultural standard and imposing a cultural hierarchy among racial groups.


Cultural Antiracist - One who is rejecting cultural standards and equalizing cultural differences among racial groups.


Behavioral Racist - One who is making individuals responsible for the perceived behavior of racial groups and making racial groups responsible for the behavior of individuals.


Behavioral Antiracist - One who is making racial group behavior fictional and individual behavior real.


Colorism - A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between Light people and Dark people, supported by racist ideas about Light and Dark people.


Color Antiracist - A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between Light people and Dark people, supported by antiracist ideas about Light and Dark people.


Anti-White Racist - One who is classifying people of European descent as biologically, culturally, or behaviorally inferior or conflating the entire race of White people with racist power.


Powerless Defense - The illusory, concealing, disempowering, and racist idea that Black people can't be racist because Black people don't have power.


Class Racist - One who is racializing the classes, supporting policies of racial capitalism against those race-classes, and justifying them by racist ideas about those race-classes.


Antiracist Anticapitalist - One who is opposing racial capitalism.


Space Racism - A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to resource inequity between racialized spaces or the elimination of certain racialized spaces, which are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized spaces.


Space Antiracism - A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity between integrated and protected racialized spaces, which are substantiated by antiracist ideas about racialized spaces.


Gender Racism - A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-genders and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-genders.


Gender Antiracism - A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between race-genders and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about race-genders.


Queer Racism - A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-sexualities.


Queer Antiracism - A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about race-sexualities.

 

Reference - APA Citing


Kendi, I. (2019). How to be an anti-racist. New York, Random House.

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