My 2 Cents on How to Be an Antiracist
What’s new, readers? Recently, it was announced that Christopher Nolan’s Tenetand Disney’s live-action Mulan reboot have had their theatrical releases pushed back from July 17 and 24 to August 12 and 21, respectively. This is definitely the right move, considering coronavirus cases in the U.S. are soaring to staggeringly high one-day records. It wouldn’t be this bad if there wasn’t such a high number of Americans politicizing the face mask and warping it into a symbol for liberal snowflakes, and it doesn’t help that Trump is slashing federal funding for COVID-19 tests. On top of that, the bigoted monster recently retweeted a video that showed one of his supporters chanting “White Power!” Of course, he then deleted his tweet and a White House spokesperson said he hadn’t caught the disgusting phrase before retweeting the video, but I find that hard to believe.
Now, we’re also living in the middle of a pivotal movement that has swept the world in the wake of the senseless killing of George Floyd. Focusing on our country in particular, the Black Lives Matter protests are forcing us to cast off our deep-seated culture of racism denial, appreciate the racial prejudices ingrained within what we once saw as a post-racial America, and pursue antiracism instead of merely claiming we’re “not racist.” That’s why it’s an excellent time for us to turn to How to Be an Antiracist, the 2019 book by Ibram X. Kendi (Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America), the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. He offers a frank evaluation of the racial tensions that have been coursing through the blood of our country since its inception, while skillfully incorporating it with intimate life stories spanning his black liberation Christianity upbringing, his doctoral studies at Temple University, and his professorial tenure at American University. He scrupulously organizes the chapters by the various forms that racism takes to influence our society—including power, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality—and the judgments he puts forth are as challenging and unsettling to ponder as they are incisive and necessary.
It’s fascinating to pore over Kendi’s observations in this current period. Before the mass protests started, before antiracism began to make its presence heavily felt in our country, many of us were uncomfortable with broaching the subject of racism or acknowledging the racism we’ve perpetuated inadvertently. “Many of us who strongly call out Trump’s racist ideas will strongly deny our own,” Kendi points out. “How often do we become reflexively defensive when someone calls something we’ve done or said racist?” He goes on to argue we should shed the derogatory, “R-word” quality of the term “racist” and establish using it with a neutral connotation. “It is descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it—and then dismantle it.”
“Racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” Kendi states, while “antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” He believes we’re not permanently racist or antiracist. Instead we can espouse policies of both kinds, and we’re all capable of educating ourselves, growing as people, and striving for a relentless perception of our beliefs and actions. This is exemplified through a mercilessly honest narrative of his own personal journey; he opens the book with an account of a racist speech of his that won a high school competition, and he confesses to being a “racist, sexist homophobe” at Temple.
He uses these arguments to emphasize the concept that white people aren’t the sole contributors to our racism and hatred, that anybody can be racist in spite of their race, ethnicity, or culture. He denounces anti-white racism for deceiving us into viewing all white people as racists, and he’s just as hard on powerless defense for instituting the fictitious notion that “black people can’t be racist because black people don’t have power.” He’s especially critical of U.S. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas and other black authority figures who quash the power of their race by supporting racist practices.
I find it particularly interesting that he calls out the superfluousness of referring to systemic, institutional, or structural racism because racism is all three of those things already—yet we’re constantly hearing people discuss “systemic racism” at this moment, with the “institutional” and “structural” types mentioned less often. While Kendi admits to using these labels from time to time, he advises readers to use “racist policies” as a more accurate term instead. Personally I think we understand what “systemic racism” signifies, although I can see how “racist policies” might become a more appropriate phrase in the future.
There isn’t any better time than now to delve into How to Be an Antiracist, a piercing breakdown of the toxic strife and fallacious hierarchies that racism engenders in America, and a clarion call to adopt antiracist policies that will advance our country into a wholehearted state of racial equality and justice.
All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay strong, stay healthy, and keep fighting for Black Lives Matter and wearing masks.
Windup score: 97/100