Revelations and a Path Forward from "How to Be an Antiracist"
The other book I finished reading this week while at the beach is How to Be an Anti Racist by Ibram X. Kendi. I have one of Kendi's other books but haven't yet read it, and this one was a sort-of assignment by my Vodou godmother. We're having a house discussion later this weekend about racism, and she asked us all to read it beforehand.
There's so many great things to say about this book that this post could go on forever, but I won't subject you to that. The main takeaway is that Kendi differentiates between "non-racists" and what he calls "antiracists." Non-racists are generally people who think they're doing good but are just unknowingly preserving the racial status quo. Non-racists may say all the right things and even do some "good" things, but it never really changes the underlying problems. Kendi says that it takes action to build true racial equity, and those people who do so are what he calls antiracists. Antiracists work primarily on changing the actual policies that perpetuate discrimination day in and day out. Kendi even goes so far as to say forget trying to change people's minds; instead, change the policies and the minds will follow.
I think he's right. I'm often frustrated trying to change the minds of people on racism. I don't know that it works other than to keep them from saying things out loud. But what does that matter when it's the policies that keep black people oppressed? Kendi argues that in the past when policy change has worked, people generally come to accept those changes and don't want to go backward. Although they may have feared the change at first, they realize their fears were unfounded and see the change as positive. Think of integrated lunch counters or interracial marriage, for example.
The book also revealed to me how I've been on of those "non-racists" for most of my life, saying the right things and not really doing anything "bad" but otherwise supporting the racial status quo. I've been an assimilationist, as Kendi explains, not really valuing black people as they are but expecting them to adhere to an ever-changing standard that white people have put in place but don't even meet ourselves. As for policy, I've often thrown my hands up as if I don't have any power to make a change. The truth is that I didn't care enough to make a change. Kendi would say I didn't see it as in my own self-interest, and he's right.
This book comes along at the right time, as I am reflecting honestly on my own racism. I agree with Kendi that this isn't a one-and-done exercise. It must be done every day for my entire life. Kendi explains that anyone can be racist and any policy can become a racist policy. We all must regularly work on ourselves to detect racism and examine existing policies for racist consequences. How to Be an Antiracist is especially relevant in the aftermath of George Floyd's death, the resulting protests against police violence and the continuing racist expressions and acts by many Americans including President Trump. Surprisingly, Kendi is optimistic, which is encouraging. After my read, I feel like I know where I need to change and how to move forward.