Book Review: How to Be an Antiracist
Book Reviewed by Tony Lindsay
How to be an Antiracist is an instructional text written by historian, professor, and bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi. The teaching text begins by informing the reader that one doesn’t become a permanent antiracist; the best an individual can hope for is steady stream of antiracist thought to combat the racist ideas that have been drilled into American minds. Kendi;
And I’ve come to see that the movement from racist to antiracist is always ongoing… We can be racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what—not who — we are” (page 10).
Kendi believes that if individuals are constantly working on being antiracist, incorporating antiracist thought, then new policies will develop from those thoughts, and new policies will change a racist society to antiracist society.
Antiracist thought denies racial hierarchy; it argues that no race is above another, and that all races are equal; therefore, no assimilation or forced integration is needed. When antiracist thought is prevalent, there is no need for one race to uplift another race, none are superior because there is no hierarchy. However, getting an established dominating race (a body) to accept antiracist thought is challenging especially in America. Due to the historically false belief that Europeans are superior, most Western countries experience racism. In the text, Kendi identifies the origin of this falsehood and details the purposes for its continued life. He identifies the original perpetrators of the deceit as well the minions who continue to support the lie.
Kendi comes to view racism (the deceitful lie that one race is superior to another) as a disease, as a cancer, and he writes the untruth is eating away at America,
… racism is one of the fastest-spreading and most fatal cancers humanity has ever known. It is hard to find a place where its cancer cells are not dividing and multiplying” (page 238).
With so many Americans still believing and supporting the lie, unjust policies and laws continue to damage the nation by spreading inequality. Kendi proposes that the cancer, the belief in the lie, must be eradicated so new policies and new laws can form. New legislation and policies that will fight against racial, gender, and class inequality. The damages racism has caused are examined in the book, and one can clearly see the pathology of the belief and how catastrophic future belief in the falsehood would be.
Kendi provides a treatment plan for the nation’s ailment; one that is pragmatic and concrete, and the plan of action comes with some proven success. He moves away from theoretical programs that are based in assimilation and suasion; theories which were used in the past and attempted to change white minds. Kendi understands that power makes change, and the power to change racist policy comes from numbers: voters, people who are open to antiracist thoughts.
The problem of race has always been at its core the problem of power… Knowledge is only power if knowledge is put to the struggle for power. 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” (pages 208–209).
Ibram X. Kendi’s text, How to be an Antiracist, directs the reader in recognizing racist thoughts and actions in self and others. The book is sure to be considered an effective tool in the fight to create an antiracist America and world.