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How have you felt about the status of racism in the United States? This serious question might have elicited different responses depending on your situation.
You may have developed anxiety or worry. You may think it’s improving after the most recent movement, Black Lives Matter. Or, you may feel that it was never a problem in the first place.
No matter where you stand, education is critical. And, Ibram X. Kendi’s take on the history of racism and combating racism is an essential read in How to Be Antiracist.
Keep reading to explore more about the book and read about how to be an antiracist.
Ibram X. Kendi’s Background
Ibram X. Kendi is a Black author, professor, activist for antiracism, and historian. He specializes in race and discriminatory policy in the United States.
Since July 2020, he has acted as the director of the Center of Antiracist Research at Boston University. During that same year, he appeared on Time’s list of the 100 Most Influential People.
Keni has published several books and academic journals. And, in 2016, he was the youngest author to win the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
How to Be an Antiracist
Kendi’s most famous literary work is How to Be Antiracist. It was a New York Times #1 Best Seller in 2020. Many scholars sang its praises and recommended it for people of all colors and ethnicities.
The book talks about the differences between being non-racist and antiracist. The two are not the same.
With overt racism, there is apparent harm to people of darker skin tones, especially Black people.
However, there is a danger to be had with non-racist individuals, too.
These are the people who aren’t overtly practicing racism themselves but also don’t speak out against others who do. Their silence and lack of activism create an environment that enables and protects racists.
Kendi makes it a point to say that being non-racist isn’t enough. We have to be antiracists so that deeply-ingrained racism has no excuse to remain in the United States.
We have to call people out when they’re being racist or performing microaggressions. At this point, it’s too late to stay blind to systemic racism.
StoryShot #1: The Definition of Racism Is Broader Than You Think
One of the most common arguments that comes up with racism is how to define the word. Many people say that it’s something that you can’t explain. Instead, they say that you’ll know it when you see it.
But, it would be best if you didn’t have to see racism to know what it is.
The problem with this dismissal is that it allows everyone to interpret the word in their way. Self-interpretation leads to misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and underuse of the word.
If we’re not the ones receiving the racism, we’re not likely to think it’s racist. People tend to push the definition whichever way goes in their favor.
Merriam-Webster’s definition of racism is as follows: “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”
Kendi addresses the definition of racism as he explores the history of racism. He elaborates on the topic. He includes that a racist is “one who is supporting racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.”
Notice Kendi’s inclusion of “inaction” in the definition.
Kendi wrote the following definition of antiracism: “one who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.”
The differences in these definitions give a clearer picture of what Kendi means. Kendi goes on to discuss the differences between non-racist and antiracist individuals.
Considering these definitions, you should assume that denying racism perpetuates racism. It runs deeper than you think, and we’re all guilty of falling into the societal constructs built on racist foundations.
StoryShot #2: Racism Is Everywhere
People often refer to racism as cancer. There is a pervasive behavior of racism as it penetrates all areas of our society.
People before us made it that way.
Kendi developed colon cancer at 35 years old. With the diagnosis, he began to note many similarities between cancer and racism.
Kendi’s physician told him that his stage four colon cancer had a 12% survival rate. In response, Kendi said that racism might come with the same devastating statistic.
Racism is in schools, hospitals, and precincts. It’s in the grocery store, at the gas station, and even at home.
There are too many people who have died because of the underlying system founded on racism.
Racism is more than a social problem. It’s a problem for the world’s health.
There is one significant difference between racism and cancer, though. Because we can see and quantify cancer, we are less likely to deny its existence.
We see the scans and start working on ways to stop its progression.
As for racism, we see the signs and ignore them. Society sits in denial, and many of us do nothing even if we do understand the presence of the problem.
Kendi beat his cancer. And, he believes that we can beat racism, too.
There is hope.
StoryShot #3: Stop Pretending That Racism Is Not a Problem
Many of us tell ourselves, “I’m not racist.” But, this isn’t enough.
Some people that say this practice more covert ways of racism, perhaps through microaggressions.
We may change the definition of racism in our minds to suit us. One day, Person A may think that racists are violent, so lesser acts of racism don’t count. Another day, they may believe that racists have to murder, so – again – lesser acts don’t count.
Bending the definition of racism is ineffective and often harmful. By taking yourself out of the society you’ve grown up in, you’re closing yourself off to your own feelings, behaviors, and thoughts.
We all need to recognize that we’ve grown up with racism all around us. No matter how against racism we may think we are, it’s ingrained in every single one of us.
That’s why it’s important to make the transition from a non-racist to an antiracist.
Taking a non-racist approach may take the pressure off of us. But, it doesn’t hold us accountable for the greater system that perpetuates racism. This leaves racism running rampant even if we aren’t practicing it.
Antiracism focuses on two ideas. First, we aren’t practicing racism. Second, we’re ensuring to keep ourselves and others accountable for racist actions, thoughts, or ideas. With education and enlightenment, an antiracist view can have a greater impact on society.
StoryShot #4: It’s Worth Learning What You Don’t Know
Kendi speaks to the fact that everyone could use more education on the history of racism and how to go about combating racism. Racist ideas run so deep within our society. So, it’s important to consider how we can challenge these ideas and improve in the future.
We don’t think the same things we thought ten years ago. While some of those changes may be due to maturation, the majority are likely due to education.
Take time to learn about what racism is, what it looks like, and how to combat it. With education, we can become antiracists who fight against systemic racism. That way, we can’t deny or ignore it.
Education also gives us the power of understanding. We must learn how Black people were taken advantage of through slavery, forced servitude, healthcare testing, and more. With proper education, we can’t understand how deeply-rooted racism is.
For example, healthcare professionals consider race when it comes to laboratory tests. The most common example is the glomerular filtration rate (GFR).
The belief is that the Black body has a higher tolerance for kidney dysfunction. But, the differences between GFR in Black and White patients can lead to underdiagnosis and undertreatment.
As a result, Black patients suffer in the long run. They don’t get the help they need. And, physicians aren’t likely to listen to their symptoms or concerns.
Black people also aren’t getting enough pain medication, adequate treatment, or medical attention. Black maternal mortality rates are inexcusable in this country. And, Black cancer rates are atrocious for our current medical advancements.
We need to educate ourselves on these topics to get to the deep issues. Staying on the surface level won’t cover the real story.
StoryShot #5: Look at Yourself in the Mirror
It’s hard to admit that we’ve thought racist thoughts or done racist things. But, we’re all guilty, no matter our skin tone.
We grew up believing that certain things were okay to say or think. But, with education, we can recognize these things and nip them in the bud.
In his antiracism analysis, Kendi wants us to look at how we may contribute to racism in our society. Whether passively or actively, we’ve each played a role at some time or another.
We may need to call people we love out for saying racist remarks. Or, we may need to stand up to our bosses when they make racist actions.
These small steps work to kill racism is people actively practicing it, whether they realize they are or not.
StoryShot #6: Separate Preference From Right and Wrong
We all have our opinions and thoughts about racism and how it’s affecting the country. However, many of us may assume our thoughts to be correct. Thus, we act accordingly by ignoring racism or assuming that it’s all some hoax.
While we are entitled to our opinions and preferences, we are not entitled to put those opinions and preferences over facts.
Fact: racism exists.
Fact: racism is pervasive in our society.
Fact: racism is killing Black Americans at alarming rates.
Once educated about the effects of racism, we can’t ignore the cold, hard facts that researchers and scholars have denoted time and time again. We can’t get our feelings hurt because a study shows that more than 74,000 Black Americans die each year because of inequity.
We may become uncomfortable with discussing racism, and we may prefer to ignore the topic. But, our preferences do not change the facts.
StoryShot #7: It’s Time to Step Up
It’s time to move from a non-racist to an antiracist sentiment. It’s no longer enough to ignore racism or not practice it.
We have to cut it off at its source.
Being antiracist means that we’re fighting against racism and sticking our necks out for others even when it may be uncomfortable.
Don’t think that you aren’t capable of making a change. No matter your profession or place in society, you have the ability to fight racism and stop its advancement.
Whether you work in a school or a hospital or a church, you have the means necessary to make a difference.
Stop making excuses for your racist friend or coworker. Call them out and ask them to think about why they’re saying whatever they’re saying. Take the time to educate yourself so you can educate others.
StoryShot #8: Be Antiracist, Not Non-Racist
We cannot become antiracist without taking action. If you’re not sure where to start, Kendi suggests supporting community organizations in your area. With them, you can fight policies that further disparities in the United States.
Whether you have the funds to help or time to volunteer, you have the power to make a change in your local government, schools, law enforcement, and more.
Kendi believes that championing antiracist policies is the number one way to practice antiracism. So, look into your local organizations and consider how you can make a difference.
No matter your skin color or background, you have the ability to make a difference. So, do it.
How to Be Antiracist Summary
Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be Antiracist bolsters antiracism over non-racism while teaching us how to be an antiracist. Kendi asks us to look at how we can make changes in our own society rather than sitting in the comforts of non-racism.
He wants us to leave our comfort zones as we educate ourselves and find the voice to make differences at local levels. Over time, we’ll cut racism off at its source together.
Kendi imagines a world where racism no longer exists. Let’s work towards it.
How to Be an Antiracist Quotes
“The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.”– Ibram X. Kendi
“One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism.”– Ibram X. Kendi
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