Dr. Ibram X. Kendi — author of “How To Be An Antiracist” — drew a standing-room-only crowd of 300-plus to the National Civil Rights Museum Wednesday evening.
A New York Times best-selling author, Kendi is a historian, college professor, magazine columnist and frequent television commentator. His book, “Stamped From the Beginning,” won the National Book Award in 2016, making him at 34 years old the youngest winner of the award for nonfiction.
On tour promoting “How To Be An Antiracist,” Kendi is becoming synonymous with the term antiracist, which is a new word for some, including me. It is defined as beliefs, actions, movements and policies adopted or developed to oppose racism.
Dr. Kendi says society has focused on the intent rather than the outcome. Consider this: When people say or do something offensive, they often try to context it with, “I didn’t mean it that way. I’m not racist”
Or, to quote the President of the United States, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
While we we don’t know about the President’s bones, the outcome of his policies contribute to inequity, and that is a racist policy. Nothing new, said Kendi.
Slaveholders said they were not racist, instead picturing themselves as following God’s law and “civilizing” the Africans.
Jim Crow practitioners said they were not racist, arguing that separate but equal was fair and that things were peaceful until “outside agitators” started stirring things up.
Some have interpreted antiracist as anti-white and in doing so they are missing a key element of Kendi’s focus. Racist ideas, he said, make black people think less of themselves and make white people think more of themselves.
Many times, black people’s racist ideas are aimed at black people. “The only thing wrong with black people, is that we think something is wrong with black people,” said Kendi.
For a point of reference, Kendi referred to the outrageous casting call for the movie, “Straight Outta Compton” produced by Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy E’s widow.
“A” girls: the hottest of the hottest. … any race, but must have natural hair. “B” girl: “…should be light-skinned. …long natural hair only. Beyonce is a prototype. “C” GIRLS: African American girls, medium to light skinned with a weave. “D” GIRLS: …African American girls. Poor, not in good shape. Medium to dark skin tone.”
A perfect example of how not to post a job.
In “How To Be An Antiracist” Kendi discusses how color, geography, class, culture and other factors impact our perceptions of others. He supported his comments with data.
For instance, if black people are more violent, as some say, all majority black neighborhoods would be high-crime areas. However, it’s poor, black neighborhoods with high levels of long-term unemployment that have high crime rates. This suggests that poverty and unemployment are the issue, not the race of the residents.
Kendi asserts that there are not “bad people, but bad policy.” He cites a study that noted a 43 percent drop in violent crime arrests for black youths that participated in a summer job program in Chicago. Blaming the residents, allows us to say the situation can’t be changed, and accept the status quo. If we tackle the real cause, then we can make progress.
So how do we become antiracist?
Not by saying, “I’m not racist.” That is not enough. Just as important as the outcome of one’s actions is the outcome from inaction. Inaction is a choice. So if there is a policy, law or guideline that leads to inequity and you do nothing, you are basically saying you are OK with that policy, law or guideline.
“Being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”
Sharing his recent cancer diagnosis, Kendi likened racism to a cancer. The longer you ignore the symptoms, the harder it is to treat and the more severe the illness. You can’t get cured if you don’t accept the diagnosis and begin treatment.