How to be an Antiracist
“The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it,” writes professor Ibram X. Kendi. That is the essence of antiracism: the action that must follow both emotional and intellectual awareness of racism. Kendi sits down with journalist Jemele Hill to explore what an antiracist society might look like, how we can play an active role in building it, and what being an antiracist in your own context might mean.
Author and historian Ibram X. Kendi claims there’s no such thing as being 'not racist.' He explains that even inaction (simply being ‘not racist’) in the face of racism is, in fact, a form of racism. The idea of an innocent bystander is wishful thinking for Kendi; instead, there’s only racism and antiracism:
If racism means both racist action and inaction in the face of racism, then antiracism means active participation in combating racism in all forms.
Most people think “the roots of racism are ignorance and hate,” says journalist Jemele Hill. But after extensive research on structural and attitudinal racism, Kendi has a very different way of understanding what — or more accurately who — produces racism. Groundswells of racism don’t produce racism policies; in fact, it’s the other way around. Those in power use racism to justify their policies, wielding the emotive power of ignorance and hate as tools at their disposal.
Big IdeaInstead of racist ideas leading to racist policies, I found racist policies leading to racist ideas.Ibram X. Kendi
And why would someone rally the masses around racism? It all comes back to good old self-interest, according to Kendi’s research. It’s a craven calculation, but if someone wants to get elected, add to their profit margins, or just raise their profile, racism has consistently proven helpful.
One of the most popular strategies used by black communities to fight back against racism has backfired, says Ibram X. Kendi. Respectability politics have long been the go-to tactic for black communities, having been implanted by white abolitionists and passed down for generations.
Know the Terms
The subtext of respectability politics, argues Kendi, is that black people are partially responsible for the racist ideas directed at them because of how they act. This popular tool used for centuries to combat racism, therefore, is itself racist. And Kendi says this is an example of how convoluted discussions of race, even within black communities, have become.