Tuesday, March 31, 2020

"How to Be an Antiracist" - Ibram X. Kendi

The most powerful aspect of Ibram X. Kendi's "How To Be an Antiracist" is simply the myriad of ways in which he holds himself accountable for the kind of behaviors we usually look outwardly to find.

Kendi's book is both brilliant and simple. He essentially writes that we are either racist or antiracist - there is no in-between. There is no state of simply "not being racist" as we so often like to claim. We are either actively antiracist or we are racist. He then proceeds to construct his argument by first defining, with simplicity and great clarity, the definitions to be utilized. In fact, he begins each chapter with these definitions and follows his definitions by both intellectual discourse and personal experiences that turn "How to Be an Antiracist" into a simultaneous memoir in which he acknowledges his own behaviors, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that have been racist.

Yes, Kendi acknowledges being guilty of racism. Kendi's acknowledgement, I think, creates a safe ground for people to explore their own behaviors, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs.

I even found the book to help me broaden other views. For example, as an adult male with serious disabilities his definitions helped me discover my own internalized ableism and I found myself very convicted by his definitions.

I've got much work to do, but I think Kendi would likely say we all do.

While I found "How to Be an Antiracist" a brilliant work, I didn't necessarily find it completely flawless in terms of writing. At times, I found myself less satisfied by the memoir sections of the book and the ways in which Kendi would start off with a personal story then spend several pages exploring intellectual discourse before returning to story. While I understood the reasoning, a good number of therapists would consider it a diversion technique and that's how I occasionally perceived it. With Kendi, it was likely more an intellectual choice but it was an intellectual choice that didn't really work for me as it pulled me away from that which was more meaningful.

It's essential to realize that Kendi believes, and backs up with extensive research, that racism is not birthed out of ignorance. According to Kendi, racism is born out of its profitability and utility. It is rooted in patriarchy and capitalism. He documents support for this position, which was the foundation of his earlier writings and is consistent throughout each chapter of this book.

"How to Be an Antiracist" has a surprisingly accessible academic feel to it for a book that literally has pages and pages of sourcing. The book is listed at over 300 pages, but the actual reading stops at 265 and is followed by notes and resourcing. You may, and probably will, disagree with some of Kendi's conclusions but it's nearly impossible to argue with his research, documentation, and rather incredible sourcing. The book is written in such a way that I can easily see it being used in academic settings.

It seems almost cliche' to say, but this is, at times, an uncomfortable read but it's a necessary read.

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