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How to Be an Antiracist

A groundbreaking approach to understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in our society

By Ibram X. Kendi
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How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

How to be an Antiracist (2019) explores the causes of and solutions to the racism that plagues our societies. Drawing on his own experiences as well as political and historical insights, the author shines a light on what he argues is a truly antiracist perspective and explains how you can effect change in an unjust world. 

Key idea 1 of 8

Antiracists know racial inequality is fuelled by racist policies. 

In 2019, racial justice seems to be going backward. Just take a look at Donald Trump, the President of the United States, who reportedly once declared that “Laziness is a trait in Blacks.” During his election campaign, Trump also described Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals. 

Clearly, our age demands that decent people stand up against the racism that permeates every level of our society. And the first question to ask yourself is: Are you a racist – or an antiracist? 

What do we mean by these terms and how does the author define them? 

A racist is someone who communicates ideas that are racist or who supports racist policies, either actively or by being apathetic. A racist idea is one that posits any racial group as being better or worse than another, either biologically, culturally, or in any other respect – for example, when Thomas Jefferson declared that African Americans were “inferior to the whites in the endowments of both body and mind.” 

Racist policy is any law, process or rule that creates racial inequity. Racial inequity is when some sort of inequality exists between racial groups. For example, in 2014, only 41 percent of African American families owned their homes, compared to just over 70 percent of white families. Arguably, policies that are neutral or nonracist don’t exist, as every policy creates or maintains either racial equity or inequity. 

Importantly, in a racist society, it is typically the racist policies that are implemented first, usually because they benefit the racist policymakers in some way. The racist ideas come afterward and are used by the racist policymaker to explain and justify the resulting racial inequity. 

For instance, the very concept of race did not exist until the fifteenth century, when Portugal began trading enslaved Africans. Decades later, the idea of a "Black race" was born, and the Portuguese propagated the notion that people of this race were inherently lazy and savage, and therefore needed to be "saved." Thus, the self-interested racist policy came first and the racist idea that justified it came afterward. 

An antiracist policy is one that promotes equity among racial groups. Crucially, an antiracist policy may positively discriminate to achieve greater equity – and this is not racist. For instance, affirmative action programs, introduced in the US in the 1960s, have sometimes been called racist for favoring African American job applicants. But this type of initiative promotes greater racial equality and thus is not racist. In other words, positive discrimination based on race is not necessarily racism. Lastly, an antiracist idea is one that believes racial groups will always be equal and that they have neither good nor bad qualities, regardless of any ostensible differences. 

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