How to Be an Antiracist

How to Be an Antiracist

by Ibram X. Kendi


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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the National Book Award–winning author of Stamped from the Beginning comes a “groundbreaking” (Time) approach to understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in our society—and in ourselves.

“The most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind.”—The New York Times

Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. At it's core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilites—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their posionous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.

Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.

Praise for How to Be an Antiracist

“Ibram X. Kendi’s new book, How to Be an Antiracist, couldn’t come at a better time. . . . Kendi has gifted us with a book that is not only an essential instruction manual but also a memoir of the author’s own path from anti-black racism to anti-white racism and, finally, to antiracism. . . .  How to Be an Antiracist gives us a clear and compelling way to approach, as Kendi puts it in his introduction, ‘the basic struggle we’re all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human.’ ”—NPR

“Kendi dissects why in a society where so few people consider themselves to be racist the divisions and inequalities of racism remain so prevalent. How to Be an Antiracist punctures the myths of a post-racial America, examining what racism really is—and what we should do about it.”Time

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525509288
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/13/2019
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 261
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Ibram X. Kendi is a New York Times bestselling author and the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. A professor of history and international relations and a frequent public speaker, Kendi is a columnist at The Atlantic. He is the author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, and The Black Campus Movement, which won the W.E.B. Du Bois Book Prize. Kendi lives in Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


Racist: One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.

Antiracist: One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.

Soul Liberation swayed onstage at the University of Illinois arena, rocking colorful dashikis and Afros that shot up like balled fists—an amazing sight to behold for the eleven thousand college students in the audience. Soul Liberation appeared nothing like the White ensembles in suits who’d been sounding hymns for nearly two days after Jesus’s birthday in 1970.

Black students had succeeded in pushing the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the U.S. evangelical movement’s premier college organizer, to devote the second night of the conference to Black theology. More than five hundred Black attendees from across the country were on hand as Soul Liberation began to perform. Two of those Black students were my parents.

They were not sitting together. Days earlier, they had ridden on the same bus for twenty-four hours that felt like forty-two, from Manhattan through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, before arriving in central Illinois. One hundred Black New Yorkers converged on InterVarsity’s Urbana ’70.

My mother and father had met during the Thanksgiving break weeks earlier when Larry, an accounting student at Manhattan’s Baruch College, co-organized a recruiting event for Urbana ’70 at his church in Jamaica, Queens. Carol was one of the thirty people who showed up—she had come home to Queens from Nyack College, a small Christian school about forty-five miles north of her parents’ home in Far Rockaway. The first meeting was uneventful, but Carol noticed Larry, an overly serious student with a towering Afro, his face hidden behind a forest of facial hair, and Larry noticed Carol, a petite nineteen-year-old with dark freckles sprayed over her caramel complexion, even if all they did was exchange small talk. They’d independently decided to go to Urbana ’70 when they heard that Tom Skinner would be preaching and Soul Liberation would be performing. At twenty-eight years old, Skinner was growing famous as a young evangelist of Black liberation theology. A former gang member and son of a Baptist preacher, he reached thousands via his weekly radio show and tours, where he delivered sermons at packed iconic venues like the Apollo Theater in his native Harlem. In 1970, Skinner published his third and fourth books, How Black Is the Gospel? and Words of Revolution.

Carol and Larry devoured both books like a James Brown tune, like a Muhammad Ali fight. Carol had discovered Skinner through his younger brother, Johnnie, who was enrolled with her at Nyack. Larry’s connection was more ideological. In the spring of 1970, he had enrolled in “The Black Aesthetic,” a class taught by legendary Baruch College literary scholar Addison Gayle Jr. For the first time, Larry read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Richard Wright’s Native Son, Amiri Baraka’s wrenching plays, and the banned revolutionary manifesto The Spook Who Sat by the Door by Sam Greenlee. It was an awakening. After Gayle’s class, Larry started searching for a way to reconcile his faith with his newfound Black consciousness. That search led him to Tom Skinner.

Soul Liberation launched into their popular anthem, “Power to the People.” The bodies of the Black students who had surged to the front of the arena started moving almost in unison with the sounds of booming drums and heavy bass that, along with the syncopated claps, generated the rhythm and blues of a rural Southern revival.

The wave of rhythm then rushed through the thousands of White bodies in the arena. Before long, they, too, were on their feet, swaying and singing along to the soulful sounds of Black power.

Every chord from Soul Liberation seemed to build up anticipation for the keynote speaker to come. When the music ended, it was time: Tom Skinner, dark-suited with a red tie, stepped behind the podium, his voice serious as he began his history lesson.

“The evangelical church . . . ​supported the status quo. It supported slavery; it supported segregation; it preached against any attempt of the Black man to stand on his own two feet.”

Skinner shared how he came to worship an elite White Jesus Christ, who cleaned people up through “rules and regulations,” a savior who prefigured Richard Nixon’s vision of law and order. But one day, Skinner realized that he’d gotten Jesus wrong. Jesus wasn’t in the Rotary Club and he wasn’t a policeman. Jesus was a “radical revolutionary, with hair on his chest and dirt under his fingernails.” Skinner’s new idea of Jesus was born of and committed to a new reading of the gospel. “Any gospel that does not . . . ​speak to the issue of enslavement” and “injustice” and “inequality—any gospel that does not want to go where people are hungry and poverty-stricken and set them free in the name of Jesus Christ—is not the gospel.”

Back in the days of Jesus, “there was a system working just like today,” Skinner declared. But “Jesus was dangerous. He was dangerous because he was changing the system.” The Romans locked up this “revolutionary” and “nailed him to a cross” and killed and buried him. But three days later, Jesus Christ “got up out of the grave” to bear witness to us today. “Proclaim liberation to the captives, preach sight to the blind” and “go into the world and tell men who are bound mentally, spiritually, and physically, ‘The liberator has come!’ ”

The last line pulsated through the crowd. “The liberator has come!” Students practically leapt out of their seats in an ovation—taking on the mantle of this fresh gospel. The liberators had come.

My parents were profoundly receptive to Skinner’s call for evangelical liberators and attended a series of Black caucuses over the week of the conference that reinforced his call every night. At Urbana ’70, Ma and Dad found themselves leaving the civilizing and conserving and racist church they realized they’d been part of. They were saved into Black liberation theology and joined the churchless church of the Black Power movement. Born in the days of Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, Stokely Carmichael, and other antiracists who confronted segregationists and assimilationists in the 1950s and 1960s, the movement for Black solidarity, Black cultural pride, and Black economic and political self-determination had enraptured the entire Black world. And now, in 1970, Black power had enraptured my parents. They stopped thinking about saving Black people and started thinking about liberating Black people.

In the spring of 1971, Ma returned to Nyack College and helped form a Black student union, an organization that challenged racist theology, the Confederate flags on dorm-room doors, and the paucity of Black students and programming. She started wearing African-print dresses and wrapped her growing Afro in African-print ties. She dreamed of traveling to the motherland as a missionary.

Dad returned to his church and quit its famed youth choir. He began organizing programs that asked provocative questions: “Is Christianity the White man’s religion?” “Is the Black church relevant to the Black community?” He began reading the work of James Cone, the scholarly father of Black liberation theology and author of the influential Black Theology & Black Power in 1969.

One day in the spring of 1971, Dad struck up the nerve to go up to Harlem and attend Cone’s class at Union Theological Seminary. Cone lectured on his new book, A Black Theology of Liberation. After class, Dad approached the professor.

“What is your definition of a Christian?” Dad asked in his deeply earnest way.

Cone looked at Dad with equal seriousness and responded: “A Christian is one who is striving for liberation.”

James Cone’s working definition of a Christian described a Christianity of the enslaved, not the Christianity of the slaveholders. Receiving this definition was a revelatory moment in Dad’s life. Ma had her own similar revelation in her Black student union—that Christianity was about struggle and liberation. My parents now had, separately, arrived at a creed with which to shape their lives, to be the type of Christians that Jesus the revolutionary inspired them to be. This new definition of a word that they’d already chosen as their core identity naturally transformed them.

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How to Be an Antiracist 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Readolution 5 months ago
This is a bold book of reckoning. Kudos to Ibram Kendi for having the testicular fortitude to bring new ideas to the marketplace. Although antiracism isn’t necessarily a brand new idea, Kendi has placed his indelible stamp on it and will now be forever linked to it with this very important book. One of the things that impress, and is helpful in discussion and debate are clear definitions. As he did in his previous work, Stamped From The Beginning he is laborious about exactly defining the terms he uses. Readers will appreciate this as it helps to flush out clarity. And I would add, arms one against the attacks that are surely coming from all angles. I distinctly remember the debate around Afrocentricity and all the myriad ways that people defined it. The hijacking was possible because Molefi Asante possibly didn’t go deep enough in his definition of Afrocentricity, although that was later definitively corrected. Kendi is seeking to avoid this error writing, “defining our terms so that we could begin to describe the world and our place in it. Definitions anchor us in principles......Some of my most consequential steps toward being an antiracist have been the moments when I arrived at basic definitions....So let’s set some definitions. What is racism?” Kendi having spent time in Asante’s Africology Ph.D. program at Temple University might account for some of this diligence. We’ll come back to his definition, as that will surely become the cause of some attacks because he has dared to challenge long-held beliefs about racism, racists, and who can and cannot be considered racists. Whenever you are bold enough to offer new thoughts to the marketplace of ideas, you had better be ready for battle, and if this book is any indication Kendi is indeed ready. Alongside his guide to becoming antiracist, he offers his own personal journey which adds a personal flavor to the book and keeps it from sagging into academic boredom. So, for Black folk it’s true that many of us have a definition of racism, that excludes Blacks from being racist, well Kendi challenges that and forces us to possibly make an adjustment to our definition. That’s going to be a tough one for sure, but his arguments here are very cogent and considering his definition of racism, quite logical. When was the last time a book made you reconsider some defining principles? Wow! For non-Blacks, just saying well I’m ‘not racist‘ will no longer cut it. To wit, “What’s the problem with being ‘not racist’? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: ‘I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.’ But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “antiracist.” What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist or racial equality as an antiracist.” With chapters on Power, Biology, Class, Black, White, etc. Kendi has made a thorough attempt to spark a movement towards antiracism, that results in a world where people actively and consciously fight against racism. Is that a pipe dream? As detailed here in this text, if we accept the definitions then no, it is indeed achievable, but we must do the work and it starts with the man in the mirror. That was the first place I went after finishing this book and contemplating this new definition of racism, “So let’s set some definitions. What is racism? Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial
Anonymous 5 months ago
I have confidence that this book, when finally born into the world, is going to grow into a movement that will do incredible things. I'm a white woman. I'd like to think that I'm "not a racist". The problem is that I don't know what I don't know. This book was carefully crafted to include copious amounts of research and data, while also vulnerably and transparently sharing the author's own journey through racism. Through the course of this book, I've learned that being "not a racist" is not enough- progress is only made through Anti-racism. I've learned that well-intentioned people still sometimes do and say things that are painful, problematic, or flat out wrong. I've learned the importance of listening with humility to voices that are more educated and informed than I am. I received this book as an ARC via #NetGalley (in exchange for an honest review). I am normally a fast reader, and I read this book quickly, too, because I wanted to post my review in a timely fashion. Really, though, this is a book that should be read slowly, to give the ideas time to marinate in your mind and soul. This is a very dense book, and will give readers a lot to think about. My thanks to the author and publisher for the opportunity to read and share this important work. #HowToBeAnAntiRacist
Anonymous 4 months ago
This book is structured as an autobiography, with a concise analysis of America's problems with race woven in. By the end, you will both appreciate the life of this young intellectual and understand his diagnosis of where we are and how to move to where we want to be. I found it easily readable, and by the end thought that Professor Kendi deserves our thanks for his candor and competence as a writer.
Anonymous 5 months ago
I'm sure the book is good. But for B&N I'd give a zero, as they don't make it possible to download it!
WilliamsPhD 5 months ago
It is only fitting that this book is being released after the past several weeks of racists attacks by politicians and mass shootings in the name of White Supremacy. After witnessing these acts many Americans will say "I'm not like that, I'm not a racist. I don't have a racist bone in my body". Ibram Kendi’s newest book addresses that mindset. In his follow up to "Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America", Kendi argues that the dichotomy of either being a racist or not a racist is a false one. We must choose to be racist or antiracist. Kendi tells the reader how to be an antiracist by using history and his own biography. He chronicles his own personal evolution of espousing racist ideas at a young age to his transformation as an adult. Kendi places himself amongst the five individuals that he profiles in "Stamped" and in turn challenges us to question our own racist views that we all espouse. This is an extremely personal book not just from the author’s standpoint but from my own. Before reading his last book "Stamped from the Beginning", I would have considered myself “not a racist” but realized as I read "Stamped" that I held many assimilationist views. I also believed that I couldn’t be a racist because I am Black. In this book, one of Kendi’s most effective chapters dispels the myth that Blacks can’t be racist because they are a racial minority. He effectively shows that Blacks hold racist views of other Blacks which have been passed down to us by racist Whites. Ultimately he argues that people of all races (White, Black, Latinx, Asian, Native American, etc.) can be racists. But the good news is that being racist is not set in stone. Kendi tells us that we can change and become antiracist. Read his book so you can figure out how. Just like "Stamped from the Beginning", "How to Be An Antiracist" has changed my thinking for the better. Overall, Kendi’s writing is amazing and beautiful. I especially loved his use of transitions between chapters, it makes the book hard to put down.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Not great