Updated: Sep 5, 2020
I LOVE THIS BOOK!
How to be an Antiracist
by Ibram X. Kendi
New York Times Bestseller
Are You an Antiracist?
About a month ago, I had been thinking about how to take to heart the truth that Silence is Violence.
I felt overwhelmed as I sought to find my place in a world that seems to be falling apart. As a depth psychologist, I am aware that what has erupted from the collective unconscious is a DEMAND to bring down all the systems that have been fueled by hierarchy and ranking, forced upon and sustained through physical and economic exploitation and violence.
I have considered myself to be fairly self-aware of my own white woman privilege, and as an active feminist in my twenties, I had access to powerful new perspectives, including the intersection of capitalism, race, gender and sexuality. At some point, I detached from activism and pursued life goals like children and career, for the most part unhindered by what my black sisters and brothers experience on a daily basis.
No Such Thing as Race-Neutral Policies
In the middle of my helplessness a book caught my eye, I think as a Linked In share. The title was intriguing, and Mr. Kendi had me enthralled early on:
“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 (p. 9).”
In these few words, he articulated something that I had felt in my activism days.
“I’m socially liberal, but fiscally conservative,” many of my friends and colleagues would say. It felt as if they were proud to say that at least they were socially liberal in their hearts, even though in every case they voted for the fiscal conservative. “You’re not socially liberal then,” I would counter with frustration, “because you are voting for people who are working against social progress at the worst, or not prioritizing it at the least.” For me, these friends and colleagues were taking a stand against issues that personally impacted my experience as a woman attempting to crawl out from under the thumb of a system that limited my potential.
Except during extraordinary times, the trend seems to be a forced and perceived choice between one’s personal economic self-interest versus working towards fully realizing our Constitution’s promise of equality and equal access to the pursuit of happiness. I’m not usually the cynical type, but I cannot help but believe this is by design. It’s how a dominator model of social organization sustains itself. The ironic thing is that these fiscally conservative policies more and more benefit only a tiny fragment of our collective community we call the United States.
Patriarchy as Foundation of Inequality
“A theory for Black women is a theory for humanity.
No wonder Black feminists have been saying from the
Beginning that when humanity becomes serious about the
Freedom of Black women, humanity becomes serious about
The freedom of humanity (p. 191).”
I was blessed to be exposed to bell hooks, who helped me understand that while as a white woman, I did indeed experience challenges due to centuries of oppression, but the white woman's feminist struggle was different than that of the black woman.
I love Mr. Kendi's book for so many reasons, especially its clear explanation backed up by facts, of how capitalism, which itself is founded on principles of exploitation, cannot be separated from racism, and all other types of oppression, whether related to gender, geography, class, or sexuality.
The chapter on class is particularly compelling, as the author unlocks the code words conservative defenders of “capitalism” use to demonize policies that promote true equal opportunity, as well as the people who promote those policies. I read it as, “If it takes one penny from someone who wouldn’t even miss it, it is undermining capitalism.” My desire to bring the founding "fathers" up to date is called un-American. The system thrives on this though, and many fall easily into the trap, supporting people and policies that many times make their lives harder too.
There’s a reason we don’t have pure capitalism in our country - and we should be proud of that. Anyone who thinks they are not benefitting by some kind of socialist-oriented idea is just not being honest with themselves. Pure capitalism is what caused those who defended slavery in the south to prevent its dismantling. Pure capitalism is why it was okay for companies to pay the lowest wage to whoever would work for it. Pure capitalism is what put families in the position of having to send their children to work instead of school. Pure capitalism today is why companies are allowed to put chemicals that are KNOWN to contribute to the development of breast cancer. I just don't understand why this is what so many are fighting for the right to do.
What conservative defenders of capitalism are saying according to the author is, “Capitalism [is] the freedom to exploit people into economic ruin. . . “ and I would add, decreases in fertility, sickness, and even death.
The Personal is Political and the Political is Personal
As a feminist, I began to identify all of the areas of my life that were impacted by some kind of policy. The 1980s brought to light the fact that committees comprised 100% of white men were making laws that impacted my ability to access affordable birth control, and even preventing laws from being passed that made it a crime to fire me if I didn’t fuck the boss. These committees of white men who could not relate to me dismissed concerns that chemicals being used in my hygiene products were known to contribute to my risk of breast cancer.
For a list of the many dangerous chemicals that are legally put into your everyday beauty products, click here. Beauty Counter not only sells CLEAN products, but is actively seeking to outlaw including these dangerous chemicals in the products that we use for ourselves and our children. (For information on how to support this company or to purchase products, follow my sister on instagram @michelelukovich.)
I love how Mr. Kendi begins every chapter with stories about his life, and how his experiences were shaped by his parents’ experiences, and their parents’ experiences. We all are shaped in some way, by our ancestors. My ex-husband was the fourth generation of his family to graduate from college. I was the first in my family to go to and graduate from college. You are just frankly ignorant if you don’t believe that my ex-husband had a leg up when it came to the expectations he held for himself, as well as contributing to his confidence to complete that particular rite of passage.
Mr. Kendi offers a rich and comprehensive description of FACTS that illustrates many of the mostly intentional racist policies that have sustained the system that hurts many people, not only black people. For me, it is clear how race has become a way to keep focus off of these policies. Instead, people are encouraged to make each other the enemy, including black people who demonize THOSE OTHER black people.
Every chapter brings the reader back to the personal in a way that is inspiring and hopeful. Mr. Kendi offers a framework of clear definitions, the credibility and power of facts, and a call to action to focus on policies and the people who have the power to create and enforce them, instead of demonizing entire groups of people.
This book inspired me to finally begin writing book reviews for all the many books that have inspired me over the years. Stay tuned . . .
What Are You Doing to Become an Antiracist?
I’d love to hear how you are self-critiquing, speaking or standing up, or doing anything else differently as part of your commitment to working towards becoming an antiracist.
Feel free to share a comment and PLEASE pass this book review along to your network!