September 16, 2019 by epoetus
Ibram X. Kendi has struck a chord with his latest book “How To Be An Antiracist.” Reading it makes one realize the true breadth of his message as it goes well beyond this culture’s Black, Latinx, Asians and Middle Eastern racism. This is not a criticism of Ibram’s book, but we cannot separate his comprehensive reasoning from related racist-like policies for misogyny, ageism, religious bigotry, disabilities and a bunch of others either related to or completely overlooked here. This is not meant to be a “we should all be ashamed of ourselves” guilt trip type of message either. Ibram’s way of thinking unravels a framework of racist-like policies, cultural thinking, and other constraints that drive our behaviors and the behavior of our society. We should therefore view this as an awakening to a new message – a new worldview. Realizing this feels analogous to becoming aware that one has been ‘brainwashed’ into making consistently bad decisions and that one is compelled to do something about it. Ironically Ibram’s racist opponents often accuse this ‘antiracist’ initiative of ‘brainwashing’ people.
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Antiracism – a definition
But this is jumping over the groundwork needed to arrive at this article’s conclusion. First let’s talk about racism and the need for antiracism in Ibram’s terms. He uses a simple logical expression for this:
“The opposite of racist, isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘antiracist.’”
The justification for this statement is as follows: If our society is by default racist, meaning that its institutions reinforce racism and the way the culture operates has deeply incorporated a belief in racist policies, then saying and believing you are ‘not racist’ is invalid. Our society is by default racist, and that can be easily proven (e.g. the institutional policies of Mass Incarceration and “The New Jim Crow”). To be truly opposed to what is ingrained in our society mandates that we adopt the position of being ‘antiracist’ because we must actively undo the racism around us. Therefore the ‘not racist’ position of effectively doing nothing is tacitly accepting the world as it is which is a logical admission that you support ‘racism’ and you are a racist. We should not be upset about this observation, as even Ibram admits that he has racist behaviors and is working hard to remedy this.
A definition of racist by Merriam-Webster:
a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
A definition of anti-racist by Cambridge:
Opposed to the unfair treatment of people who belong to other races
NOTE: there is a reference here to ‘who belong to other races’ which according to Ibram is actually incorrect. In his book he talks a lot about how black people are racists in their behaviors towards blacks (e.g. “The War on Drugs.)
This book is very much about the semantics underlying these words we’ve used our whole lives. It calls into question the assumptions that we’ve made about them, and dispassionately forces us to realign our thinking so that we as a society are better equipped to produce the society we really want. If we want a society where Blacks, Latinx, Asians and Middle Eastern people are all treated equally and fairly, then we must get on the ‘antiracist’ train and do the hard work required to make it happen – the problem will not get solved on its own.
Where does this take us?
Ibram X. Kendi’s antiracist message resonates well beyond the scope of his book, and he deserves the credit for raising this awareness. To go back to the beginning of this article, we must also acknowledge that similar policies and cultural thinking also apply to women, old and young people, people of non-Christian religions, and people with disabilities – this list is incomplete. Policies that marginalize these parts of our society cannot be labelled racist, because they are not directly about race. The antiracist message applies to all of the above, however, and begs the question: What word can we apply to this? If the objective of these policies and associated cultural thinking is to maintain the ‘status quo’ which appears to be becoming increasingly undemocratic and unequal in terms of the distribution of wealth and income, meaning that the few are getting richer at the expense of the many, then maybe the terms anticolonization or anticapitalist fits. Certainly our history shows that colonization (e.g. “The Trail Of Tears”) and our deeply rooted belief in the ideology of capitalism is at the heart of how this nation has become a dominant world power in under 300 years. Clearly a comprehensive set of policies designed to treat such large segments of our population as inferior, can be argued as also being part of an undemocratic strategy of ‘divide and conquer.’ Why couldn’t we turn this process of taking over, and the associated extractive processes of concentrating the wealth into the hands of the few who control these processes, into an abstract message about the colonizing of the people of this country and the policies driving colonization and capitalism? Maybe other terms will arise to fill this gap, but for now ‘anticolonization’ and ‘anticapitalism’ seem to fit as the words to use for this broader message.
A definition of Colonization from Wiktionary:
(Social Sciences) The process of colonizing or taking over.
NOTE: many definitions of colonization pertain to the idea of establishing a colony, but the real purpose to colonization is taking over so that you can control the extraction of resources.
A definition of anti-capitalist from the urban dictionary:
A term used by strongly conservative people to describe those with tendings towards socialist policies, such as public healthcare, subsidized housing, etc, and paint them in a negative light.
NOTE: it is interesting to think that anti-capitalist means that you are probably a democratic socialist.
Ibram’s book compels us to become more than antiracists. We must become ‘anticolonizers’ and ‘anticapitalists’ too. All people are created equal, and it is up to us to undo these racist, misogynist, bigoted and unfair policies so that we can build a society and the policies required to support equality and fairness. We need to walk the walk and talk the talk on antiracism, anticapitalism and anticolonization, and we must also recognize that democracy is at the heart of this message.
Ibram X. Kendi talks at Crossroads in Santa Monica, California
Diversity at Crossroads school in Santa Monica, California – not to be confused with the Christian school in Corona, California. Why are there Christian schools that are named the same as liberal schools (e.g. Wheaton College?)
New Yorker article on the book
Democracy Now! On Ibram’s antiracism book
Racist a definition