I’ve been thinking about this for several months, and I made a post about wanting to read more nonfiction and be more informed. I know better than to believe that I can “review” a book like this, or anything hard-hitting and uncomfortable and difficult for me in the way I review fiction. So I’m not going to do that.
What I am going to do is try to find discussion questions and answer a selection of them to the best of my ability. A lot of authors and publishers write discussion questions that go along with books like this and make them easy to find. So that’s what I’m going to do in these posts. I’m going to answer the discussion questions that the authors and publishers suggest. I’m going to try to dig deep and understand some of these concepts that are new to me. I want to keep learning so I can be the best ally and antiracist I can be.
What better way to start than with How to Be an Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. Discussion questions were taken from the author’s website.
- In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi shares his own experience with racist thinking. How does his honesty help give us space to acknowledge and name our own racist behaviors and attitudes?
This was honestly the thing that made me able to start confronting the racism that has been taught and ingrained in me throughout my life. Kendi is very candid, and the way he explains things makes it easy to understand why he was wrong and how he’s taken steps to learn. It was that honesty that took away any defensiveness I may have felt about past or present actions or thoughts and really confront my own racist thinking.
- Kendi writes, “The only way to undo racism is to constantly identify it and describe it—and then
dismantle it.” Why does he believe we need to call out racism when we see it, even if it can be
uncomfortable to identify?
This is the thing about racism in our country right now. It exists nonverbally, and the less we talk about it, the longer it’s going to be there. We need to change the thinking of others, and that’s a really difficult thing to do. And it’s definitely not something that happens in silence. It’s in people’s hard edges, in the way you call out your own family and friends, in the way people peacefully protest on the streets of this country. Antiracism starts with discomfort. You are going to have to be uncomfortable for a while in order to truly change and grow.
- The book’s central message is that the opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” The true opposite
of “racist” is antiracist. “The good news,” Kendi writes, “is that racist and antiracist are not fixed
identities. We can be racist one minute and an antiracist the next.” What does it mean to have to
constantly reaffirm your identity as an antiracist? Is there any benefit to the fact that you can’t just
decide you are “not racist” or an antiracist and be done with it?
Antiracism involves being active; being “not racist” is passive. That’s the real difference, as I see it. Being antiracist is like being in shape. You can’t work really hard to get visible abs and then expect them to stay there if you stop working on them. You have to constantly move forward, constantly challenge yourself, constantly adapt to the times and current events. Being antiracist is work, but it’s work that pays off.
- What is the first step you, personally, will take in striving to be an antiracist? How will you check
yourself and hold yourself accountable if you notice you, or someone else, is being racist?
The first step that I will personally take is putting a lot more thought into some of the actions I take without thinking. That’s a lot of words to say that I need to work harder to address racism head-on in my daily interactions. There are a lot of things that are microaggressions (Kendi used another word but I can’t find it in the text at the moment, so feel free to correct me if you know it) that I don’t even realize I’m doing, and I need to hold myself accountable by calling those out to myself. I’m not perfect and I’m still learning, but now that I’ve read this book, I can see more of what I’m doing and actively work toward change and progress. As for holding myself and other people accountable, I’ll speak out. I will forever be fine being the one who corrects people who use outdated and racist language, who say racist things, who treat others as less than. I hate that shit, and if you do it in front of me, I’ll tell you about it, no questions.
- Kendi thinks that we should assess candidates as being racist or antiracist based on what ideas they
are expressing and what policies they are supporting—and not what they say is in their bones or
their heart. Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
Yes. Actions speak louder than words.
- Anyone who values immigrants from European countries and devalues immigrants from Latin
America is guilty of racism. Have you ever been guilty of this type of racism? Discuss the unique
resilience and resourcefulness people possess if they leave everything in their native country
behind and immigrate to another, as Kendi examines in the chapter on Ethnicity.
Personally, this is a type of racism that I’ve been fighting since I was a child. My mother is Mexican American and her parents were migrant workers who were born and raised bilingual in south Texas. But I grew up in a small, predominantly white town, a fairly homogeneous town. My mom was the first brown person to graduate from my high school. Seriously. So this type of racism is something I feel in my bones, and is something I have a deep, silent rage coursing through my veins about. My grandparents were American citizens, born in Texas in the ’30s, and I still get asked things like “when did your family cross the border?” It’s ridiculous, and it’s ignorant. I have so much respect for people who can leave everything behind in search of a better life. Just the simple fact that they likely don’t speak the most common language in the US – English – makes things difficult on it’s own. That’s without finding employment, finding housing, gaining legal citizenship status, building a life from scratch. I don’t envy them, but I respect them.
- There’s a stronger and clearer correlation between levels of violent crime and unemployment
levels than between violent crime and race, but that’s not the story policymakers have chosen
to tell. Discuss why you think this is. How might our society and culture change if policymakers
characterized dangerous Black neighborhoods as dangerous unemployed neighborhoods?
I think this has a lot to do with the visuals. It’s been a longtime (racist) narrative that Black people are more likely to be unemployed, so you skip that part and talk about Black neighborhoods, because that’s easy to see with your eyes. If we were able to make this an antiracist country, and we started talking about “dangerous unemployed neighborhoods” rather than the racist alternative, I think policies could actually start changing. I think mindsets could start changing. Policing could start changing. It might be the beginning of something much better for our country and lead us toward an antiracist outlook.
- Inequities between Light and Dark African Americans can be as wide as inequities between Black
and White Americans. How have you seen colorism play out in real life and/or in the media?
I have definitely seen colorism play out in both life and the media. I’ve seen mixed-race friends struggle to find their place in either world. I’ve seen Black-appearing people who aren’t actually Black by heritage have to learn to act a certain way to fit in. And in the media? The show Dear White People has this as a central plotline, and it’s very well-executed. I highly recommend it.
- Kendi makes the case that to be antiracist, one must stand against all forms of bigotry. Why is
standing against other bigotries so essential to standing against racism?
I’m going to say this nice and loud for the people in the back. INTERSECTIONALISM is the only way. Being antiracist but being homophobic or transphobic doesn’t make sense (as an example). If you’re going to make an effort to be antiracist, you should easily be able to support all forms of diversity. You should be able to see all forms of oppression and want to fight against them in your bones. It should be easy.
And for the love of all that you believe in, don’t be like JK Rowling.
- Kendi closes the book comparing racism and cancer. What do you think of this comparison?
I thought this really put it into perspective, and I hope more people are able to understand by reading this framing. It is a cancer, truly. Once racism gets ahold of you, if left untreated, unchallenged, it’ll eat you alive. I thought that comparison was one of the most visual parts of the book. I could actually see it eating away at our society.
I ended up not answering all of the discussion questions, mostly for time, but also because some of them would benefit from actual discussion rather than me just writing out answers. But I truly can’t recommend this book enough. It’s a little heavy, a little difficult to wrap your brain around if you’re new here, but it’s worth every minute of struggle to understand. You’ll learn something, I can almost guarantee it. And it’s so well-written. I have been recommending it to everyone and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
Thank you for coming to my book discussion, and happy reading (and learning)!