This book was hard for me to read. It was also important for me to read. Lots of white people my age have no clue what it’s like to be a Black person in the United States. How to Be an Antiracist opened my eyes. I never thought I was racist, but it turns out that a lot of my assumptions were wrong and actually hurtful. I am so sorry; I want to do better.
Kendi lays out for white people what it is to wear darker skin in this country. He starts out by defining terms. I’m sorry, but his definitions aren’t helpful. For example, take his definition of racist: “one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.” Gobbledegook. That’s like saying blue is “a color that’s blue.” It really doesn’t define the term in question. I would define racism as characterizing a group of people with negative stereotypes and assuming they apply to every individual within the group.
But Kendi isn’t as concerned about what members of one group think about members of another group as he is about policies that benefit one group to the detriment of other groups. These can be government policies, company policies, or organizational policies. Policies are what cause the most profound damage, by limiting opportunities.
I’ve only recently understood that just by the virtue of being white, I’ve sustained privilege. I thought you had to be rich to have privilege. But privilege is not merely money; it’s also access. Kendi explains how racist policies infiltrate every aspect of life; getting rid of racist policies would grant equal access for all groups, leveling the playing field as it were. Through discussions of power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, behavior, color, class, space, gender, sexuality, failure, success, and survival, Kendi delineates how racist policies prevent all but the most extraordinary individuals of certain groups from rising to the level most average whites enjoy.
For a book that purports to be a manual for antiracism, How to Be an Antiracist doesn’t really get around to that topic until the end of the 17th of its 18 chapters. I suppose I really needed all the background that Kendi supplies; but I was hoping for more material about how to do the work of antiracism.
Would it be possible for minorities to make these changes all by themselves? Yes, but it would be much easier if we all, whites included, worked together. We really haven’t so far. A good first step is to read this book.