How to be an Antiracist

Author: Ibram X. Kendi

Topics: Anti-Racism, Psychological Aspects of Racism, Race Relations


Ibram X.Kendi opens How to be an Antiracist with this quote, “this book is ultimately about the basic struggle we’re all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human.” Told through an autobiographical narrative, historical context, and social commentary Kendi guides us through his personal journey of understanding the racism he experienced, racism he both knowingly and unknowingly practiced, and the challenging and rewarding work it takes to become an antiracist, or “one who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.” This choice is a radical one in the face of history, he explains, which requires a dramatic reorientation of our consciousness because it’s like fighting an addiction in some ways, requiring “persistent self awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.” 

Kendi explains, “the opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist” it is anti-racist,” meaning instead of ignoring the blatant racism that still surrounds us and claiming we are not a part of it or adding to it, we need to actively do the work against it on a daily basis. The claim “not racist” waves a flag of neutrality, not aggressive action against the wrongs of racism. “Denial is the heartbeat of racism,” when we deny it exists and deny we are not contributing to it, those are the actions that allow it to continue.The only way to undo racism is to constantly identify and describe it- and then dismantle it.” Through the course of How to be an Antiracist this main thesis is explored through the lens of different subjects including assimilationists, biological racism, ethnic racism, the racist views of violence associated with “black bodies”, and colorism. There is also a strong case for standardizing educational opportunities by identifying and removing racial inequalities in school systems as Kendi illustrates in his own school experiences. Kendi also includes powerful chapters exploring his journey to understanding the difference between “racist power (racist policymakers)” and “the White people,” and the exploration of the “black people can’t be racist” argument. “There are many people who sincerely believe they are not racist,” he explains, but hopes that by reading How to be an Antiracist people will be more open to recognizing the ways in which they may be, and acknowledge the changes required to become an antiracist in their interactions and lives. 

You’ll Love This Book If

You’ll love this book if you’re interested in embracing and embodying the policies and ideas of antiracism, while learning through the lens of someone’s personal experiences. Kendi uses personal experience, historical context, and real-life cultural occurrences to explore what it means to be an anti-racist.  

To approach this book successfully you must first recognise if you are someone who holds a stance of neutrality against racism (“I am not racist”), and be willing to confront racist ideas you’ve knowingly or unknowingly held and may continue to hold. If not, this book may not be for you.