Book Review: “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi

Reviewed by Bev Scott
How To Become an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, book review by Bev Scott Author

I began learning to become an antiracist in the early 1970s. Living in Detroit then, I worked with a black and white team of facilitators. They were conducting antiracism workshops and education in organizations and neighborhoods. The City of Detroit still reeled from the 1967 “Rebellions.” I and other white facilitators immersed ourselves in intense workshops. Our goal was to learn about our own racism and to receive feedback. How did unconsciously we expressed or acted on that racism? We defined racism more narrowly than does author Kendi. We learned that racism was based in the beliefs and actions that could be enforced by power. Moreover, the power of white supremacy is imbedded in and enforced by the institutions of our society. Since blacks did not have power in our institutions, they by definition were not racist. They might be biased or maybe even bigoted, but not racist. 

Ibram X. Kendi, a National Book Award-Winning Author of Stamped from the Beginning describes racism through the lens of his own experience which includes identifying his own racism. He begins by defining a racist as one who is supporting a racist policy though their actions or inaction or expressing an racist idea. Conversely, an antiracist as one who is supporting an antiracist policy though their actions or expressing an antiracist idea. 

Striving for Liberation

While in college, his parents defined being Christian as “one who is striving for liberation.” Their strivings to be Christian by this creed grounded their lives and the lives of their children. Kendi points out that by defining terms, they took a key act which anchored them in the principles that defined the kind of people they wanted to be. He became an antiracist at the point he arrived at basic definitions that he would use to define himself. Thus, he describes experiences in his life in which he took steps that brought him more clarity. He clarified the terms of racism, equity, assimilationist, segregationist, biological racist and biological antiracist, ethnic racism and antiracism and many more

Becoming an Antiracist

Kendi’s book intrigued me with how he identifies his own internalized racism through culture, biology, gender, color, behavior and many other lenses. He uses examples to illustrate his definitions. This grounds the reader in understanding what can be an abstract and obscure discussion. This grounding is especially helpful for the white reader. His approach led me to look internally at the ways in which I have benefited from white supremacy. In fact, I like others have absorbed racist beliefs and messages without conscious intention. I affirmed, again, my commitment to strive toward being an antiracist. I recommend Kendi’s book to all of the members of my white community. Read How to Be an Antiracist if you seriously wish to combat white supremacy and support the antiracist policies and actions required to do so.