How to Be an Antiracist | BraveNewLove Virtual Book Club
Updated: Mar 6, 2020
I shared in my newsletter back in January that I’d like to start hosting a virtual book club for folks in the BraveNewLove community who are interested in tackling a book together. Now before you click off the post because you haven’t read this post yet, please note that having read the book isn’t a requirement to read this post by any means.
As someone who struggles with reading, and understands how busy life can get for all of us these days, I didn’t want the book club to be a daunting thing to sign up for. That is why, we decided on selecting a book for folks to check out at some point if they are interested, having a post on the topic that was more of a discussion vs a review, and have a video on Facebook and Instagram as another medium for a similar discussion.
For this first BNL Virtual Book Club, a small group of us selected How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi. If you’d be interested in being part of the process of selecting a book in the future, we’d love for you to join the BraveNewLove newsletter here.
Why How to Be an Antiracist?
There are really just very simple reasons for selecting How to Be an Antiracist for our first book club. The first was that we were making a selection in February which is Black History Month and reading some form of literature that was written by a person of color, specifically a black person of color, seemed like a great, even if very small, way of honoring the intentions behind that month.
The second reason might not be as obvious given what I have heard from a few folks regarding what BraveNewLove’s mission. I would say the most common misconception is that BraveNewLove is solely dedicated to helping LGBTQ+ people live more authentically vs empowering all people to present their authentic selves to the world. That is completely understandable given that most of the content on the blog and social media feeds have all been from my worldview and perspective as a gay man.
That said, the true intent and mission of BraveNewLove is to create space for everyone to live authentically through discussion of life, wellness, and faith (of no specific religion) because the truth is that we all struggle with expectations from society, religion, our family, culture etc to be something we are not to varying degrees. The idea of BraveNewLove is to 1) support folks who are doing their own personal work of defining their authentic self, 2) helping them create space within their worldview for others of different backgrounds, and 3) empower them to create space for themselves, and others, to live authentically in their every day lives.
The book club is a great initial step in expanding BraveNewLove to be more in line with that original vision. A quote from the book says does a great job of capturing the intent of BraveNewLove and why this book was such a great selection:
“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,” Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
But First, a Disclaimer(s)
I do want to make it clear that this post, and the upcoming video, does not mean to serve as a typical book review because 1) I don’t believe I am best sources for literary reviews and 2) I don’t want to give off the impression that I’m judging the book for any reason. My opinion both before, and after reading the book is that you should give it a shot.
Think of our activity here as more of a discussion. It is a way to highlight a few areas of the book that jumped out to me and my experience of the text both reading and in my own life, and I hope that you’ll feel comfortable participating and sharing your experiences with the text as well.
I also want to make it clear that as a white man I am aware that I am not an expert on race, and I am well aware that the topic makes many folks uncomfortable. This is why this discussion will try to serve as an entry point for other folks who have not spent a lot of time considering or researching the concept of racism. For folks who are more versed in this topic, all of this might seem pretty surface level to you, and on the other side of that coin, as a white person, this conversation might be very unsettling. My hope is that no matter your familiarity with this topic, you’ll participate, educate, listen, and hold space for others to try to better understand racism, and more importantly, how to function as an antiracist.
About the Author
I always think it is important to be aware of the author and their background before reading their work. Ibram X. Kendi is a New York Times bestselling author and the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University.
Kendi does a great job working in personal life examples into each of the topics and concepts he discusses throughout the book which made the read very enjoyable to me. It was interested to be learning about concepts specific to race while also getting to hear firsthand how this matters in the lives of someone that it impacts. Again, I would certainly recommend the book and this is a big reason why.
4 Points/Takeaways From the Book
What is Racism?
Being a child of small-town Texas, the concept of ‘racism’ was never something that was really discussed as a concept growing up. This carried into college and my adult life as it seems to for many folks who are white. As a result, my only understanding of racism was that I knew I didn’t want to be racist and that I should make it clear when the topic comes up that I am not one.
Kendi discusses this in the book and does a fantastic job of explaining why this is ignorant, if not flawed thinking. Like me, many folks in America think of the word “racist” as a pejorative, and tend to want to stay as far away from the term as possible with some folks going as far at to say that they are “color-blind” and “do not see race.” Kendi explains that most folks aren’t thinking about racism in the correct way and that these approaches are problematic because “denial is the heartbeat of racism.”
He explains that the opposite of racism isn’t “not racist,” but rather it is antiracism, and that folks can easily waver between both multiple times in a given day, or even a conversation. Meaning you can have racist thoughts or say racist things in on minute and switch to anti-racist rhetoric and thoughts the next. He does a fantastic job of giving examples of when he has expressed racist thoughts about people of color at various times in his life because he thought them to be true. Through this discussion, he teaches a pretty valuable lesson that shutting down discussion and research of the term “racism” out of fear of being labeled one, only continues to further racism in this country.
Here are a couple of quotes on racism that I found insightful from the book:
“Racist ideas make people of color think less of themselves, which makes them more vulnerable to racist ideas. Racist ideas make White people think more of themselves which further attracts them to racist ideas.”
“I didn’t realize that to say something is wrong about a racial group is to say something is inferior about the racial group. I did not realize that to say something is inferior about a racial group is to say a racist idea.”
The Many Forms of Racism
One thing that was a brand new concept to me when reading through this book was how vast and multifaceted racism was in terms of there being different types of racism that impact so many aspects of our daily lives.
Kendi discusses racial inequity, racist power, ethnic racism, and cultural racism among others, and all were helpful in better understanding how racism is all around us. I won’t dive deeply into any of this as it is it would just be a rehash of information that is perfectly put forth in the book, but I will give a couple of examples so you have an idea of what this looks like.
In the book, Kendi discusses racial inequity, or when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing. I think this one is a concept that many folks are at least aware of, but I have heard, and thought, many problematic things regarding the reasoning for racial inequity in this country.
Kendi shared that when the concept of race was created centuries ago, it immediately entered the idea into the world that there is a power hierarchy tied to race. This hierarchy seems to change depending on this situation at hand, but white seems to always be at the top and other races are towards the bottom.
With ethnic racism, Kendi explains that just because folks are from the same race does not mean that they would identify with all folks of that race. He give an anecdote from his own life explaining this concept well noting that growing up in school he tending to tease and pick on Black students who had recently immigrated from Africa noting that there was a perception/tension between African Americans and African immigrants because of a misinformed theory that the African Chiefs of long ago captured and sold “their people” to white slaveholders. His point is that even though the concept of race had been introduced in the world at that time, those African Chiefs wouldn’t have viewed members of the other tribes as ‘their people.”
Kendi also introduces the concept of cultural racism, or when we make distinctions such as “white southerners” or “Black southerners.” Cultural racism radicalizes groups of people and like the other aspects of racism discussed above, he notes that the ultimate problem is that it allows for folks to hold racist ideals about behavior, prone to diseases, or natural abilities that simply are not proven by sciences and either create or further racial inequities.
Kendi goes through the process of explaining all the above in order to help the reader understand that the problem folks should be concerned with when advocating for people of color is racist policy. He shares that, “Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy,” and that “It makes racist sense to talk about personal irresponsibility as it applies to an entire racial group,” but that racial group behavior is a figment of the racist’s imagination and that individual behaviors can shape the success of individuals.
He shared that individual behaviors can shape the success of individuals, but policies determine the success of groups. This is why we need to be aware of and fight racist power that creates that policies that ultimately cause racial inequity, and not blame individuals for “being too lazy or “too violent” or any of the other racist shit that we are prone to say/think.
White is Not the Status Quo
The overall message of the book that kept hitting me over the head multiple times is that “White” should not be the status quo in America. This might be a slightly dumb or obvious statement for folks who like to claim that racism isn’t a thing, or that we have come along way dispute all the evidence that we have not.
This point resonates with me because thinking back on my life, I have had very few interactions with folks who happen to be Black in relation to folks of other races. It wasn’t until college that I had the first experiences where I was the sole white person in a room of Black people and those first interaction really opened my eyes into what it might feel like to be the underrepresented, or minority, in a given situation. As I have progressively become more confident and proud of my sexuality, I am running into the fact that our society, meaning the folks that make up our culture, tend to think that heterosexuality is the status quo, and maybe why this point matters so much to me.