Introduction–Chapter 2 Summary
Introduction: My Racist Introduction
Kendi opens How to Be an Antiracist with a high school anecdote illustrating his own progression toward the titular goal. Seventeen and an academic underachiever, he was surprised and excited to make it to the final round of the Prince William County Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Contest. When his turn arrived, he gave an impassioned speech on the state of Black youth—their promise, their obstacles, their values, and their shortcomings. The speech was well-received by the audience, and he brimmed with pride at the applause.
From the present day, the author looks back on this moment with some embarrassment. Seen through the lens of his antiracist education in the years since, this speech has the opposite effect than the one he’d intended. Rather than challenging the racist policies that create undue limitations on Black youth, his prior words capitulated to that racism by blaming his peers for a lack of ambition or interest.
Reflecting on his own changed perceptions, Kendi highlights the importance of divesting oneself from these ingrained ideas—ideas that, he notes, are directly supported by the racist policies governing everyday life, which are both leveraged against Black people by the rest of society and internalized among Black people themselves. “A racist culture had handed me the ammunition to shoot Black people, to shoot myself,” he recalls, “and I took it and used it. Internalized racism is the real Black on Black crime.”
Chapter 1: Definitions
As in most subsequent chapters, Kendi prefaces the text of chapter 1 with an introductory epigraph defining and highlighting the chapter’s key themes. In this case, he defines a racist as “one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea” and an antiracist as “one who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.” Definitions, he reminds the reader, “anchor us in principles.”
Kendi offers some historical context for his writing through a look at his own direct lineage. His parents, both college students in the early 1970s, met for the first time at Urbana ’70, a University of Illinois conference they’d both attended to see the Black liberation evangelist Tom Skinner and the band Soul Liberation. Galvanized by the conference programming, both returned to their respective colleges and began actively working toward Black liberation in their own lives. When they met again a few years later, their partnership began in earnest, and Kendi’s own future began to take shape. “What changed Ma and Dad led to a changing of their two unborn sons,” Kendi notes, tracing his own journey toward antiracism back to his parents’ attendance at the conference.
Returning his narrative to the present day, Kendi outlines the rationale for his preferred terminology when discussing racial inequity. While the general discourse often uses the terms institutional racism, structural racism, and systemic racism, the author prefers something a little more concrete: racist policy. This wording, he contends, targets the problem with a precision that the other terms lack—it tells the listener “exactly what the problem is and where the problem is,” which makes it more easily understood by audiences with varied understandings of the vocabulary of racial justice. “By policy,” he clarifies, “I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people.”
Chapter 2: Dueling Consciousness
In his epigraph to chapter 2, Kendi defines three conflicting attitudes toward racial balance. An assimilationist is, by his definition,
one who is expressing the racist idea that a racial group is culturally or behaviorally inferior and is supporting cultural or behavioral...
(The entire section is 902 words.)