How to Be an Antiracist Chapters 15–18 Summary
by Ibram X. Kendi

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Chapters 15–18 Summary

Chapter 15: Sexuality

To preface this chapter’s discussion on the interplay between race and sexuality, Kendi defines queer racism—“a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-sexualities”—and queer antiracism—“a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about race-sexualities.”

When Kendi is surprised to hear that Weckea, one of his close friends at Temple University, is gay, he faces an unexpected choice. He can hang on to his ingrained homophobia, or he can keep his friendship, but he can’t do both at once. Realizing yet another omission in his own education, Kendi begins to devour the work of queer writers in pursuit of queer antiracism. In time, he came to realize the extent of that responsibility:

To be queer antiracist is to serve as an ally to transgender people, to intersex people, to women, to the non-gender-conforming, to homosexuals, to their intersections. . . . To be queer antiracist is to see homophobia, racism, and queer racism—not the queer person, not the queer space—as the problem, as abnormal, as unnatural.

Yaba and Kaila, two friends who opened Kendi’s eyes to his ingrained sexism through thoughtful interrogation, reprise that role in his journey to divest himself of his ingrained homophobia. “It is best,” Kendi theorizes, “to challenge ourselves by dragging ourselves before people who intimidate us with their brilliance and constructive criticism.”

Chapter 16: Failure

To preface chapter 16’s critical discussion of work that does not produce results, Kendi concretely defines activist as “one who has a record of power or policy change.”

In an anecdote from his time as a member of the Black Student Union (BSU), Kendi describes a failed attempt at activism. Intent on freeing the Jena Six—six Black students arrested after a fight in Jena, Louisiana—he planned an elaborate initiative called the 106 Campaign. The premise was simple: rally at least 106 students at each of 106 universities in order to fundraise for the Jena Six’s legal defense on their respective campuses, and then mobilize all 11,236 involved students to simultaneously converge on the nation’s capital. By arriving in large numbers in decorated protest caravans, blocking Constitution Avenue with their vehicles, and marching on Washington, Kendi told his peers excitedly, they could demand both attention and justice from the Bush administration. Rather than sharing his enthusiasm, however, the other members of the BSU were concerned; creating a large-scale disturbance in Washington, DC, could get them arrested and thrown in jail. Kendi found that risk acceptable, but the other students did not, and in the end, they rejected his proposition and made other plans.

Though Kendi’s intentions with the 106 Campaign were noble, his failure to recognize the concerns of his peers ultimately alienated his audience. By doing so, he failed to entirely reach them and, by extension, failed to effect any substantive change with his initiative. “Knowledge is only power if knowledge is put to the struggle for power,” Kendi insists. It’s not enough to change minds: an antiracist must also create tangible outcomes in order to be an activist. “If all my words were doing was sounding radical,” Kendi posits, “then those words were not radical at all.”

Around this time, Kendi began seeing Sadiqa, the Spelman College student who would eventually become his wife.

Chapter 17: Success

As a professor at State University of New York (SUNY) Oneonta, Kendi found himself surrounded by upstate New York’s whiteness like “clouds from a plane’s window.” Drawing on his previous academic work and his own antiracist journey, he began the difficult task of researching his second book—a detailed history called Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive...

(The entire section is 963 words.)