Chapters 3–5 Summary
Chapter 3: Power
In this epigraph, Kendi focuses on a single definition:
Race: a power construct of collected or merged difference that lives socially.
He supports this definition by tracing the concept of race as we understand it back to its historic origin—as a method of establishing accepted hierarchies of value and power.
Kendi illustrates his own early conceptions of race by drawing on an anecdote from his childhood. When his parents took him to tour one of the elementary schools near their house in Queens, they met his prospective teacher for an informal interview. Kendi’s mother asked the teacher about the curriculum; his father asked about student demographics. Kendi, then just seven, asked her something much more direct, and also much more complex:
Why are you the only Black teacher?
Contemplating the early age at which racial awareness sets in, Kendi notes the dual nature of race itself. It’s entirely constructed, he explains—a “mirage”—but also deeply tangible and consequential:
We are what we see ourselves as, whether what we see exists or not. We are what people see us as, whether what they see exists or not. What people see in themselves and others has meaning and manifests itself in ideas and actions and policies, even if what they are seeing is an illusion. Race is a mirage but one that we do well to see, while never forgetting it is a mirage, never forgetting that it’s the powerful light of racist power that makes the mirage.
Kendi then contextualizes his own racial identity by tracing the history of how modern race delineations came to be. Racialization is, he contends, predominantly a function of the early slave trade. By creating a sense of racial difference implying that those subjugated were somehow “lesser” than those profiting by enslaving them, the people in power were able to convince the world that slave trading was humane and justified.
Chapter 4: Biology
For this chapter’s epigraph, Kendi offers two definitions. First is a biological racist, defined as
one who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully different in their biology and that these differences create a hierarchy of value.
The other is a biological antiracist, defined as
one who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully the same in their biology and there are no genetic racial differences.
Kendi supports these concepts by drawing an important distinction between race and genetic population, and more broadly by refuting the idea of racial aptitude.
Citing the common defensive tendency to do so, Kendi cautions the reader against explaining away an individual’s conduct by noting their race. “We often see and remember the race and not the individual,” he notes, but “this is racist categorizing.” It’s perilous and reductive, he continues, to collapse the behavior of a person—any person—into a broad generalization about the tendencies of their race. Biological difference, Kendi explains, is a common racist belief many people do not consciously realize they harbor. It perpetuates the false notion that some races broadly excel, fail, or otherwise behave in accordance with biological influences instead of social ones.
In making this argument, Kendi draws an important distinction between “racial ancestry” and “ethnic ancestry.” While the former is socially assigned, the latter has a scientific basis. The conflation of the two leads to what the author calls a “genetic mirage”: a construct that exists because the viewing populace has collectively decided it does. Well-intentioned post-racialists see the tendency to assume scientific basis for race as a rationale for the wholesale end of racial categorization in modern society, but Kendi says that this is not possible in a racist world. “Race is a mirage,” he repeats, “but one...
(The entire section is 932 words.)