How to Be an Antiracist Summary
How to Be an Antiracist is a nonfiction book by Ibram X. Kendi that offers a comprehensive guide to antiracist practice and education.
- Kendi begins each chapter with definitions that help to ground his discussions of power, ethnicity, color, class, gender, and more.
- The book blends autobiographical elements and detailed information on various aspects of racism and antiracism.
- One of the central tenets of Kendi’s book is that it is not enough to be simply “not racist.” One must be actively antiracist in order to truly fight the pernicious forces of racism in the United States.
How to Be an Antiracist is a nonfiction work by Ibram X. Kendi, published in 2019. In the book, Kendi offers advice and guidance to readers in active pursuit of their own antiracist education.
Kendi contextualizes his recommendations through historic and statistical scholarship, which he interweaves with personal anecdotes detailing his lived experience as a Black man in America. Beginning each chapter with a glossary-style epigraph, Kendi establishes functional definitions to delineate assorted types of racism that may present across society in different ways. Some are overt, some covert—but each is pervasive and damaging. Chapter by chapter, Kendi dissects examples of his own ingrained racism, the work he’s done to dismantle each of these forms of racism in himself, and the way each unique facet of racism fits into the bigger picture of racial justice.
His antiracist journey, he posits, truly began when his parents met at the Urbana ’70 conference at the University of Illinois. They were both students themselves, and they had traveled to the conference to see the revolutionary preacher Tom Skinner speak on Black liberation. Inspired by the conference, they both returned to their respective universities and began working on racial justice initiatives. When they met again a few years later, their relationship began in earnest, and Kendi’s own future began to take shape.
As a very young boy growing up in Queens, New York, Kendi was already very curious about racial dynamics. In an anecdote recounted in chapter 3, Kendi met his prospective third-grade teacher for the first time. Unsatisfied by his parents’ questions about the curriculum and student demographics, he interrupted them to ask her directly,
Why are you the only Black teacher?
“He’s very much aware of being Black," his mother explained. Reflecting on this interaction in the present day, Kendi writes, “On that April day in 1990, my parents discovered that I had entered racial puberty.”
When the family moved from Queens, New York, to Manassas, Virginia, in Kendi’s teens, his sense of Black culture and identity was upended. “As an urban Black Northerner,” he recalls in chapter 7, “I looked down on the cultures of nonurban Blacks, especially Southerners, the very people I was now surrounded by.” His schoolwork, too, suffered after the move. While Kendi accepts responsibility for this, admitting that he could have studied harder, he also laments an insidious racial dynamic at play—while a white student’s failure is typically seen as an individual one, Kendi’s failure was inevitably seen as representative of Black youth as a whole.
By the time Kendi enrolled in college at Florida A&M University (FAMU), a historically Black college in Tallahassee, his interest in academics had been rejuvenated. On arrival, he intended to study sports journalism, but he found himself increasingly focused on racial dynamics. As Kendi completed his undergraduate degree, he began to confront different facets of ingrained racism within himself: colorism, antiwhite racism, antiblack racism, and classism. When Kendi heard a newspaper editor—a Light-skinned, affluent Black man—use a slur to describe a class of Black people he believed to be below him, Kendi had an unexpected realization that changed the course of his life and his career. The fight that matters isn’t...
(The entire section is 964 words.)