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  • Writer's pictureKaren L


Challenging, New, Fresh, Comprehensive--How To Be An Antiracist(Audiobooks version),by Ibram Kendi, encompasses those qualities. Listening to a writer read their words creates a virtual immediacy and intimacy for the listener. Mr. Kendi expresses his theories with candor and clarity in a deeply resonant voice, with a uniquely patterned rhythm. He blends his personal experience with didactic thought, keeping the narrative interesting.

Ibram Kendi distinguishes racism, non-racism,and anti-racismas three separate ideas leading to different policies. Put another way, one can contrast segregation and assimilationas leading to racist policy and antiracismresulting in antiracist policy.Without a doubt, segregation denotes a more seriously racist viewpoint than assimilation. But, actually, assimilation is racist because it assumes that Blacks need to assimilate to a superior way of life. Contrasting racism with non-racism seems obvious until one absorbs Kendi's ideas. It is insufficient to claim one is not racist. Further exploration and introspection reveal ideas, long accepted among liberals, that are not as benign as one thought. Blaming Black people for increased crime rates is ignoring racist policy. Racist policy denys people of color equal opportunities for obtaining an education, jobs, healthcare, mortgages, to name a few. Blaming Black individuals for increased incarceration is ignoring racist policies related to police behavior, racial profiling, bail, and the cost of obtaining a lawyer. Racist policy is based on racism, eventhough it may look like equity. Every child has access to public schools; however, the contrast between public schools in black and white neighborhoods continues to be spectacular. Even when school systems attempt to integrate schools, black children are viewed differently from their white and Asian peers.

I have observed this phenomenon in my years working in public school systems. I myself have behaved in ways, steeped in cultural and behavioral racism. Well-intentioned, as many liberal are, has not precluded me from acting in biased ways--i.e.that child won't do well, how could he, look at his disadvantages; those parents won't show up to the meeting, don't they care? 

Black history is taught in schools, which is a positive step. However, the deeper aspects of systemic racism continue in our schools, usually not acknowledged. Black boys are punished more severely and more frequently; children of color are usually ignored in class if they are not in trouble; lower level classes contain a higher number of minority students; success in school remains unidimensional--good grades, some athletic prowess, test scores, college. Any other path is considered inferior, especially if the student is not white. Academic intelligence remains the most acceptable form of accomplishment.

Regardless of the fact that I am not virulently racist or a white supremacist, I still have deeply ingrained racist ideas. I assume that black families function the same as my family, have the same values, and the same strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, even more dangerous, is the thinking that my values lead to success, and other values do not. This is

cultural racism, one race's culture is superior to another. Countless examples abound--ebonics is slang; rap is trash; urban fashion is based on jail uniforms; black churches are too raucous; and black men are overly sexual. I learned a new concept--beingFresh.This is looking good, stylish, clean, and neat, exemplified by ladies going to church in lovely hats and coats and teenagers treating their sneakers as precious jewels. White people criticize the latter (not the former) but I think wearing immaculate clothing is an expression of power, self-esteem, and pride on the part of African Americans. In the 1970's white individuals castigated the African Americans for sporting afros and dashikis. Now, we have become accustomed to that style, but bristle at the crisp new polo shirts and bright colored basketball sneakers. Go figure?

Blacks themselves can be racist, living by the rules of white culture, overly critical of the younger generations (their children and grandchildren) and, as the author notes, invoking Martin Luther King, for example,Mr. King wouldn't be happy with your poor grades.White parents engage in these "guilt trips" as well, which the author does not acknowledge. The author notes that being anti-white is just as racist as being anti-black. The label "racist" should not be confined to describing Caucasian and Asians. He admits his culpability in his former insistence that whte people are "monsters".

When a Caucasian person commits a wrongdoing, they are "given another chance", forgiven, or punished for what they did. If a Black person is guilty--or if a youngster does poorly in school--white people think something along the lines of: he's black and underprivileged, what do you expect; he doesn't have a father, etc.; why don't they learn how to behave already; these people have too many kids. White individuals are blameworthy for their crimes; the entire black race is culpable for a few people's misdeeds. I have personal experience with this unfortunate situation, what Ibram Kendi calls behavioral racism. If a group of kids misbehave, the kid of color is likely to receive the worst punishment. I have witnessed such racism countless times. But, no one will change the inherent beliefs that lead to such unfair decisions. Unbelievable as it seems, even if the person of color is adopted and has white parents, the kid will still be punished more severely. Only if and when a highly skilled attorney defends the child of color, may the judgement be mitigated. Again--racism with a capital "R". White and Black parents, both highly sophisticated and intelligent, are powerless to affect change. Teachers, coaches, principals, and school counselors treat children and teenagers of color differently. So do employers. White adults are excused from misbehavior far more often than black or latinx individuals in the world of work. Antiracist policy assumes that all people are equal, certainly not a novel idea. So why then do we continue to accept that race is a critical factor in the behavior of our citizens? Why does a police officer kill a Black man for passing a fake $20 bill, but probably laugh it off or submit a citation if a white guy tried the same trick? Why does a police officer kill a Black man for running away, after a minor offense, such as parking in a no-parking zone? Mr. Kendi would say that people fear black bodies--as violent, strong, big, and inherently dangerous. This is clearly racist policy. The antiracist police would be to train all officers who use weapons to act based on the circumstances, not the color of the potential perpetrators color. Ibram Kendi digs into the deep past for the origins of racism, finding the roots in European explorers, anthropologists, royalty, philosophers, social scientists, and religious and lay leaders. The author notes that humans of all races are 98% similar genetically. Theories of biological differences between races, resulting in racist policy, are flawed. Mr. Kendi elaborates that race is a blended construct used for the purposes of power. And power begets money which results in racist policy to maintain the status quo. Later in the book, the author continues to explain the relationship between capitalism/racism/war. Kendi explains ethnic racism which is aimed at groups within a race. For example, African Americans vs. Blacks from Africa or the Carribean. The latter two groups often denigrate the African Americans. The African Americans ridicule the immigrants from Africa and the Carribean. Jews are guilty of ethnic racism too; historically, German Jews disparaged East European Jews. Ashkenazi (mostly European) Jews besmirched Sephardic (primarily from the middle east) Jews in recent years, though this prejudice is decreasing. Now, Jews from Africa are considered inferior in Israel. And the beat goes on. The second section of the book is divided into chapters with headings such as Color, Space, Failure, Success, Survival. My attention wandered during this less compelling second half. I sensed that these topics could have been lifted from a course syllabus. The second part of the book would be a great text book, containing clear explanation of concepts and repetition, excellent for a student. Mr. Kendi described a "colorist" as an African American who alters ones physical characteristics--such as straightening hair, changing eye color with contacts, and use of whitening products. These are racist behaviors on the part of blacks. Favoring lighter skinned blacks has been an acceptable viewpoint in the United States for centuries.  Ibram Kendi explores affirmative action, a controversial subject to say the least. He attests that white people fear losing their advantage. In truth, affirmative action benefits people of all colors and ehnicities; affirmative action programs usually promote universal health care, increased lower and middle income housing, and postive changes for the environment, such as cleaner air and water. The ending shocked me; two young people are struck by cancer, namely the author and his wife.  The conclusion is painful--racism is a cancer in our country. The hope is the treatment, in the case of racism--antiracist policies. The final message is to work for candidates and groups who will promote and vote for bills which will become laws to legalize and enforce equality for all in a truly equitable manner.

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