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How To Be An Antiracist Review

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

How To Be An Antiracist
How To Be An Antiracist

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Part memoir, part history, part educational text, this book spans the main forms of racism and its intersections, how they were created, how they take shape and adapt, and how they can be remedied. This is a book which takes a global, intersectional perspective, exploring different facets of racism as it affects gender, sexuality, class, color, ethnicity, and other areas. Kendi tells his story of coming into his own antiracism in chronological order from each chapter, from the racism he learned in elementary school to his struggles with cancer and a paradigm shift into embracing feminist and queer antiracism.


Antiracism, memoir, history, social justice, nonfiction


Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. At its core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.

Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.


This was by far the most comprehensive and detailed nonfiction work focusing on antiracism in the modern day that I have read. Many people reading this review will think they don't need to read it since they are already well-versed in antiracism. I urge them to move past this assumption. This is a book that everyone who wants to be antiracist should read, even if you consider yourself an expert. It's not even just for white people. This is a book which takes a global, intersectional perspective, exploring different facets of racism as it affects gender, sexuality, class, color, ethnicity, and other areas.

Kendi is adament that being "not racist" doesn't achieve anything. "Not racist" is a neutral stance which is akin to somebody watching another person being murdered, not calling for help or making any attempt to stop it, and then expecting praise for not having been the murderer themselves.

Being racist doesn't mean you actively view other races as inferior. Kendi presents the idea that racism and antiracism are actions, and that everyone is racist and antiracist at different times based on whether they perpetuate or fight racist policy.

Kendi brought up something I had never considered before - that racism doesn't start from hatred and ignorance, but that this hatred and ignorance stem from self-interest of those in power. It is generally accepted that if people weren't ignorant and decided to love everyone, racism would disappear. But racism was intentionally created by the powerful in order to pursue their own ends. The hateful ideas such as the view that Black people are less intelligent were created to justify racist policies which benefit those in power. The policies come first, then the ideas to justify them. Racism doesn't crop up organically in humans; it is intentional. The way to fight racism is not simple "love over hate," but forcing those in power to enact antiracist policies. No matter how loving we are, racism won't end unless it no longer serves the interests of people in power.

This book doesn't focus on the racism everyone accepts as racism - the hate crimes of white supremacists or segregation. It calls out assimilation as well, the view that what is best for people of color is to join white culture, as if white culture is the best culture and equality will be achieved by assimilating all other cultures into it. An example of school integration is given. People assume that if Black children are integrated into white schools, equality has been achieved. But this is assimilation. The space is still dominated by white people, with overwhelmingly white teachers and a curricullum designed for white people. Just because children of varied races are allowed in doesn't make the space equal.

My views on racism were consistently challenged, and I had to reconsider many common things that "everyone knows" about racism. I can now see how seemingly antiracist people can perpetuate an assimilationist view of racism. I have never learned so much about racism from a single source as from this book.

Obviously, reading this book isn't going to transform you into an antiracist. You have to do the work, consistently, forever. But it's a wonderful read for anyone in any stage of antiracism work.

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