How to Be an Antiracist

This is a lucid, steady journey through the meaning of both racism and antiracism. Kendi begins with his own personal history of racism and then marches the reader through his path as he identifies what racism is, breaks it down into its constituent parts, and points out all the ways you can oppose it—one step at a time. The effect is like watching someone polish a dark glass: as it becomes clearer, you can see more and more through it, until soon the glass vanishes entirely. Not only a great and instructive read, but a useful reference.

Reading notes

No other way

There have been dozens—hundreds, more—variations of this point but it bears repeating:

Since the 1960s, racist power has commandeered the term “racist discrimination,” transforming the act of discriminating on the basis of race into an inherently racist act. But if racial discrimination is defined as treating, considering, or making a distinction in favor or against an individual based on that person’s race, then racial discrimination is not inherently racist. The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist. Someone reproducing inequity through permanently assisting an overrepresented racial group into wealth and power is entirely different than someone challenging that inequity by temporarily assisting an underrepresented racial group into relative wealth and power until equity is reached.

The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination. As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in 1965, “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.” As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in 1978, “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.”

Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist, page 19

If you’ve done any kind of “diversity” work in your job, you run up into this challenge head first: the present interpretation of the law says that any weighing of the scale is out of bounds. But of course, that interpretation serves to preserve the (racist and patriarchal) status quo. What’s left is to work out how to effect change in a system determined never to evolve.