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How to Be an Antiracist
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Learn the key ideas of the book by Ibram Xolani Kendi

How to Be an Antiracist

Behaviour and thinking linked to racism

History teaches us that racism is rooted in the creation of racist power: a potent producer of ideas, actions and policies aimed at enforcing the injustice and discrimination suffered by some people over others, for the benefit of the minority. Fortunately, fighting racism and becoming an antiracist is possible. Ibram Xolani Kendi explains in his book How to be an antiracist that, to do so, in the hope of being able to enjoy a society that is just and fair for all, we need to renounce positions of neutrality, and truly understand racist terminology and dynamics, as it is only when we recognise this racist phenomenon and all of its nuances, that we will finally be able to vanquish it.

How to Be an Antiracist
Read in 24 min.
Listen in 30 min.

Antiracism begins with being familiar with, and understanding, racist terminology

The main threat posed by racism is denial: as soon as someone utters the word, everybody withdraws and becomes defensive, denying any proof of its existence. This denial poses a problem for society and is a powerful weapon in the hands of racism, because if a concept is not well defined, it cannot be recognised or challenged.

Fortunately, racism is a condition that can be changed, confronted, and defeated by means of self-analysis and willingness. The main weapon we have at our disposal to help achieve this is the awareness of the meanings and concepts shaping racist thoughts, actions, and policies: the first step in overcoming something is understanding it through and through, knowing its boundaries and limits, and to do so, it is useful to begin with terminology.

Even the simple difference between a racist, antiracist, and someone that remains neutral, shows how important it is to reflect on terminology: at first thought, a person who declares themselves neutral could be considered as antiracist, for example, but upon further analysis, one quickly realises that actually they are not antiracist, since they do not oppose racist policies and ideas, and therefore actually fall into the category of racists themselves.

Reflecting on terminology is crucial, so as to gain a better understanding of terminology and, with that new-found knowledge, to discover all of the hidden and ambiguous dynamics that make racism a devious condition, one to be ignored at our peril. Terminology isn’t only important when it comes to recognising behaviours or attitudes that would remain otherwise hidden, but also when it comes to assuming self-responsibility: we can only truly understand our purpose once we have clearly defined who, what, and how we want to be. Leaving too many things unsaid or open to interpretation can result in straying from the right path, only to realise, one day further down the line, the error in your ways.

With this in mind, the first two terms to tackle are ones that everyone claims to already fully understand. However, on closer analysis, we might be surprised. Racism and antiracism: we can say that their respective definitions are as follows:

  • Racism is the union of racist policies and ideas that, combined, result in the creation of racial inequalities.
  • Antiracism is the fight against racist policies and ideas aimed at creating inequality amongst individuals, irrespective of their background, physical appearance, gender, social class, and other individual or social characteristics.

Here, we can add some other definitions that are useful when establishing a picture of the overall situation:

  • Racial inequality is when one or more groups of people from different backgrounds are not treated equally.
  • Racist policy is any law, rule, or written or spoken agreement that contributes to the creation of racial inequalities. It is important to remember that, also in this case, it is not enough simply to remain neutral: there are no neutral policies, only racist or antiracist policies.
  • Racial inequality and racist policies lead to racial discrimination, which is the unfair treatment of certain groups of people as compared to others, by virtue of racial differences. Incredibly, the only way to fight racial discrimination is antiracial discrimination, or the acknowledgment of racial differences to draw attention to potential inequality or negative policies being experienced by one group compared to another.
  • Lastly, a racist idea is any idea that suggests that there is a hierarchy amongst different racial groups, namely that one is better, and another is worse, using this as a justification for ongoing racial inequalities in society.

It is important to be familiar with these basic terms given that racist ideas are much more deeply rooted in society than antiracist ideas. This is due to the long history of discriminatory policies in our wake, making racism easier to digest and difficult to identify, as compared to antiracism. Reading and studying specific terms can help us to remember and better recognise them.


The key ideas of "How to Be an Antiracist"

Antiracism begins with being familiar with, and understanding, racist terminology
Racism manifests in different forms, including segregation and assimilation
Racism springs from racial hierarchies, based on biology, ethnicity, and skin colour
It is racist to hold entire racial groups responsible for the actions of a few
Cultural racism is favouring one, specific culture
Racism can be anti-white, or hide behind the excuse of powerlessness
An antiracist approach also needs to be applied to spaces and social classes
Antiracism is also feminist and pro-queer
Racism can be changed
Take-home message
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