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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Review: How to Be an Antiracist

How to Be an Antiracist - Ibram X. Kendi

I've a longstanding interest in Malcolm X. There were many aspects of his character that fascinate me. One is the transformation he made in the final year of his life—his second awakening, the birth of el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. In these days, el-Shabazz embraced the idea that there were other factors that went into making one “a devil,” not merely one's ethnicity. His overnight change of heart opened up considerable possibilities, a movement with a more unified front. I always wondered where el-Shabazz would've taken us had he been given the chance. I imagine he'd have taught us a few things, even if most of us would've been unwilling to listen.

It may be presumptuous of me to make such a comparison, but I see a lot of el-Shabazz in Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi is a brilliant, open-minded scholar who, unlike many of his contemporaries, fesses up to a history of hatred. Too many well-intentioned people deny ever having (or being capable of) a racist thought; by acknowledging his own racist past, Kendi puts himself on equal footing with those he's trying to instruct in the ways of anti-racism. The approach makes all the difference. Guaranteed, some will read (or glance at) this book and see nothing but another black man who hates white people—these are the same people who knew this would be the case before even turning the cover. I imagine they're not the ones Kendi wrote this book for.

In his previous book, Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi tackled the history of racism from its relatively unknown beginning, presenting a thorough and scholarly exploration; in How to Be an Antiracist he breaks it down into a contemporary format, highlighting the complete spectrum of racial hatred, addressing the question of what it means to be truly anti-racist. By presenting his own personal story, Kendi puts his victimization and vulnerabilities in full view, a move that makes him infinitely more accessible to the reader. The result is a book that is incredibly inspiring. 

How could a book about racism be inspiring? By being informative, hopeful, and prescriptive. By not hiding behind platitudes. By keeping the tone instructive, not reactive and not incensed. Kendi shows that he has a very strong grasp of the subject—and though readers may disagree with a point or two of his from time to time—no one is dissecting the issue quite as thoroughly, and certainly no one is presenting a means to dismantle the racist system one mind at a time, as Kendi strives to do here.

All the time, I read reviews where people say “everyone needs to read this.” We have our personal interests and biases—one man's treasured book is another's kindling. So take my recommendation for what it's worth: I believe that every open-minded individual, whether they blatantly embrace racist thought, hide behind “not racism,” or strive to be anti-racist, can benefit from reading How to Be an Antiracist. Maybe you won't be as touched by this book as I was. Maybe you won't underline nearly as many passages as I did (something I never do, by the way, emphasizing how much this book impacted me). But I do think most of us will get something worthwhile out of it.