Guest Speaker Tells UD Students How To Be Antiracist

Carolyn Kroupa
Contributing Writer

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted Dr. Ibram X. Kendi for the Inclusive Excellence Scholar Residency on Sept. 16.  

A student forum was hosted in the afternoon and a well-attended public lecture, question and answer session and book signing took place in the evening in Kennedy Union Ballroom.

Kendi is a New York Times bestselling author, and he just released his latest book in August, “How to Be an Antiracist.”  He is also a columnist for The Atlantic, a professor of history and international relations, a frequent public speaker and founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University.

Kendi’s goal for his book “How to Be an Antiracist” is to “obliterate” the term “not racist” and ones like it, such as color blind and race-neutral.  Kendi believes there is only racist and antiracist.  

Kendi stated, “We’re all either being racist or antiracist.”

In an interview with Kendi, he defined antiracism as “a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.”

Listen to the full interview

Some antiracist policies he highlighted were universal healthcare, canceling all student debt, decriminalizing drugs and providing jobs to reduce levels of violent crime.

Kendi said the main problem is racist people in positions of power.  “Their policies are the fundamental problem,” he stated. 

Racist ideas have been normalized by racist policies, he said. He identified that Black and Latinx people get hit hardest by racist policies in place, but everyone can benefit from antiracist policies.  Implementing antiracist policies serve to eliminate racial disparities.  

Denial is “fundamental” to racism, he said.  Racists will deny their racist tendencies by claiming not to be racist.  Kendi stated the “heartbeat of racism itself is denial.”

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On the other hand, antiracists will admit to their racist tendencies and change their ways when confronted.  Antiracists view racial groups as equals, but still recognize ethnic differences.  

Antiracists must “confess, acknowledge, admit,” Kendi shared.  We have to confess “we’ve been made to be a fool” by the racist ideas bred in society.

Kendi claims it is critical for people to look at how they support racist policies.  “Instead of feeling guilty, you should feel angry,” Kendi stated. 

Antiracists attribute race inequality to racist policies, Kendi said, while racists see the problem as being the people themselves and will use anecdotes as evidence.

Anecdotes about a person of a particular race are not evidence that the whole race is the same.  Kendi used the example that if one black student cares more about basketball than academics, it does not mean that all black students care more about basketball than academics.

Negative behavior should not be generalized to any certain group.

Kendi joked that if there’s one thing Black people are envious of White people for is their ability to move through the world as individuals rather than as representations for their entire race.

“Black people are not essentially allowed to be human, and to be human is to be imperfect.  We don’t allow for people to be imperfect,” Kendi voiced.

Kendi stated that racist ideas not only disadvantage minorities but people in power as well.  When racist people are shown how antiracist policies can benefit them, their self-interest helps change their attitude more effectively than altruistic appeals.  

It is critical to be hopeful for an antiracist future, he said. In an interview, Kendi closed by saying, “When you believe that change is impossible, you’re not going to be a part of the force that brings about change.  And, so, to me, hope is essential no matter how bad things get to bringing about change.”

Dr. Ibram X Kendi’s website is www.ibramxkendi.com and his book “How to Be an Antiracist” is available in stores and online