How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Nonfiction, 305 pages, published in 2019

The opposite of racist isn’t not racist, it’s antiracist. Kendi explores what antiracism means in different parts of life.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content Warnings: racism, cancer

This book was…interesting for me to read. I ended up really appreciating the factual elements of this book, but I didn’t vibe with the writing style.

Kendi defines antiracism as the opposite of racism, where no races are held above or below other races for any reason. Being “not racist” just means that you are complicit in racist ideas, whereas being antiracist means that you are actively not holding one race above another. I also found it interesting that he explained that you as a person are not racist or antiracist, it’s your actions (and words) that are. One moment you do something racist, the next moment you could do something antiracist.

One point that I found very interesting was that Kendi said that someone can be racist, no matter what race they are and no matter the race of the other person in the situation. For example, as a young adult, Kendi thought that white people were the devil based on a few experiences, and steered clear of them. He realized later that he was being racist because not only was he judging an entire group of people by the actions of a few, but he was also putting one race above another. This was very contrary to everything I have heard about “reverse racism”, so it definitely left me with some things to think about.

Kendi also digs into history. Through his research, he came to realize that the institution of racism was based on money. Back when the slave trade was starting, it was very profitable for the people in charge, so it was in their best interest to sow the seeds of fear and hatred. Because more people feared and hated Africans being sold into slavery, it helped their business. As their business grew, it caused more fear and hate, creating a feedback cycle.

My main issues with this book were certain elements of the writing. I found it very repetitive, both in words used and sentence format. Repetitive sentence format was used to make a point, but it was just hard to read (especially to listen to, as I listened to the audiobook). He also (understandably) uses the words racist and antiracist a lot. Through writing the beginning of this review, I can understand now how that’s kind of unavoidable.

There was also a few discussions of history that went right over my head. I don’t think I had the background knowledge to understand exactly what point Kendi was trying to make.

Kendi also frames all the information in this book through the lens of his own life in chronological order. He would tell a story, then talk about racism and antiracism that relates to the story, then he would get back to the story. I just felt like it took him far to long to get back to his own story, so much so that I would forget what part of his life he was even referencing.

Aside from the writing, I did find this book quite through-provoking. I liked that Kendi includes definitions at the beginning of each section, and how the sections cover so many different parts of society.

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