Aimlessly Going Forward

blog by Tomas Sedovic

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

book, review

This review was originally posted at Goodreads and imported here later on with next to no spell/grammar checking.

5/5 stars

How to be an Antiracist is a fantastic, clear, extremely well laid-out book on bigotry and how to fight it.

Each chapter begins with couple of terms it defines (e.g. "racist policy" and "antiracist policy") and then delves into the examples, cases, research, quotes from all sides, historical context and personal anecdotes.

It builds up the picture of what a racist world looks like, how it affects people and then contrasts it with what antiracist behaivour, policies and world would be like.

For example, one of the earlier chapters deals with the racist and antiracist policies. It lays out details and harms of the segregationist policy ("other races are bad and should stay away") followed up with the assimilationist approach ("don’t see colour, don’t say racism") and highlights how both are racist.

This was something I was beginning to appreciate lately, but it’s nonobvious for a lot of people. And I definitely have the assimilationist tendencies. By trying to integrate Black (or whoever) people into the white culture and way of living, what these policies do is claim that their existing behaviour, the existing culture, their existing way of living — is bad. Inferior. Something to be driven out — not by driving the people out (by segregating them), but by erasing their culture and have them adopt the mainstream one.

It shifts the narrative from "Black people are bad" to "Black culture is bad".

Plus, erasing the notion of race, removing it and the colour from the language prevents people from speaking up against racism, thus perpetuating it.

The author shows plenty of examples from his own life where he experienced racism himself and how it affected him. But also, more powerfully, where he himself held racist views and behaviours and how he changed his mind.

The majority of the people living in a racist society will end up being racist. Even the people discriminated against. This is something that is clear as soon as you try to think about it clearly and very much visible everywhere. But it is nonetheless an idea that’s not commonly held.

Black people can be and often are racist. Against Black people. Women can be and often are sexist — against women.

The book paints a convincing picture (which is borne out by the evidence) that races as a concept were manufactured in order to gain support for colonialism and slavery — both extremely lucrative endeavours (unless you’re the one being enslaved or colonised of course).

It goes into great detail of how we ascribe the behaviour of individuals to entire groups and how that’s blatantly incorrect as well as damaging.

"Behavior is something humans do, not races do", Ibram says and I concur.

While the first half of the book focuses on the notion of race itself, the second half expands the notion to all bigotry and shows how classism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia are all just different sides of the same power-hungry controlling coin. And how when they combine, their impact multiplies.

In the fight to make the world a better place, they can’t be treated as separate, independent aspects.

"To truly be anti-racist is to be a feminist. To truly be a feminist is to be an anti-racist."

This is something I’ve started noticing myself, seeing the similarities between the race discussions and scaremongering, having seen the exact same arguments and attitudes when learning about the treatment of women and homosexuals. And seeing the same happening in the recent manufacturing of the transgender panic.

And of course learning how the suffragette movement was powered by Black women who were then left behind by the white ones. How sexism and homophobia is rampant everywhere — including Black people. And how being Black and gay or Black and a woman puts you at the bottom of the bottom.

It was heartening to see this "unification of bigotry" put forth so clearly. I think it is a thing that’s often overlooked and extremely important to point out. I expected this book would only focus on the matters of race, but it is so much greater for not going beyond.

"Black people are apparently responsible for calming the fears of violent cops in the way women are supposedly responsible for calming the sexual desires of male rapists. If we don’t, then WE are blamed for our own assaults. Our own deaths."

This book is written by a Black American and a lot of the topics discussed are done so through that lens. However, the lessons reach much farther than that and they’re applicable to every group and every society even if the details are a little different.

If you are interested in the matter of race or any other bigotry, this books is an excellent starting point.

One side note about the audiobook: it is read by the author and while he narrates well, his diction felt a little off to me. Sometimes it sounded like he ended a sentence prematurely or put pauses that were either too long or too short. I found this a little distracting at first, but the content quickly won me over and the audiobook is a great way to experience this work.

Screenshot and link to the website for the Dose Response game

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