As I articulated in my D’var Torah on Yom Kippur morning, white American racism is much more substantial – and profoundly disturbing – than things like “I get nervous when I’m walking down a city street and see someone black walking towards me.” My learning over the last year or so has made that amply clear to me.
I’m two-thirds of the way through How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, a black American scholar of history, international relations, and racism at American University and founding director of its “Antiracist Research and Policy Center.” He’s published many scholarly essays and three books, including Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, and received a 2019 Guggenheim Fellowship.
He establishes several key points early in How To Be An Anti-Racist:
- that a racist is “one who supports a racist policy through actions or inactions or by expressing a racist idea;”
- that “to be an anti-racist is to set lucid definitions of racism/antiracism, racist/antiracist policies, racist/antiracist ideas, [and] racist/antiracist people.”
- that “Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities” and that “Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing.”
- that “A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.”
- quoting Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun (1978) “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.” In other words, given the racist realities that exist in America today, we cannot yet strive for a “race-neutral” society. First, we are going to have to discriminate in favor of the victims of racism until the inequities are erased.
- that one cannot be a non-racist, at least not with a racist society such as ours; one can be only a racist or an anti-racist. “One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist.”
He then establishes a few more such points. Following that – and weaving together personal experiences, factual data, and concepts by which to understand the data – he applies these ideas to a multiplicity of areas; really, the whole of human life: biology; ethnicity; body; culture; behavior; color; white; black; class; space; gender; sexuality; failure; success; and survival. In each of these areas, he reveals to us new insights alongside many things that we already know but don’t admit.
And he is not shy about revealing his own past anti-black racisms nor about criticizing other anti-black racism by blacks.
I’ve written all of this, incomplete as it is, because I hope to entice you to read this book. For me it has been eye-opening, as well as heart-opening.
And if you don’t have the time, or the inclination, or want to get a sense of the man, himself, before reading the book, you can use this link to listen to a 21-minute interview with him from Oct.30 on “Reset” on NPR (a partial transcript of the interview can be found there as well).
I look forward to hearing your thoughts about his ideas once you’ve had a chance to explore them for yourselves.
On a related topic: we are shaping up plans for two interracial opportunities over the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend.
- On Saturday afternoon, Jan. 18, we hope to volunteer for a program run by our new friends at PeacePlayers International, in the city.
- On Monday, Jan. 20, I’ll lead a group to an interfaith, interracial service to honor Dr. King and his legacy at a program co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Stone Temple Baptist Church, where the program will be held.
More details will be forthcoming. In the meantime, if you are interested in either of these programs, please email me so that I can make sure that you receive the information.