Book notes: How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi book summary review and key ideas.

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How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi


From the National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning comes a “groundbreaking” (Time) approach to understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in our society – and in ourselves. 

“The most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind.” (The New York Times

Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism – and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes listeners through a widening circle of antiracist ideas – from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities – that will help listeners see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.

Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I read this authors other book stamped from the beginning, and it was such a great read. This book has been on a lot of must read lists for 2020 so I’m excited to pick this one up

Key notes:

  • Racist ideas make people of color think less of themselves, which makes them more vulnerable to racist ideas
    • Racist ideas make white people think more of themselves, which further attracts them to racist ideas
  • Internalized racism is the true black on black crime
  • It’s not the people but the polices that ensnare them that are the problem
  • Not racist isn’t the opposite of racist because it feigns neutrality when it’s really not against racism, just not aggressively pro-racism
    • Antiracist is the opposite of racist
  • There is no in-between safe space of not racist
    • Racist neutrality is a mask for racism

Chapter 1: Definitions

  • Racist = one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions, inactions, or expressing a racist idea 
    • Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities
      • Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing
      • Racism is institutional, structural, and systemic
  • We all have the power to racially discriminate, but only an exclusive few have the power to make policy
    • Focusing on racial discrimination takes our eyes off of the central agents of racism
      • Racist policy and racist policy makers are what he calls racist power
    • The defining question is if the discrimination is creating racial equity (anti racist) or inequity (racist)
  • The only remedy to racial discrimination is antiracist discrimination
  • In order to get beyond racism, we must take account of race
    • In order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently
  • There is no such thing as a “not racist idea,” only racist ideas and antiracist ideas

Chapter 2: dueling consciousness

  • Assimilation is a racist idea because it pits one racial group as the benchmark for which the other should become
  • Every racial group has a dueling consciousness
  • Segregationist ideas and assimilationist ideas are two types of racist ideas
  • There’s no such thing as an American body, only bodies racialized by power

Chapter 3: Power

  • Race is a power construct of collected or merged difference that lives socially
    • Race is a mirage
  • It is a racial crime to be yourself if you’re not white in America 
  • It is one of the ironies of anti-racism that we must identify racially in order to identify the racial privileges and dangers of being in our bodies
    • Race is fundamentally a power construct of blended difference that lives socially
  • Races were never meant to be neutral categories, they were constructed to form hierarchies
    • Racist power created them for a purpose 
  • Intellectuals produced racist ideas to justify the racist policies of their era

Chapter 4: Biology

  • Biological racist = one who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully different in their biology, and that these differences create a hierarchy of value
  • Individual abuses are called micro aggressions to distinguish from macro aggressions of racist violence and policies
    • He does not like the term micro aggressions. He uses the term racist abuse to fully capture what it does to people
    • Zero tolerance policies preventing and punishing these abusers are antiracist
      • Only racists shy away from the R word
        • Racism is steeped in denial 
  • A black child is treated like an adult. They are not given empathy and are told to not make excuses
    • However, the black adult is ill treated like a child

Reader’s note: a lot of what he’s talking about in the section is covered in Stamped from the Beginning about the history of racist ideas

  • There’s no such thing as racial ancestry
    • Ethnic ancestry does exist
      • People are born with ancestry that comes from their parents, but are assigned a race
      • People from the same ethnic groups that are native to certain geographic regions typically share the same genetic profile. Geneticists call them populations
      • They find there’s more genetic diversity between populations within Africa than between Africa and the rest of the world
        • Race is a genetic mirage

Chapter 5: Ethnicity

  • Ethnic racism = a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized ethnic groups
  • Immigrants and migrants of all races tend to be more resilient and resourceful when compared to the natives of their own country and the natives of their new countries
    • Sociologist call this the migrant advantage

Chapter 6: Body

  • Bodily racism = one who is perceiving certain racialized bodies as more animal like and violent than others
  • Unarmed black bodies which apparently look armed to fearful officers are about twice as likely to be killed as unarmed white bodies
  • 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
  • Researchers have found a much stronger and clearer correlation between violent crime levels and unemployment levels, then between violent crime and race
  • There’s no such thing as a dangerous racial group, but there are dangerous individuals
    • There is the violence of racism manifest in policy and policing that fears the black body
    • There is the non-violence of anti-racism that does not fear the black body but fears if anything the violence of the racism that has been set on the black body

Chapter 7: culture

  • Cultural racist = one who is creating a cultural standard and imposing a cultural hierarchy among racial groups
  • Civilization is often a polite euphemism for cultural racism
  • Hip-hop has had the most sophisticated vocabulary of any American musical genre
  • When we racialize any group and then render that groups culture inferior, we are articulating cultural racism

Chapter 8: behavior

  • Behavioral racist = one who is making individuals responsible for perceived behavior of racial groups, and making racial groups responsible for the behavior of individuals
  • One of racism’s harms is the way it falls on the unexceptional black person who is asked to be extraordinary just to survive
    • And even worse, the black screw up faces the abyss after one error while the white screw up is handed second chances and empathy
  • Racial group behavior is a figment of racist imagination
    • Individual behaviors can shape the success of individuals, but policies determine the success of groups
      • And it is racist power that creates the policies that’s cause racial inequity‘s
  • Race doesn’t exist biologically or behaviorally
    • Anti-racism means separating the idea of a culture from the idea of behavior
      • Culture defines a group tradition that a particular racial group might share but that is not shared among all individuals in that racial group or among all racial groups
      • Behavior defines the inherent human traits and potential that everyone shares 
    • To say that slavery debilitated an entire race is behavioral racism
  • Standardize tests don’t measure intellect, but rather test-taking form, which only students who have access to get the tutoring needed to learn the form can excel in
    • The use of standardized tests to measure aptitude and intelligence is one of the most effective racist policies ever devised to degrade black lives and exclude black bodies
    • It’s a test, not the people, that is the racial problem
  • The author suggests we should measure intellect based on the person’s individual context and environment instead of another context and environment. Or measuring an individuals desire to learn
  • Maybe we shouldn’t standardize tests but rather standardize the opportunities available to students

Chapter 9: color

  • Colorism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequities between light people and dark people supported by racist ideas about light people and dark people
  • You must recognize that light people and dark people are two distinct racialized groups shaped by their own histories
    • Colorist ideas are also assimilationist ideas, encouraging assimilation into or transformation into or close to the white body
  • To be an antiracist is not to reverse the beauty standard, it is to eliminate any beauty standard based on skin or eyecolor, hair texture, facial and bodily features shared by groups
    • To be an antiracist is to diversify our standards of beauty like our standards of culture or intelligence, to see beauty equally in all skin colors

Chapter 10: white

  • Anti-white racist = one who is classifying people of European dissent as biologically culturally or behaviorally interior, or conflating the entire race of white people with racist power
  • In Florida during the Bush and Al Gore election, there were so many instances of voter suppression against black votes and a broken voting system which led to a very narrow win for Bush in that state
  • Courage is not the absence of fear, but the strength to do what is right in the face of it
  • Eventually Malcolm X converted to Orthodox Islam and rebuked his past racist ideas against white people
  • The only thing wrong with white people is when they embrace racist ideas and policies and then deny their ideas and policies are racist
    • That is not to ignore that white people have massacred and enslaved millions of indigenous African people, colonized and impoverished millions of people of color around the globe as their nations grew rich all the while producing racist ideas that blamed the victims
  • White supremacists blame non-white people for the struggle of white people when any objective analysis of their plight primarily implicates the rich, white Trumps they support
    • White supremacist is code for anti-white, and white supremacy it’s nothing short of an ongoing program of genocide against the white race

Chapter 11: black

  • Powerless defense = the illusory, concealing, disempowering, and racist idea that Black people can’t be racist because Black people don’t have power
    • Every single person actually has the power to protest racist and antiracist policies, to advance them or in some small way to stall them 
  • The only way that white power can gain full control is by convincing us that white people already have all the power
    • If we accept the idea that we have no power, we are falling under this sort of mind control that will rob us of any power to resist 
  • The real black on black crime is internalized racism against their own people

Chapter 12: class

  • Class racist = one who is racializing the classes
    • Supporting policies of racial capitalism against those race classes and justifying them by racist ideas about those race classes
    • Antiracist anti-capitalist = one who is opposing racial capitalism
  • To be antiracist is to equalize the race classes, to root the economic disparities between the equal race classes in policies, not people
  • Critics who claim welfare is the cause of lazy Black people said nothing about rich white people who depended on the welfare of inheritances, tax cuts, government contracts, hookups, and bailouts
    • They said little about the white middle-class depending on the welfare of the New Deal, the G.I. Bill, subsidized suburbs and exclusive white networks
    • Welfare for middle and upper-income people remained out of the discourse for handouts as welfare for the black poor became the true oppressor in the conservative version of the oppression inferiority thesis

The problem of racism, economic exploitation, and war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated

Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Conservative defenders are defining capitalism as the freedom to exploit people into economic ruin, assassinate unions, to pray on unprotected consumers, workers, and environments
    • The freedom to value quarterly profits over climate change, to undermine small businesses and cushion corporations
    • The freedom from competition and freedom not to pay taxes, to heed the tax burden onto the middle and lower classes, to commodify everything and everyone, to keep poor people poor and make the rich richer
  • Humanity needs honest definitions of capitalism and racism based in the actual living history of these conjoined twins 
    • To love capitalism is to end up loving racism and vice versa
    • The conjoined twins are two sides of the same destructive body
  • To be antiracist is to recognize neither poor blacks nor elite blacks as the truest representative of Black people

Chapter 13: space

  • Space racism = a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to resource inequity between racialized spaces or the elimination of certain racialized spaces which are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized spaces
  • The idea of the dangerous black neighborhood is the most dangerous racist idea and it is powerfully misleading
  • White-collar crime accounts for $300-600 billion per year, according to FBI
    • By comparison, at the height of violent crime in 1995, the total cost of burglary and robbery to be $4 billion
  • People fear theft from black neighborhoods but in reality the cost of white-collar crime and theft is in a significant order of magnitude greater

Chapter 14: gender

  • Gender racism = a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequities between races genders and are substantiated by racist ideas about race genders
  • White women get away with murder and black men spend years in prison for wrongful convictions

Chapter 15: sexuality

  • Queer racism = a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequities between race sexualities and are substantiated by racist ideas about race sexualities
  • Homophobia cannot be separated from racism. They’ve intersected for ages
    • We cannot be antiracist if we are homophobic or transphobic
  • Perhaps the most violated and oppressed of all the black intersectional groups are transgender women of color

Chapter 16: failure

  • Activist = one who has a record of power or policy change
  • Uplift suasion is a false narrative that says black excellence will make white people less racist
  • The problem of race has always been at its core the problem of power, not a problem of immorality or ignorance
  • Once they clearly benefit from antiracist policies, most Americans will support and become the defenders of the antiracist policies they once feared
  • An activist produces power and policy change, not mental change
    • If a person has no record of power or policy change, that person is not an activist
  • Antiracist power must be flexible to match the flexibility of racist power
    • Self-critique allows change. Changing shows flexibility
  • Demonstrations annoy power in the way children crying about something they will never get annoys parents
    • Unless power cannot afford bad press, power typically ignores demonstration
    • The most effective demonstration, like the most effective educational efforts, help people find the antiracist power from within
  • Demonstrations can provide emotional support for all ongoing protests

Chapter 17: success

  • The United States is a racist nation because its policymakers and policies have been racist from the beginning

Chapter 18: survival

  • The source of racist ideas was not ignorance and hate but self-interest
    • History of racist ideas is the history of powerful policy makers erecting selfish policies out of self interest and then producing racist ideas to defend and rationalize the inequitable effects of their policies while every day people consume those racist ideas which intern sparks ignorance and hate
    • Treating ignorance and hate and expecting racism to shrink is like treating a cancer patients symptoms and expecting the tumors to shrink
  • Some of the steps we can all take to eliminate racial inequity in our spaces:
    • Admit racial inequality is a problem of bad policy and not bad people
    • Identify racial inequity in all its intersections and manifestations
    • Investigate and uncover the racist policies causing racial inequity
    • Invent or find antiracist policy that can eliminate racial inequity
    • Figure out who or what group has the power to institute antiracist policy
    • Disseminate and educate about the uncovered racist policy and antiracist policy correctives
    • Work with sympathetic antiracist policymakers to institute the antiracist policy
    • Deploy antiracist power to compel or drive from power the unsympathetic racist policymakers in order to Institute the antiracist policy
    • Monitor closely to ensure the antiracist policy reduces and eliminates racial inequity
    • When policies fail, do not blame the people. Start over and seek out new effective antiracist treatments until they work
    • Monitor closely to prevent new racist policies from being instituted
  • He had stage four colon cancer, but managed to beat it and land in the 12% of people who survive
  • Race and racism are power constructs of the modern world
    • For roughly 200,000 years before race and racism were constructed, humans saw color but did not group the colors into continental races
    • They did not commonly attach negative and positive characteristics to those colors and rank the races to justify racial inequity, to reinforce racist power and policy
  • Racism is not even 600 years old. It is a cancer that we have caught early
    • But racism is one of the fastest spreading and most fatal cancers humanity has ever known

Closing thoughts:

Another fantastic book in the realm of understanding racism, especially in America, and the context of our current political climate. I think this was a great follow up book to the previous ones I read about race and discrimination in America.

Kendi is a fantastic writer and does a great job bringing in history to explain how we got here and the path forward to get out of it. One of the biggest takeaways I got from the book is how racism isn’t a natural thing, but a relatively new thing created as a power structure to enact racism policies.

I think most of us know how children are not inherently racist, but are taught hate from their parents and people around them. It makes sense now in relative to how new of a concept racism is. American society was build on racist foundations, and that’s why it’s so hard to fight against. Racists will equate the efforts to root our racism and racist policies as an attack on American foundations. In essence, they’re right, but they think the status quo is better than changing because they simply want to maintain the power structure.

Overall, highly recommend this read for everyone. Especially recommend if you live in America so that you can understand why our society needs to change its racist policies for more antiracist and equitable ones.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

There are so many great takeaways from this book (which I’m compiling into my YBC Executive Summaries), but the one I want to focus on is:

  • Capitalism and racism are conjoined twins that were born together and have been intertwined

This explains why America’s racism is so deeply rooted in its foundations. America’s values of individualism and capitalism are the opposite side of the same coin next to exploitation, racism, and slavery. The freedom to oppress and exploit an entire group of people was born out of that desire to grow wealth.

That is also what makes the American consciousness so resistant to removing their racist policies. America was founded on exploiting others through a racial hierarchy and policies, so both need to be addressed at the same time.


To be an antiracist is to understand race as a power construct in America and move to replace racist policy with antiracist ones.

Similar books:


Rating: 4 out of 5.


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