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

Reading Time: 12 minutes

How to be an antiracist

How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi

Publisher : One World (2019)

ISBN-13 :978-0525509288

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


My Racist Introduction

  • Seeing people, not policies, as the problem is the result of racist ideas.
  • Being “not racist”
    • signifies neutrality on the issue of race
    • is passive and accepting of racism
  • The opposite of “racist” is “anti-racist” (and not “not racist”)
  • Neutrality and color-blindness is simply a mask for racism
  • “Racist” isn’t a slur, but a description
  • The goal of the book is:
    • to share the journey to becoming anti-racist
    • to see others as fully human
    • to focus on changing policy instead of groups of people


  • What’s the problem with being “not racist”? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “anti-racist.” What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism. … “Racist” is not–as Richard Spencer argues–a pejorative. It is not the worst word in the English language; it is not the equivalent of a slur. It is descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it–and then dismantle it. The attempt to turn this usefully descriptive term into an almost unusable slur is, of course, designed to do the opposite: to freeze us into inaction. p.9
  • The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what–not who–we are .p.10

Chapter 1: Definitions

  • Racist policy produces/sustains racial inequity between racial groups
  • Racial discrimination is not inherently racist per se;
    • it depends on whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity
  • Race neutrality feeds into white nationalist victimhood (claiming “reverse discrimination” on actions/policy designed to protect or advance non-white people toward equity)


  • Racist: one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea. p.13
  • Antiracist: one who is supporting an antiracist policy though their actions or expressing an antiracist idea. p.13
  • Racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas. Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas. p.20

Chapter 2: Dueling Consciousness

  • Double Consciousness: W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Dueling consciousness: to be black versus to be “American”, where “American” = white
  • Assimilationist Ideas: there is a (superior) standard to be aspired to/ that can serve as a benchmark
  • Segregationist Ideas: certain racial groups can never be improved; rooted in genetic traits
  • Antiracist Ideas: racial groups are equal in all the ways they are different
  • To be antiracist is to free oneself from both assimilationist and segregationist tendencies; to conquer the dueling consciousness


  • Assimilationist ideas are racist ideas. Assimilationists can position any racial group as the superior standard that another racial group should be measuring themselves against, the benchmark they should be trying to reach. p.29
  • But there is a way to get free. To be antiracist is to emancipate oneself from the dueling consciousness. To be antiracist is to conquer the assimilationist consciousness and the segregationist consciousness. The White body no longer presents itself as the American body; the Black body no longer strives to be the American body, knowing there is no such thing as the American body, only American bodies, racialized by power. p.33-34

Chapter 3: Power

  • Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal (died in 1460) created the first transatlantic slave-trading policies, beginning in 1444; began to trade exclusively in African bodies, and developed ideas of racial hierarchy to justify trading human beings
  • Prince Henry the Navigator also used the religious motive of saving the “lost black souls” as the cover for his profitable participation in the slave trade [i.e the racist policy]
  • Capitalism/the pursuit of ruthless self-interest creates racist policies
  • Racism is the by-product of racist ideas needed to justify brutal economic choices and policies
  • It requires the cooperation of writers, intellectuals, and religious bodies
  • Designed to shift blame from policies to people
  • Racism is about power: the power to make and unmake, to define, to categorize, to rank


  • … the primary one [i.e. privilege of Whiteness] being the privilege of being inherently normal, standard, and legal. It is a racial crime to be yourself if you are not White in America. It is a racial crime to look like yourself or empower yourself if you are not White. I guess I became a criminal at seven years old. p.38
  • … race is fundamentally a power construct of blended difference that lives socially. Race creates new forms of power: the power to categorize and judge, elevate and downgrade, include and exclude. p.38

Chapter 4: Biology

  • Biological Racism
    • Curse Theory
    • Polygenesis
    • Natural Selection/Eugenics: the only 3 outcomes for the “weaker” races are
      • Extinction
      • Slavery
      • Assimilation
  • “Microaggression”: constant verbal & nonverbal racist abuse
    • coined by African American Harvard psychiatrist Chester Pierce in 1970
    • used to distinguish from the macroaggressions of racist violence and policies
    • has expanded, since 1990, to apply to interpersonal abuses against all marginalized groups


  • 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. p.44

Chapter 5: Ethnicity

  • Ethnic Racism: separating black people based on native and non-native origin
  • African-Americans versus Africans
  • originates from white supremacy
    • Slave traders lumped diverse ethnic groups in Africa into one monolithic race
    • created hierarchies of preferred Africans suitable for enslavement
  • no person of African origin wins in this competition.
  • “Where are you from?”
  • some African American anger at continental Africans for “selling their own people”


  • 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. p.56
  • The fact is, all ethnic groups, once they fall under the gaze and power of race makers, become racialized. p.62
  • We practice ethic racism when we express a racist idea about an ethnic group or support a racist policy toward an ethic group p.63

Chapter 6: Body

  • The black body is seen as bigger, more threatening & violent
  • Segregationists argue that this requires strict laws and more policing and mass incarceration


  • Bodily Racist: one who is perceiving certain racialized bodies as more animal-like and violent than others p.69

Chapter 7: Culture

  • Cultural standards create a cultural hierarchy
  • For a long time, white people have defined cultural standards, which places white culture at the top of the hierarchy
  • white culture is the standard to be aspired to
    • Black Americans are urged to assimilate to some superior “white” cultural standard
  • white people have denied that Black Americans have a culture of their own that is not derivative or imitative
  • language, hip-hop, religion, fashion
  • Superior vs. Inferior cultures
    • Black culture viewed as derivative and imitative
    • eg. Ebonics deemed inferior, while English is not seen as inferior or derivative of Latin or German


  • Cultural Racist: one who is creating a cultural standard and imposing a cultural hierarchy among racial groups p.81

Chapter 8: Behavior

  • To be antiracist is to deracialize behavior
  • Antiracism means to separate the idea of culture from that of behavior
  • Intelligence is a type of behavior; assigning performances of intelligence to certain races is a racist act
  • the racist idea of an achievement gap is really more of an opportunity gap
  • The history of race & standardized testing begins in 1869:
    • Francis Galton (1869) (pioneer of eugenics) (English) → Alfred Binet & Theodore Simon (1905) (developed an IQ test in France) → Lewis Terman (1916) (refined the IQ test for Americans) → Carl C. Brigham (1926, creator of the SAT; believed the SAT would reveal the natural intellectual ability of White people)


  • 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 screwup who faces the abyss after one error, while the White screwup is handed second chances and empathy p.93
  • One of the fundamental values of racism to White people is that it makes success attainable for even unexceptional Whites, while success, even moderate success, is usually reserved for extraordinary Black people. p.93- 94

Chapter 9: Color

  • Dueling Consciousness: wanting to be black but also not wanting to LOOK black.
  • there are advantages conferred with proximity to whiteness
  • maintains the racial hierarchy, with lighter skinned blacks ranking higher than darker skinned Black people
    • Biracial/Light skinned seen as better than dark-skinned Black people
  • Colorism (coined by novelist Alice Walker in 1983) is a form of racism
    • encourages assimilation/transformation into the white body
  • Color lines are especially harmful for dark people
  • Colorism originates from and is encouraged by racism
  • Skin bleaching, relaxing hair, etc


  • To be an antiracist is to focus on color lines as much as racial lines, knowing that color lines are especially harmful for Dark people. When the gains of a multicolored race disproportionately flow to Light people and the losses disproportionately flow to Dark people, inequities between the races mirror inequities within the races. But because inequities between the races overshadow inequities within the races, Dark people often fail to see colorism as they regularly experience it. Therefore, Dark people rarely protest policies that benefit Light people, a “skin color paradox,” as termed by political scientists Jennifer L. Hochschild and Vesla Weaver. p.110

Chapter 10: White

  • Racist ideas require BELIEF, and not critical thinking
  • anti-white racism is possible
    • it is “the hate that hate produced”
    • a response to white racism
  • There is a difference between RACIST POWER/POLICYMAKERS and white people
  • Racist Power doesn’t benefit from a more equitable society
  • Racist Power convinces ordinary whites that inequity is not due to policy, but rather due to personal failure


  • Racist power, hoarding wealth and resources, has the most to lose in the building of an equitable society. As we’ve learned, racist power produces racist policies out of self-interest and then produces racist ideas to justify those policies. But racist ideas also suppress the resistance to policies that are detrimental to White people, by convincing average White people that inequity is rooted in “personal failure” and is unrelated to policies. Racist power manipulates ordinary White people into resisting equalizing policies by drilling them on what they are losing with equalizing policies and how those equalizing policies are anti-White. p.129-130

Chapter 11: Black

  • a new category within the Black community was created: “Niggers” versus regular Black people
  • Racialize negative behaviors and attach it to “niggers” versus regular Black people
  • Powerless Defense: Black people can’t be racist because Black people have no power
    • a disempowering and racist idea
    • Shields powerful people of color from doing the work of anti-racism, even when they are reproducing racist policies
  • Black judges, police, lawyers, Clarence Thomas
  • The betrayal of the slave revolt led by Denmark Vesey by Peter Prioleau in 1822 p. 145-146
  • internalizing of racist ideas by Black people
  • Social media (e.g. filmed policy brutality) awakened Black people to systemic racism. Change in attitudes between 2013 and 2017
  • A large percentage of black people hold anti-black racist ideas


  • Powerless Defense: The illusory, concealing, disempowering, and racist idea that Black people can’t be racist because Black people don’t have power. p.136

Chapter 12: Class

  • Black Poor vs White Trash; Black Elites
  • Class Racism: the intersection of racism and capitalism
  • “Culture of Poverty” pathologizes poor blacks,
    • racializes the failings of capitalism and translates it as personal failings (for white trash) and group failings (for poor or ghetto blacks)
  • Slavery→ segregation → poverty: Oppression Inferiority thesis
  • welfare, the ghetto – become racialized


  • 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 p.151
  • To love capitalism is to end up loving racism. To love racism is to end up loving capitalism. The conjoined twins are two sides of the same destructive body. p.163
  • They were birthed together from the same unnatural causes, and they shall one day die together from unnatural causes. Or racial capitalism will live into another epoch of theft and rapacious inequity, especially if activists naïvely fight the conjoined twins independently, as if they are not the same. p.163

Chapter 13: Space

  • Black spaces versus White spaces
  • Consider the “Equality” in the phrase “Separate, but Equal”
    • most people focus on the “separate” part of the phrase, while few consider whether minority spaces are truly equal in terms of resources
    • a question of whether non-white spaces receive equal allocation of resources
  • a question of resource equity
  • Examples of racialized spaces: suburbs, Congress, universities, criminal justice system


  • 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. p.166
  • Just as racist power racializes people, racist power racializes space. The ghetto. The inner city. The third world. A space is racialized when a racial group is known to either govern the space or make up the clear majority in the space. A Black space, for instance, is either a space publicly run by Black people or a space where Black people stand in the majority. Policies of space racism overresource White spaces and underresource non-White spaces. Ideas of space racism justify resource inequity through creating a racial hierarchy of space, lifting up White spaces as heaven, downgrading non-White spaces as hell. p.169

Chapter 14: Gender

  • Black feminists introduced the idea of “gendered racism” the intersection of racism and sexism experienced by women of color
  • Matriarchal structure of the Black community
  • Blames black women for the “fractured” nature of the black family: single, black mothers seen as hypersexual welfare leeches
  • Black patriarchs: Black women should submit to men/husbands and produce more black babies
  • “Intersectionality”, theory developed in 1991 by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, an African American lawyer and civil rights advocate
  • Gendered Racism:
    • a system or set of policies that produces inequities between race-genders
    • It’s about inventing a hierarchy between races and genders, with white men and white women at the top, and black men also benefiting or suffering from their gender.


  • Gender Racism: a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-genders and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-genders. p.181
  • In discussing the experiences of Black women, is it sexism or is it racism? These two concepts narrowly intertwine and combine under certain conditions into one, hybrid phenomenon. Therefore, it is useful to speak of gendered racism [c.f. Philomena Essed, 1991, “Understanding Everyday Racism”] p.188
  • To be antiracist is to reject not only the hierarchy of races but of race-genders. To be feminist is to reject not only the hierarchy of genders but of race-genders. To truly be antiracist is to be feminist. To truly be feminist is to be antiracist. To be antiracist (and feminist) is to level the different race-genders, is to root the inequities between the equal race-genders in the policies of gender racism p.189
  • A theory for Black women is a theory for humanity….when humanity becomes serious about the freedom of Black women, humanity becomes serious about the freedom of humanity p.192

Chapter 15: Sexuality

  • queer black feminism is very intersectional
  • queer antiracism seeks to eliminate these inequities between race-sexualities
  • higher instances of poverty among black same-sex couples than among white or black heterosexual couples
  • extreme violence and transphobia faced by transgender people of color


  • Queer Racism: a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-sexualities. p.193

Chapter 16: Failure

  • Why have we failed to create antiracist societies?
    • We stick with failed racial ideologies: race is a power construct, as opposed to a social construct, and racism is rooted in self-interest, not necessarily ignorance or hate
    • You can’t educate away racism
  • Moral and educational and uplift suasion are futile
    • focuses on persuading White people to change by appealing to their moral conscience
    • did not work during slavery, segregation, or Jim Crow
    • what worked were policies: the Civil War, Civil Rights Act (1964), Voting Rights Act (1965), Desegregation rulings, Brown vs Loving (1967, interracial marriage), Obamacare (2010), etc
  • Changed minds do not lead to antiracist policy; antiracist policy leads to changed minds
  • Change comes from accruing power and appealing to (economic, political, personal, etc ) self-interest
  • There’s a difference between protest and demonstration
    • Protest = organizing people for a prolonged campaign that forces policy change
    • Demonstration = mobilizing people momentarily to publicize a problem
  • There’s also a difference between mobilizing and organizing
  • Uplift Suasion: the need to be an exemplar of the Black race
    • is based on the idea that being good (or near perfect) will cause White people to be less racist


  • Incorrect conceptions of race as a social construct (as opposed to a power construct), of racial history as a singular march of racial progress (as opposed to a duel of antiracist and racist progress), of the race problem as rooted in ignorance and hate (as opposed to powerful self-interest)—all come together to produce solutions bound to fail. p.201
  • The problem of race has always been at its core the problem of power, not the problem of immorality or ignorance p.208
  • Moral and educational suasion breathes the assumption that racist minds must be changed before racist policy, ignoring history that says otherwise. p.208

Chapter 17: Success

  • Success is defined as a time when antiracist power and policy predominates, and where racist power is marginalized.
  • “Institutional Racism” can be blinding:
    • it veils specific policies and policymakers who make these policies
    • makes racism seem mysterious, unknowable, hidden, and therefore unfixable/untreatable.
    • we become blind to racist policies and policymakers
  • We must learn to see racist policy in racial inequity
    • Ways of seeing: what is overt and what is covert? What is explicit and what is implicit?
  • The status quo aids post-racialists who claim racism is hidden because it no longer exists
  • Racist: someone who is supporting racist policies/expressing racist ideas


  • ‘Respectable’ individuals can absolve themselves from individual blame….But they continue to support political officials and institutions that would and do perpetuate institutionally racist policies. [cf. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, Charles Hamilton, Kwame Toure] p.222
  • Policymakers and policies make societies and institutions, not the other way around. The United States is a racist nation because its policymakers and policies have been racist from the beginning. The conviction that racist policymakers can be overtaken, and racist policies can be changed, and the racist minds of their victims can be changed, is disputed only by those invested in preserving racist policymakers, policies, and habits of thinking. p.223

Chapter 18: Survival

  • compares racism to cancer
  • self-interest, not ignorance, is source of racist ideas
  • antiracist policy change is the solution
    • and not appealing to morality or for more education
  • racism is rooted in denial:
    • that racial inequity is due to racist policy, as opposed to personal or group failings
  • No progress without pain – e.g. Civil War
  • Antiracists must believe in an antiracist future, free of racial inequity
  • Must have hope, against the odds, and fight to create an antiracist world


  • The history of racist ideas is the history of powerful policymakers erecting racist policies out of self-interest, then producing racist ideas to defend and rationalize the inequitable effects of their policies, while everyday people consume those racist ideas, which in turn sparks ignorance and hate. p.231
  • Education and moral suasion is not only a failed strategy. It is a suicidal strategy. p.231
  • But before we can treat, we must believe. Believe all is not lost for you and me and our society. Believe in the possibility that we can strive to be antiracist from this day forward. Believe in the possibility that we can transform our societies to be antiracist from this day forward. Racist power is not godly. Racist policies are not indestructible. Racial inequities are not inevitable. Racist ideas are not natural to the human mind. p.238



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