By: Ibram X. Kendi
Reviewed by: Leah Parkhill-Reilly
Ibram X. Kendi, speaker, scholar, researcher and director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University takes us, the readers, on a deeply personal and humane path to antiracism. He grounds readers in the terms of antiracism and racism and unpacks why racism cannot be dismantled when it’s treated as a pejorative term (e.g. “you’re a racist”). Rather he makes the compelling case for reorienting the racism conversation toward behaviours, systems, policies and structures. Thereby not wrapping racism up in how we see ourselves and others but in the choice we make through our behaviour and action. This nuance is so important as it allows space for individual and systemic change. When we label someone a “racist”, that gets to the core of who they are, when we identify behaviour as racist, then there is space for awareness and intentional shift.
Kendi, masterfully moves chapter by chapter in an ever-expanding circle between his personal stories (of both racist and antiracist behaviour), historical anecdotes and financial/economic impacts to create the case and clarify how racism is experienced and what antiracism can look like in all aspects of human life. This is a deeply personal and deeply intellectual treatise on what it means to be an antiracist and Kendi’s own journey to being one.
This is an important and necessary book to read for leaders seeking to create inclusive and equitable workplaces and for any individuals interested in being better humans in general. As a white woman, did I find parts of this book easy to read? Absolutely but not because of a feeling of judgment by the author. He writes with compassion, kindness and with openness about his own journey to becoming anti-racist which opened up the door for me to reflect on my own biases and experiences. In a recent episode of the “Unlocking Us” podcast, Brené Brown spoke with Kendi who used the analogy that racism has been raining down on our heads for so long that we don’t even realize that we’re wet. This book provides an umbrella for those of us standing in the rain and gives us a path forward to make positive change. And that’s the discomfort. As I read the book, I noticed how I’d been oblivious to the rain. Growth and change are often uncomfortable, so I say dig into it. This book pushes you to do the hard work of self-reflection, of when and where you may have the opportunity to be antiracist in your own life and push for change. On reading this book I realize how much work I have to do in terms of my own unlearning, unpacking and processing my own conditioning. I read this book feeling deeply humbled and inspired to learn more and do more. Hope you’ll join me.
What this book provides is not a quick fix to such a deeply rooted and complex issue but a necessary building block for any leader to better know and begin to take action in living and behaving as an antiracist. A definite must read.