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Review | ‘How to Be an Antiracist’ Is Cogent Analysis of Racism

Ibram X. Kendi Poses that Self-Interest Drives Racist Policymakers


Photo: Courtesy‘How to be Antiracist’

Think of racism in America as a patient with a cancerous tumor. Treating a patient’s symptoms while ignoring the underlying disease will fail every time because such treatment won’t shrink the tumor. In the same way, argues Ibram X. Kendi in How to Be an Antiracist, no matter how vigorously we confront ignorance and hate, we will not eradicate racism because racism is ultimately about power and self-interest. “Educational and moral suasion,” Kendi writes, “is not only a failed strategy. It is a suicidal strategy.”

Kendi won the National Book Award for Stamped from the Beginning, a brilliant history of the racist ideas that undergird American society. In this new book, Kendi examines the trajectory of his own racist thinking using examples from his life and that of his parents, who came of age during the civil rights movement. The result is a cogent analysis of the many forms of racism, against black bodies, black spaces, and black behavior. But Kendi rises to his polemical best when he links capitalism and racism — the “conjoined twins,” as he calls them — as systems serving power and self-interest. “What if,” Kendi asks, “economic, political, or cultural self-interest drives racist policymakers, not hateful immorality, not ignorance?”

What does it take to become an antiracist? Honest, courageous critique of ourselves and the policies that prevail in our institutions and workplaces, schools, and religious organizations, and relentless analysis of the beneficiaries of racist policies and how these beneficiaries perpetuate racism to advance their own self-interest. Only by engaging in this difficult effort can we eradicate the scourge of racism from our country.

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