How to Be an Antiracist

Narrated by: Ibram X. Kendi
Length: 10 hrs and 43 mins
5 out of 5 stars (4,514 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Number one New York Times best seller 

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

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by: The New York Times Book ReviewTimeThe Washington Post Shelf Awareness Library JournalPublishers Weekly • Kirkus Reviews

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. At its core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. 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.

Praise for How to Be an Antiracist

“Ibram X. Kendi’s new book, How to Be an Antiracist, couldn’t come at a better time.... Kendi has gifted us with a book that is not only an essential instruction manual but also a memoir of the author’s own path from anti-Black racism to anti-white racism and, finally, to antiracism.... How to Be an Antiracist gives us a clear and compelling way to approach, as Kendi puts it in his introduction, ‘the basic struggle we’re all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human.’” (NPR) 

“Kendi dissects why in a society where so few people consider themselves to be racist the divisions and inequalities of racism remain so prevalent. How to Be an Antiracist punctures the myths of a post-racial America, examining what racism really is - and what we should do about it.” (Time)

©2019 Ibram X. Kendi (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Ibram Kendi’s work, through both his books and the Antiracist Research and Policy Center, is vital in today’s sociopolitical climate. As a society, we need to start treating antiracism as action, not emotion - and Kendi is helping us do that.” (Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race)

“A boldly articulated, historically informed explanation of what exactly racist ideas and thinking are...[Kendi’s] prose is thoughtful, sincere, and polished. This powerful book will spark many conversations.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

“A combination of memoir and extension of [Kendi’s] towering Stamped from the Beginning.... Never wavering...Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth.... This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.... Essential.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

“In this sharp blend of social commentary and memoir...Kendi is ready to spread his message, his stories serving as a springboard for potent explorations of race, gender, colorism, and more.... With Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi proved himself a first-rate historian. Here, his willingness to turn the lens on himself marks him as a courageous activist, leading the way to a more equitable society.” (Library Journal, starred review)

Editor's Pick

History has its eyes on you
"As the Audible History Editor, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what listeners want and need from audio. Strangely, then, my own curiosity about this title — an intensely personal desire for the promise of the the title to be fulfilled — took me by surprise. Ibram Kendi’s stories and observations aren’t always comfortable for me as a white American to take in, but the audio listening experience is easy. The author’s stories are authentic, especially in his own voice, and looking at our nation's history — past and future — through his lens is a rich imaginative exercise. I'm still listening with hope, as a path toward an antiracist future beckons."
Christina H., Audible Editor

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80% of the useful content is in the first 1-2 chapters

The concept that there is no such thing as “not racist” (i.e. race-neutral policies) but only racist or anti-racist policies was extremely well articulated, useful and important.
After that, however, there was extremely limited discussion of what those actual policies are, HOW to support anti-racist policies, HOW to identify implicitly racist policies or HOW to develop anti-racist policies.
As a well-meaning, previously-not-racist-now-anti-racist white guy with a leadership position, I was looking for recommendations for how I could develop anti-racist policies and how I could identify policies (that are not overtly racist) as covertly racist.
The best I could find in this book is a recommendation to tip the scales toward previously oppressed races, sexualities, genders, etc., affirmative action style.
I agree such a finger on the scales is needed for many social policies and am working to implement that recommendation in my sphere of influence. However, I don’t see how that action is ANTI-racist: it is medium-term compensation for a history of racist policies. This book seems to argue for racist policy favoring black people, sexist policy favoring women, gender-identity discriminatory policy favoring LGBTQ+ people, etc. ...all needed and appropriate to support now, but not at all describing HOW to see racist policies for what they are and HOW to develop policies to combat them.
For example (my suggestion), in health care, black people have traditionally encountered barriers to access to care. Should we develop an anti-racist policy that prioritizes black patient appointment scheduling and bump whites from the schedule if a black wants/needs that appointment slot? If so, HOW would such a policy be operationalized? HOW would we mitigate the delirious effect on the one white body (person) who was affected each time the policy was employed? HOW should we think about such an effort?
This book needed more explicit examples, case studies of policies that worked or failed, recommendations for how I, should change to be helpful.
Instead this book shared a compelling, useful concept up front and ultimately was a frustrating read because of the lost opportunity to actually answer the question posed by the title.

112 people found this helpful

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Racism is a cancer

Summary: A personal, memoir informed, look at the difference between being ’not racist’ and an antiracist.
I picked up How to Be an Antiracist almost immediately after I finished Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. They are very different in approach. Stamped from the beginning is more academic, much longer, and more historical. How to be an Antiracist is much shorter, more personal and, in a helpful way, not academic.

Despite it being shorter and less academic, I think this is a book I am going to need to read again, while I doubt I will re-read Stamped from the Beginning. How to be an Antiracist is making subtle changes to the recent Critical Race Theory informed definitions of racism. And while I think I mostly agree with Kendi’s critiques, I also think I need to both re-read this book to be sure I understand what he is doing, and read some others responding to him to make sure I am not missing some of the implications of his critiques.

At the most basic, Kendi is rejecting the prejudice plus power definition of racism. At the same time, he is rejecting racist as a descriptor of a person. He wants racist to be the descriptor of the idea or action. “A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.” Similarly, “A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.” In another place, “What is racism? 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.”

Kendi uses the metaphor of racism not as an identity (or tattoo), you either are or are not racist, but a sticky name tag that you put on and take off. He is unequivocal that anyone can express racist ideas or perform racist actions. And he is not at all rejecting the concept of racism as a systemic reality. He does not like the term systemic racism (because it is too vague). He wants to concentrate on ‘racist policies.’

“A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups. By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.”

There will, I think, be several White people that are opposed to the Critical Race Theory line of thinking about racism that wants to embrace a part of Kendi’s point. They will like that anyone can express racist ideas or actions. But will not understand Kendi’s more significant point that the movement to antiracism is rooted in the empowerment of Black and other minorities. Kendi’s position is not that Blacks can be racist against Whites, but that Blacks can be racist against other Black people. Kendi is not empowering the idea of ‘reverse racism’ but expanding racism to included Black people being racist against other Black people or other minorities.

Throughout How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi talks about three approaches. In general, people are or have been, segregationists, assimilationists, or antiracists. Segregationists want to maintain separate racial hierarchies. Assimilationists wish to break down legal segregation, but also do not go far enough in breaking down the internal understanding of racial superiority. Assimilationists want acceptance and often are willing to have either partial approval or behavior-based acceptance of some, as opposed to all. In Kendi’s approach, segregationists and assimilationists are both forms of racism. It is only antiracists that are focused not just on legal segregation and discrimination, but also on internal feelings of superiority or inferiority that move society beyond racism.

Antiracism, like feminism in its ideals, is not about reversing the patriarchy or racial hierarchy, but about equality. To be antiracist in Kendi’s ideal means to not only be opposed to racism and for racial equality, but also to be against division based on, “gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity, skin color, nationality, and culture, among a series of other identifiers.” To be antiracist means that you are also an antisexist, against religious discrimination, against xenophobia, etc.

Kendi is also not interested in suasion.

“The original problem of racism has not been solved by suasion. Knowledge is only power if knowledge is put to the struggle for power. Changing minds is not a movement. Critiquing racism is not activism. Changing minds is not activism. An activist produces power and policy change, not mental change. If a person has no record of power or policy change, then that person is not an activist.”

When I say this book is personal, I mean that. Kendi uses his own life primarily as an example of moving from racism to antiracism. He talks about how he, at one point, had adopted the racist ideas against other Black people that were common at the time and won a speech competition by reciting them. He talks about anger and hatred against White people for both the historical harm and the continued indifference to racism. He talks about his own internalized sexism and homophobia. In each of these areas and more, he came to realized that a sense of superiority or alienation, no matter how large or small, perpetuates differences and violates the antiracist ideal.

The end of the book is the most personal. Kendi recounts how soon after they were married, his wife developed breast cancer. Together they walked through that cancer and instead of being newlyweds and she starting her medical career after 12 years of preparation to become a doctor, she became a cancer patient. And then not long after his wife was cancer-free, he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.

Cancer becomes the metaphor for racism at the end. Racism has embedded itself in our society. It is spreading and distorting culture and if it is not rooted out, not just in the racial aspects, but the sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc., it will continue to metastasize and transform. According to an interview on NPR I heard last week, his cancer is in remission for now, but he has a very high likelihood of reoccurrence, and he is not fooling around because he is not sure how long he will be alive to oppose racism.

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Essential reading for the Not Racist

Should be required reading for everyone born since the 15th century - yes, that is you and me! If you are tired of wondering how we got to where we are now, and you are frustrated by not seeing much progress and wondering why - then this book is for you.

34 people found this helpful

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loved it but...

As a member of a minority that has been persecuted for thousands of years, i identified with everything he wrote but his conclusion. My own people's experience would say u can be perfect, brilliant, add to the world culturally, scientifically, u name it but it all doesnt matter in the long run. People will hate just because they do. Cynical, i know but my peoples sad experience. It's like the whole human race needs to start over and labels of others cannot be allowed if we r to live together peacefully. still, a book well worth reading.

33 people found this helpful

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Heavily Biased

Kendi projects a lot throughout the book, and I found a majority of his evidence of racism to be anecdotal.
Don't get me wrong, there's a centuries-long legacy of segregation in the USA, but Kendi doesn't provide an objective view of how racism and segregation became, nor how they can be resolved.
If you seek an objective view, then I urge you to consider reading "The Color Of Law" by Richard Rothstein.

19 people found this helpful

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Thoroughly enjoyed the content.

Excellent book! I really appreciate Kendi's analysis and his thorough explanations. Definitely food for thought here. His candor regarding his own intellectual and antiracist development helped open me to some of the challenges his writing poses to my own beliefs and practices (as a black man and as a parent). See his Stamped From the Beginning for a comprehensive history of racism.

My one complaint about How to Be an Antiracist as an audiobook is the narration. His tone, cadence, and enunciation just aren't there for me. At times, the high pitch of his voice (generally seems to occur when emphasizing a point or certain details) is jarring and distracted me from the actual content. Still worth the listen though!

34 people found this helpful

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Having a hard time with the performance

Kendi seems to have taken inspiration for his performance from Christopher Walken, which gives the sense that he's not reading his own book. Occasionally he starts talking through the words, and those moments are strong, but most of the read has a 2-word beat that is awkwardly disconnected from the meaning behind the words.

14 people found this helpful

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Influential and important

By far the most important book I’ve read this year. Disturbing and yet hopeful. The ideas have helped me take the road to being Antiracist. Thank you!

13 people found this helpful

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Serves a different purpose

Stamped is an enlightening work of non fiction....the author's previous work. This book serves more to narrate the author's evolution of perspectives on racism and race and describes more generally about the definition of an antiracist more so than actual explicit strategies of antiracism. In addition, the author's reading is often too staccato and un refined leaving to a distraction of the poignant messaging.

24 people found this helpful

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A book for humans looking to become human

Read this book. Then, read it again. Give it to another. Teach it to a class. Read it again. And then, again... until you die.

36 people found this helpful