Dr. Ibram X. Kendi was on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last night. He’s the author of How To Be an Anti-Racist, the number one nonfiction bestseller right now. I bought it a few days ago and it’s waiting for me on my kindle. I learned some things from this interview, and while they’re concepts I may have been familiar with, Dr. Kendi laid them out so clearly that I wanted to talk about it. I transcribed a lot of what he said so this is long.
On what it means to be an anti-racist
Historically whenever people are challenged for saying and doing something that’s racist, typically their response is ‘I’m not racist,’ no matter what they just said, no matter what they just did. By contrast someone who is striving to be anti-racist is willing to admit the times in which they expressed racist ideas, the times in which they sort-of support racist policies because they’re in a process of changing. They’re changing themselves, they’re changing society, they’re not in denial.
On our capacity for change
Humans have a capacity for change. We have to allow for that. When somebody diagnoses us, when someone explains that we have a problem, are we going to deny that problem, are we going to deny that addiction, or are we going to admit it and then begin the process of changing ourselves, healing ourselves so that we can change and heal this country.
Anti-racist implies action
“I’m not racist” is an identity, a person believes that’s who they are. Anti-racist is more so what they’re being, based on what they’re saying and what they’re doing. Anti-racists know that if they’re expressing that the racial groups are equals, they’re being anti-racist. If they’re challenging racist policies, they’re being anti-racist. You actually have to do something and be something in order to be anti-racist.
On the history of racism
You can look into antiquity and see sexism, ethnocentrism [and] religious persecution. Racism is a modern phenomenon. The concept of race, Black Africa, Native America, even white Europe, is a modern phenomenon that largely comes out of the slave trade, colonialism and slavery.
“Did the economic desire to exploit Africans lead to the justification of it through racism?”
Exactly so the core, the heart, the cradle of racism is self interest. I want to enslave African people, even Native people so therefore I’m going to create policies that make all these different ethnic groups one people worthy of enslaving and then I’m going to argue that these people are inferior, so therefore they should be enslaved.
“How can we make it so being anti-racist is in the self interest of most Americans?”
I think for the vast majority of Americans, being anti-racist or creating a more equitable society is actually in their self interest. White Americans are constantly thinking about what they would lose with a radical renovation of this country’s policies as opposed to what they would gain. They’re too quick to compare themselves to people of color, as opposed to comparing themselves to what people of other western democracies have. The question is why don’t we have paid family leave in the United States? Why doesn’t everyone have free healthcare? Why is there so much income inequality and one of the reasons you can point to is racism and people being constantly manipulated to supporting policies and policy makers against their own self interests by racist ideals.
After that Dr. Kendi gave the example of David Duke’s godson, Derek Black, the son of a major white nationalist leader. Derek went to college and realized that his racist ideas were wrong, educated himself, and now he’s striving to be anti-racist. Colbert mentioned that there’s a petition to rename Dr. Kendi’s high school from Stonewall Jackson high school to Dr. Ibram X. Kendi high school. Dr. Kendi said Stonewall Jackson’s great-great grandson is pushing for the name to be changed, showing “we are not bound by our ancestors, just like we’re not bound by the past history of this country’s racism, we can create a different type of country that’s going to really respect and value black lives and the lives of people of color.”
That’s so true that so many Trump supporters don’t have decent healthcare, don’t have adequate family or medical leave, and would have better, more comfortable lives with more of a social safety net. I always think about the fact that they would be up in arms if Medicare was ended, but that they don’t consider it “welfare” because that’s been demonized by the right.
Dr. Kendi also wrote the book Anti-racist Baby, which teaches kids to be anti-racist (as opposed to the antiquated concept of “color blind”). I appreciate how he explained everything. I got so much out of this interview and came away from it really excited to read his book.
Here’s that interview!