How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

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“Denial is the heartbeat of racism.”

Donald Trump calls himself the least racist person you’ll ever meet, however he’s referred to latinx people as criminals and rapists, called for a ban on Muslims entering the country, calls his black critics stupid, and praises white supremacists for being very fine people. How can he say he’s not racist?

The opposite of racist isn’t not racist, it’s antiracist. There is no neutrality when it comes to racism. If you aren’t opposing it, you’re allowing it to continue through your inaction. Claiming you’re colorblind is akin to claiming neutrality, because failing to see race is failing to see racism. Kendi confesses to being racist himself when he was younger and shares several personal experiences he’s had with racism throughout the book.

Discrimination isn’t necessarily bad if the purpose is to create equity. Programs that favor minorities are necessary to counteract programs that create inequity. Calls for race neutrality are actually racist because they leave racist systems and white privilege in place.

Black infants in America have higher mortality than white infants. Black people have shorter lifespans than white people and are less likely to have access to health insurance due to racist policies.

Black people are also more likely to be incarcerated due to racist policies.  The so-called war on drugs started by Lyndon B. Johnson and continued by Nixon and Reagan did nothing to reduce drug-related crime, it just put drug offenders in prison longer. This quadrupled the number of people in prison between 1980 to 2000 even though crime didn’t increase. White people both sell and use more drugs than minorities, but they’re less likely to be put in prison for it. Non-violent black offenders remain in prison about the same length of time as violent white criminals.

Racism began in the 1400s when Prince Henry the Navigator came up with the idea of race in order to justify slavery. Slavery existed before the 1400s, of course, but it wasn’t race-based back then. Linnaeus further classified races into white, black, red, and yellow. The idea that the curse of Canaan found in the Bible was black skin originated in 1578 as a further justification for slavery. Racism has always been driven by gaining economic and political power. Hate and ignorance are just the side effects.

Race is a social construct. There’s no such thing as biological race. The human genome project showed that all humans are 99.9% the same genetically. There’s actually more genetic diversity between different parts of Africa than between Africa and the rest of the world. West Africans are genetically closer to western Europeans than they are to east Africans. However, this doesn’t mean we live in a post-racial society. If we stop talking about race and pretend it doesn’t exist, we can’t challenge racist policies.

The majority of people on welfare aren’t African Americans and the majority of African Americans eligible for welfare refuse it. Unemployed white men are just as likely to engage in criminal behavior as unemployed black men. There are more black criminals overall because black men are more likely to be unemployed due to systemic racism.

Black students are more likely to be expelled than their white counterparts. Standardized tests are often culturally biased and do more to measure one’s ability to take tests rather than one’s intelligence. In fact, there are many different types of intelligence which standardized tests can’t measure. Predominately white school districts receive more funding and white and Asian families can afford expensive test prep classes. White students get higher scores due to their privilege, not their innate intelligence. There is no achievement gap. It’s really an opportunity gap. Privileged students get more opportunities to fail and try again that minorities don’t get.

Colorism is a subset of racism. Lighter-skinned black, latinx, and Filipino people tend to get paid more, are more likely to be hired, and more likely to get lighter prison sentences than their darker-skinned counterparts.

Jeb Bush, who abolished affirmative action in Florida, appointed the people responsible for the recount that gave his brother the presidency in 2000. Leading up to the 2000 presidential election, many black people were purged from the voting records for supposedly being felons. Some black people waited in long lines to vote only to be turned away when the poling place closed. Some didn’t get registration cards even though they’d registered, or their voting location was changed, or they were unlawfully denied a ballot.

The county with the highest percentage of black voters also had the highest spoilage rate. Black votes were 10 times more likely to be thrown out. 179,855 ballots were invalidated in a case decided by just 537 votes. Ted Cruz, who was working for Bush at the time, pushed for recounts in districts that would benefit Bush and pushed against doing recounts in districts that would go against him. Bush ultimately won the 2000 election due to racism.

It is possible for black people to be racist against white people and in fact, Malcolm X apologized for this after he converted to Islam. However, many claims of reverse racism are themselves racist. Affirmative action and other policies are called racist when they’re designed to level the playing field.

White supremacists don’t realize that they’re actually anti-white since racist policies also harm white people. Affirmative action ended up benefiting white women more than black people. 43% of people who gained health insurance from Obamacare were white. Nazis started a war which killed 40 million white people and confederates started a war which killed half a million white people. White supremacists blame other races for the fact that poor white people struggle, when this is really due to rich white people holding poor white people down.

It’s possible for black people to be racist against black people. Clarence Thomas has made many racist rulings. Bush barely got reelected in 2004 by winning Ohio with the help of Ken Blackwell, Ohio’s black secretary of state. Blackwell disenfranchised black voters by purging voting lists, falsely telling people with prison records that they couldn’t vote, and providing less voting machines to black cities. Bush would not have been reelected if not for these racist efforts.

Sexism and homophobia need to be addressed along with racism as these are all intertwined. Black women with college degrees earn less than white women without college degrees. Black women are also more likely to die from pregnancy and twice as likely to be incarcerated as white women. Black trans women only have a life expectancy of 35 years. You can’t be both transphobic and antiracist since being antiracist entails believing that ALL black lives matter.

Antiracist policies like school desegregation, interracial marriage, or Obamacare tend to get a lot of support from white people after they’re implemented because they realize antiracist policies actually benefit them. Those in power want to scare people away from these policies before they’re implemented because they know people will generally be in favor of them once they take effect.

Hate and ignorance aren’t the source of racist ideas, self-interest is. Dealing with hate or ignorance is just treating symptoms. It’s easy to focus on individual hate crimes, but people who support racist politicians and racist policies do a lot more harm overall. We shouldn’t blame racism on “the system” as this effectively hides the racist policies and policy makers. Individual people are behind policies that create inequity. These policies need to be identified and changed.

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