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.