Updated: Nov 20
Rating - 9/10
I had first heard of Ibram X. Kendi back in 2016 when he won the Non Fiction National Book Award Prize for his book, Stamped from the Beginning about the origins of racism in the US, which I’ve yet to read! How to be an Antiracist came out in the summer of 2019 and immediately it went on my to read list. One year later, following the killing of George Floyd protests, this book jumped to number one on all best selling lists and even stayed on the NY Times nonfiction bestseller list for 18 weeks! It was also all over the bookstagram (instagram) world for all of 2020 summer and beyond. I knew I definitely had to read it since it was seriously ingrained in my brain after what has been going on in the US with the systemic racism resurgence & protests. This book was hailed as THE book to read by all the major book review outlets such as TIME magazine, NPR, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, the list goes on.
Read on to see what I thought of this best selling read.
In Kendi’s book, How to be an Antiracist, he questions and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America. He gears and liberates us towards new ways of thinking about racism, ourselves and one another. He asks us to take a closer look at how an antiracist world would look like and what we can do as people to actively play a role in building it.
In this autobiography of Kendi’s life, he weaves together immersive and engrossing subjects such as history, science, law, ethics and blends in his own life experiences and his own awakening into antiracism. This book is for anyone who wants to play a more active role into how to be an antiracist, and how to take the next steps into contributing to a more just and equitable society.
Fun fact! I actually listened to the audiobook and it was narrated by Ibram X. Kendi himself! I’m not usually one for audiobooks but I was going through a phase of wanting to listen to one, and this one definitely hit that spot, and then some.
How to be an Antiracist was an excellent read. Given the amount of turmoil that the black community has faced in 2020 and for many previously, this book seriously just hit all the points to a tee and was a pivotal book. It was a timely read given the current political climate in the US, there’s a lot in this book that feels quite electric to the current time that we are in socially, racially, economically and politically.
Right off the bat, you’re hit with these definitions.
From Chapter 1
“Racist - One who is supporting a racist policy, through their action or inaction or expressing a racist idea.
Antiracist - One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.”
Kendi basically tells us in his memoir, how to become an antiracist and clearly explains what an antiracist is. This book was a mix of an almost textbook feel meshed together with his own life experiences and his own awakening to realizing that he himself, was a racist especially towards his own black community. I found this book to be completely riveting and very eye opening. It made me question my own views on racism and how I perceive others, my own race and how I behave in certain situations and how I can better myself or change.
I think that’s what resonated with me the most, is that we all have a chance to be better and to make better decisions when it comes to actively being and contributing into society for anti racist behavior. I loved learning about how racists policies truly began. He takes us back to the beginning of how these systems were built in government structures, where the term or word ‘race’ comes from, how it was born, and where the idea came from of which we have placed upon ourselves with different races and stereotypes. I found that chapter particularly fascinating.
In How to be an Antiracist, Kendi comes to define racism as any policy that creates inequitable outcomes between people of different skin colors. In this, he comes to the conclusion that a person doesn’t suddenly become racist, it all stems from racists policies created by the original people in power. I.e. - our Founding Fathers, and before them, their’ founding fathers’ in Europe. I won’t go into grave detail about this but it is truly fascinating.
I also very much enjoyed learning about Kendi’s life. I think in knowing how he grew up, and his life experiences, I was able to relate to what he was sort of teaching us in his book. Even for him to have written this pivotal book, he had to have gone through his own personal awakening and into where racism truly stems from and how he got to where he is now in actively being and becoming an antiracist. It doesn’t happen overnight and I do like that he explains that being an antiracist is a journey, it’s a step that you actively must try to maintain and be constantly aware of.
One other chapter that I truly adored of which I seriously can’t remember the name of right now, was one where he described racism from non whites. He shows us that each ethnic group can be racist, not just whites. I thought this was an amazing chapter and a subject matter that I’ve never really thought of as I, myself am a person of color. I found it to be interesting and thought provoking. This book definitely makes you think of certain stereotypes that we have placed upon each other unintentionally and it makes you question where these stereotypes stem or originate from, and how we can begin to change our thought process on these issues. It makes you think of new ways to face racism placed upon us by society, and how you can self reflect on becoming an antiracist.
The reason I gave this book a high rating, was that I personally, got a lot out of this book, and I really did find his life quite interesting and liked that he blended his own life experiences together with his research and his ideals on antiracism. I feel like this is one of those reads that will get mixed reviews, but all in all, I thought it was brilliant! I do have to say, seeing as I listened to the audiobook, I sometimes found his voice a little grating or annoying, that’s just my opinion though. I had a love/hate relationship with his narrating throughout this book. I feel that I wished I had read it instead, but I’m very sure I will in the future. Also, a part of me did prefer a similar read to this which is titled, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Brilliant book to add to your list! I kind of preferred how blunt she was in her book, where this read felt more personal seeing as he was telling us his story. But this book was more timely in our current climate in 2020. It felt like this is a book for the here and now. I have heard reviews from his first book Stamped from the Beginning were much better, maybe because it was more direct? This book felt like a mix of textbook/memoir/history book/how to, which some people won’t love, but I personally loved it and I will also be reading Stamped from the Beginning as well!
If you want to take an active role in trying to be more self aware, and to actively play a role in being an antiracist, learn about systemic ideals in our society, and to be more aware of what being an anti racist means, read this book. It is a hopeful and essential read. Highly recommend it!
There are a lot of amazing songs out there at the moment, especially since the killing of George Floyd. Such as State of the Union by Public Enemy, This is America by Childish Gambino, I Can’t Breathe by H.E.R - highly recommend all of those songs. For this book, one song in particular spoke out to me, and it felt like what Kendi was experiencing in his personal life as well as the topics he was speaking about in his book. My song pick for this book is ‘Black & Ready’ by Jords - even though it’s by a UK rapper and not an American one, the lyrics are phenomenal. CLICK HERE to watch the music video on YouTube. Beautiful track.
Genre: Non Fiction | Memoir | Autobiography
Pages: 305 Pages
Publication Date: August 13, 2019
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Reviewed by Chrissy's Books