Book Summary: How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi | The 3 Big Ideas
Updated: Oct 4
3 Big Ideas
1. It is critical to have a common definition of key terms. You cannot engage in productive dialogue about racism unless you have a shared understanding of terms. Definitions within the book:
Racist – One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.
Antiracist – One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.
Racism – A marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produce and normalize racial inequities.
Antiracism – A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.
27 additional definitions, including Space Racism, can be found at the end of this how to be an antiracist book summary
2. Many people say they are "not-racist" but that is not enough. It is not enough to be neutral. Through neutrality you enable racism. You are either racist or anti-racist.
3. Racist ideas can come from both Assimilationist and Segregationist Ideas:
Assimilationist Ideas – Black people are inferior by nurture. The belief that inferiority has come through nurture.
Segregationist Ideas – Black people are inferior by nature. They will never be as good as whites.
2 How to be an Antiracist Quotes:
“White supremacists are the ones supporting policies that benefit racist power against the interests of the majority of White people. White supremacists claim to be pro-White but refuse to acknowledge that climate change is having a disastrous impact on the earth White people inhabit. They oppose affirmative-action programs, despite White women being their primary beneficiaries.”
“Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or negatively, not representatives of whole races. Behavior is something humans do, not races.”
Toby's Top Takeaway:
Don’t be not-racist be anti-racist. This was a profound realisation that saying you are "not racist" is just not enough. You have to take action to fight racism otherwise your inaction is a sign of racism. This will be a difficult realisation for many when reading this book.
These how to be an antiracist cliff notes share examples of antiracist actions and expressions:
To be antiracist is to see all cultures in all their differences as on the same level, as equals. When we see the cultural difference, we are seeing cultural difference—nothing more, nothing less.
You might also find this helpful:
Summary How to be an antiracist:
A longer summary of Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi covering:
Origins of Race
Examples of Microaggression
Video Summary of key concepts:
Origins of Race:
French poet Jacques de Brézé first used the term “race” in a 1481 hunting poem. In 1606, the same diplomat who brought the addictive tobacco plant to France formally defined race for the first time in a major European dictionary. “Race … means descent,” 6 Jean Nicot wrote in the Trésor de la langue française. “Therefore, it is said that a man, a horse, a dog, or another animal is from a good or bad race.” From the beginning, to make races was to make a racial hierarchy.
Beginning in 1735, Carl Linnaeus locked in the racial hierarchy of humankind in Systema Naturae. He colour-coded the races as White, Yellow, Red, and Black. He attached each race to one of the four regions of the world and described their characteristics. The Linnaeus taxonomy became the blueprint that nearly every enlightened race maker followed and that race makers still follow today.
Race is a mirage but one that humanity has organized itself around in very real ways.
The gift of seeing myself as Black instead of being colour-blind is that it allows me to clearly see myself historically and politically as being an antiracist, as a member of the interracial body striving to accept and equate and empower racial difference of all kinds.
Assimilationists believe in the post-racial myth that talking about race constitutes racism, or that if we stop identifying by race, then racism will miraculously go away. They fail to realize that if we stop using racial categories, then we will not be able to identify racial inequity. If we cannot identify racial inequity, then we will not be able to identify racist policies. If we cannot identify racist policies, then we cannot challenge racist policies. If we cannot challenge racist policies, then racist power’s final solution will be achieved: a world of inequity none of us can see, let alone resist. Terminating racial categories is potentially the last, not the first, step in the antiracist struggle.
What drives racism?
Biased by Jennifer Eberhardt explains the Bias of Racism in her book Biased. You can read my summary of the book here
We often see and remember the race and not the individual. This is racist categorizing, this stuffing of our experiences with individuals into colour-marked racial closets. An antiracist treats and remembers individuals as individuals. “She acted that way,” we should say, “because she is racist.”
“Microaggression,” the constant verbal and nonverbal abuse racist White people unleash on Black people wherever we go, day after day.
Examples of "Microagression"
A White woman grabs her purse when a Black person sits next to her.
The seat next to a Black person stays empty on a crowded bus.
A White woman calls the cops at the sight of Black people barbecuing in the park.
White people telling us that our practiced talents are natural.
Assuming we are the help.
I do not use “microaggression” anymore. I detest the post-racial platform that supported its sudden popularity. I detest its component parts—“ micro” and “aggression.” A persistent daily low hum of racist abuse is not minor. I use the term “abuse” because aggression is not as exacting a term. Abuse accurately describes the action and its effects on people: distress, anger, worry, depression, anxiety, pain, fatigue, and suicide.
We practice ethnic racism when we express a racist idea about an ethnic group or support a racist policy toward an ethnic group. Ethnic racism, like racism itself, points to group behavior, instead of policies, as the cause of disparities between groups. When Ghanaian immigrants to the United States join with White Americans and say African Americans are lazy, they are recycling the racist ideas of White Americans about African Americans. This is ethnic racism.
To be antiracist is to view national and transnational ethnic groups as equal in all their differences. To be antiracist is to challenge the racist policies that plague racialized ethnic groups across the world. To be antiracist is to view the inequities between all racialized ethnic groups as a problem of policy.
One of racism’s harms is the way it falls on the unexceptional Black person who is asked to be extraordinary just to survive—and, even worse, the Black screwup who faces the abyss after one error, while the White screwup is handed second chances and empathy.
To be an antiracist is to recognize there is no such thing as racial behavior. To be an antiracist is to recognize there is no such thing as Black behavior, let alone irresponsible Black behavior. Black behavior is as fictitious as Black genes. There is no “Black gene.” No one has ever scientifically established a single “Black behavioral trait.”
The use of standardized tests to measure aptitude and intelligence is one of the most effective racist policies ever devised to degrade Black minds and legally exclude Black bodies. We degrade Black minds every time we speak of an “academic-achievement gap” based on these numbers. The acceptance of an academic-achievement gap is just the latest method of reinforcing the oldest racist idea: Black intellectual inferiority.
What if we measured intelligence by how knowledgeable individuals are about their own environments?
What if we measured intellect by an individual’s desire to know?
What if we realized the best way to ensure an effective educational system is not by standardizing our curricula and tests but by standardizing the opportunities available to all students?
As long as the mind thinks there is something behaviorally wrong with a racial group, the mind can never be antiracist. As long as the mind oppresses the oppressed by thinking their oppressive environment has retarded their behavior, the mind can never be antiracist. As long as the mind is racist, the mind can never be free.
Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or negatively, not representatives of whole races. To be antiracist is to deracialize behavior, to remove the tattooed stereotype from every racialized body. Behavior is something humans do, not races.
Colorism is a collection of racist policies that cause inequities between Light people and Dark people, and these inequities are substantiated by racist ideas about Light and Dark people.
White people usually favor lighter-skinned politicians over darker-skinned ones. Research studies from the book highlights:
Dark African American students receive significantly lower GPAs than Light students.
Even Dark Filipino men have lower incomes than their lighter peers in the United States.
Dark immigrants to the United States, no matter their place of origin, tend to have less wealth and income than Light immigrants.
Dark African Americans receive the harshest prison sentences and more time behind bars.
Dark female students are nearly twice as likely to be suspended as White female students, while researchers found no disparity between Light and White female students.
To be antiracist is to never mistake the global march of White racism for the global march of White people. To be antiracist is to never mistake the antiracist hate of White racism for the racist hate of White people. To be antiracist is to never conflate racist people with White people, knowing there are antiracist Whites and racist non-Whites. To be antiracist is to see ordinary White people as the frequent victimizers of people of color and the frequent victims of racist power. Donald Trump’s economic policies are geared toward enriching White male power—but at the expense of most of his White male followers, along with the rest of us.
White supremacist is code for anti-White, and White supremacy is nothing short of an ongoing program of genocide against the White race. In fact, it’s more than that: White supremacist is code for anti-human, a nuclear ideology that poses an existential threat to human existence.
Additional Facts and Research from Book:
During the 2013–14 academic year, Black students were four times more likely than White students to be suspended from public schools, according to Department of Education data.
Black people comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population. And yet, in 2015, Black bodies accounted for at least 26 percent of those killed by police, 12 declining slightly to 24 percent in 2016, 22 percent in 2017, and 21 percent in 2018, according to The Washington Post.
Unarmed Black bodies—which apparently look armed to fearful officers—are about twice as likely to be killed as unarmed White bodies.
In Pennsylvania, a recent statewide study found that at any given poverty level, districts with a higher proportion of White students receive significantly more funding than districts with more students of color.
India, “fairness” creams topped $ 200 million in 2014.63 Today, skin lighteners are used by 70 percent of women in Nigeria; 35 percent in South Africa; 59 percent in Togo; and 40 percent in China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea. 64
ANTIRACIST - One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.
RACISM - Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produce and normalize racial inequities
RACIST INEQUITY - Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing. Here’s an example of racial inequity
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. RACIST IDEAS - A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.
ASSIMILATIONIST - One who is expressing the racist idea that a racial group is culturally or behaviorally inferior and is supporting cultural or behavioral enrichment programs to develop that racial group.
SEGREGATIONIST - One who is expressing the racist idea that a permanently inferior racial group can never be developed and is supporting a policy that segregates away that racial group.
RACE - A power construct of collected or merged difference that lives socially.
BIOLOGICAL RACIST - One who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully different in their biology and that these differences create a hierarchy of value.
BIOLOGICAL ANTIRACIST - One who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully the same in their biology and there are no genetic racial differences.
ETHNIC RACISM - A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized ethnic groups.
ETHNIC ANTIRACISM - A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about racialized ethnic groups.
BODILY RACIST - One who is perceiving certain racialized bodies as more animal-like and violent than others.
CULTURAL RACIST - One who is creating a cultural standard and imposing a cultural hierarchy among racial groups.
CULTURAL ANTIRACIST - One who is rejecting cultural standards and equalizing cultural differences among racial groups.
BEHAVIORAL RACIST - One who is making individuals responsible for the perceived behavior of racial groups and making racial groups responsible for the behavior of individuals.
BEHAVIORAL ANTIRACIST - One who is making racial group behavior fictional and individual behavior real.
COLORISM - A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequities between Light people and Dark people, supported by racist ideas about Light and Dark people.
ANTI-WHITE RACIST - One who is classifying people of European descent as biologically, culturally, or behaviorally inferior or conflating the entire race of White people with racist power.
POWERLESS DEFENSE - The illusory, concealing, disempowering, and racist idea that Black people can’t be racist because Black people don’t have power.
CLASS RACIST - One who is racializing the classes, supporting policies of racial capitalism against those race-classes, and justifying them by racist ideas about those race-classes.
SPACE RACISM - A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to resource inequity between racialized spaces or the elimination of certain racialized spaces, which are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized spaces.
SPACE ANTIRACISM - A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity between integrated and protected racialized spaces, which are substantiated by antiracist ideas about racialized spaces.
GENDER RACISM - A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-genders and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-genders.
GENDER ANTIRACISM - A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between race-genders and are substantiated by anti-racist ideas about race-genders.
QUEER RACISM - A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-sexualities.
QUEER ANTIRACISM - A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about race-sexualities.
ACTIVIST - One who has a record of power or policy change.