Although I bought Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist (Penguin) when it came out in late 2019, it took me another year to actually pick it up. As well as the book’s obviously confronting subject matter, I worried that Kendi’s prose would be academic and inaccessible. After all, as head of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, Kendi is a distinguished professor.
But on reading the first page I was hooked. In this exploration of racism in everyday life, Kendi tempers philosophy and political science with engaging snippets of personal memoir. In each chapter, vignettes from Kendi’s childhood, education and family history merge seamlessly into broad and bold arguments about subjects from the war on crime to standardised testing in schools.
One central point unites Kendi’s expansive musings: we inhabit a fundamentally racist world. And because racism is so deeply embedded in our everyday lives, being not racist isn’t enough. To create a better world, he argues, we all need to become actively antiracist, swapping passive disapproval for action against racism wherever we find it – even if that happens to be in our own hearts and heads.
While Kendi is making a political point, his reliance on personal illustrations and interesting anecdotes means I never felt like I was being preached to. Instead, I found myself nodding more and more vigorously with every word.