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  • Writer's pictureThe Black Syllabus

Review | How To Be An Antiracist

★★★★☆ (really 3.5 stars)

How To Be An Antiracist is truly revolutionary. I was expecting this book to be affirming; similar to Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, I was expecting to readily agree with everything Kendi said. I was not expecting Kendi to challenge many of my own beliefs and thought patterns. Some of his arguments changed my mind, while others I disagree with. This is a book I will definitely need to read again, and will probably update my review once I do so.

[One of] the main argument[s] - that to defeat racism, we need to focus on changing policies rather than individuals - is a home run. I have never thought of it this way, but this makes total sense to me. I appreciate that Kendi gives us concrete steps on how we can make changes in how we think about racism and what specific actions we can take. It’s fantastic that Kendi has not only released this book, challenging us to rethink our strategy to combat racism, but that he founded the Antiracism Center and is doing the necessary work himself as well.

I appreciated Kendi’s criticism of his own upbringing, and what he classifies as his own racism. I really liked getting to know him better through his personal narratives; it gave me a chance to look at the ways that I have been prejudice to my own people in the past and reflect on ways I still need to grow.

I’m not sure how I feel about his argument of separating individual behavior from group behavior. While that’s an ideal approach, isn’t he also demonstrating that certain groups (i.e. races) have specific & unique experiences in our society? If the individuals within each group have shared experiences, then to argue that we should *always* judge them individually is contradictory.

For example, he claims that DeGruy’s analysis of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS) is flawed, because one can’t claim that the entire Black race is a traumatized group, only that individuals within our race are traumatized/experience trauma. I disagree with this distinction. There’s ample evidence that shows that because of behaviors passed down as a result of slavery, and due to the ever-evolving methods of state sanctioned violence against Black people, we do in fact experience a shared “trauma.”

Additionally, in many cases, it can be dangerous to give individuals the benefit of the doubt when their group has collectively been a threat on your livelihood. For the most part, yes, I think people should be judged individually rather than as a group, but I don’t think it’s always that simple.

Witholding some of my other options until I reread this book. Overall, I absolutely agree with Kendi’s main argument - that to be antiracist, one must actively work against policies that perpetuate racial disparities. How To Be An Antiracist is thoughtfully researched and well constructed. Kendi left me feeling hopeful, which I don’t often get from this type of non-fiction. I encourage everyone to read this book and to look into how you can actively work against racism in your communities.

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