How To Be An Antiracist

book review, of a sort

How To Be An AntiracistRecently, I did what was billed as a book review of How To Be An Antiracist (2019) by Ibram X. Kendi. I’m not sure it was a review as much as a reflection of how much I related to it.

That said, if I were to suggest a review, the pull quote by James Forman, Jr., author of Locking Up Our Own and son of a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader in the 1960s, would suffice. “Ibram Kendi uses his own life journey to show why becoming an antiracist is as essential as it is difficult. Equal parts memoir, history, and social commentary, this book is honest, brave, and most of all liberating.”

It is particularly honest when it comes to Kendi himself. The first section of the book is My Racist Introduction. He still has “nightmares” about a speech he gave at a competition on MLK Day 2000 at Stonewall Jackson High in Manassas, VA. “A racist culture had handed me the ammunition to shoot Black people to shoot myself… Internalized racism is the real Black on Black crime.”

Check out this page of terms by Kendi. Note the assimilationist ideas that try to “fix” people. This is an attitude for which Pope Francis went to Canada to apologize to the First Nations people. The church had said their language, their garb, and even their hair was “wrong.” Compare this with the segregationist ideas that “suggest that a racial group is permanently inferior.”

You might be surprised by the number of times people have told me, “Race is just a social construct.” Yes, I know, but it “doesn’t lessen its force.” Kendi cites Carl Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae (1735). His role in the origins of scientific racism was huge.


Like me, Kendi is not a fan of one trendy term. As he notes, “microaggression is used because, in a ‘post-racial’ era, this term replaces ‘racism’ which went out of fashion. Racism has become the R-word like the N-word is used for the word it replaced.”

I’ve written about the curse of Canaan. Kendi explains English travel writer George Best’s role in this myth. “Proof did not matter when biological racial difference could be created by misreading the Bible.”

“Assimilationists believe the post-racial myth that talking about race constitutes racism.” I’ve heard similar talk from segregationists who fear the evil Critical Race Theory will harm innocent children. The former group “fails to realize that if we stop using categories, then we will not be able to identify racist policies.” This is why I, as a Census enumerator in 1990 and 2020, as well as a librarian, continue to support the racial categories, especially since they’ve allowed for more than one selection since 1997.

The issue of colorism is an odd history. While some enslavers believed a body was better the Whiter it is, others felt “Dark people more perfect than the so-called human mule, or mulatto. I wrote about racial categories.

What got Malcolm X killed was the idea that Kendi states, that Black people can be racist toward White people. I was always bothered by the talk from the Nation of Islam about the “White devils.” “To be antiracist is… knowing there are antiracist Whites and racist non-Whites.”

“When Dinesh D’Souza writes, ‘the behavior of the African American underclass… flagrantly violates basic codes of responsibility, decency, and civility,’ he is deploying class racism.”


Kendi opines, and I believe correctly about individualizing an error in White spaces but generalizing the error in the Black space instead of the individual. “How many times did I have a bad experience at a Black business and then walk away complaining not the individuals involved but Black businesses as a whole?”

Also, “whenever Black people voluntarily gather among themselves, integrationists… see spaces of White hate.” In the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum (1997/2017), “One reason students from similar racial backgrounds may gather together is that “connecting with peers who are having a similar experience as your own serves as a buffer, as a protective force…”

Kendi: “I became a Black patriarch because my parents and the world around me did not strictly raise me to be a Black feminist.” Certainly, black women experience misogynoir.

At a Friends and Foundation of the Albany Public Library Literary Legends gala a few years ago, I talked to Barbara Smith, a co-founder of Combahee River Collective. I asked if she knew my mother’s first cousin, Frances Beal. Yes, indeed she did. Both are mentioned on page 187 of the book. “Frances Beal… audaciously proclaimed in 1968, ‘the black woman in America can justly be described a ‘slave of a slave.””

I could go on, but this will give you a feel for the book. It is very readable and quite relatable, as he explains his foibles while trying to be an antiracist.

“Blacklisting” the word blacklist


I came across the Antiracist Word Finder. It’s a useful, crowdsourced list. One can quibble with one or two of the suggestions, but it’s pretty solid. The attempt is “to surface how racism is embedded in everyday English-speaking life.

One of the words on the AVOID list is blacklist. The definition is “a list of people or things that are regarded as unacceptable or untrustworthy and should be excluded or avoided.” When I was growing up, it was a word that vaguely gave me discomfort.

But it wasn’t until the prevalence of whitelist in this more technological period that it really started to bug me. Whitelisting is a term for the “practice of explicitly allowing some identified entities access to a particular privilege, service, mobility, access or recognition.” Ha! “Privilege” right there in the definition!

The Word Finder suggests Blocklist / Allowlist for data security. Wikipedia mentions ‘allow list’ and ‘deny list’. “While the term ‘black’ is race-neutral, it is linked to European duality of evil vs good (or dark vs light). Google and other tech companies plan to phase them out.”

As a term for trade barrier, Word Finder chooses Exclude / Include over Blacklist / Whitelist. “In some cases, ‘embargo’ is appropriate. For a list, a business or country that is offsides with humanitarian issues might be better excluded from a roster of reputable groups.”

Synonyms for blackmail

The Word Finder also excises blackmail. It prefers coercion or extortion. I’m not that fond of the term coercion in this context, as there are lots of ways to coerce, such as a physical threat. Blackmail is a specific subset of extortion, I suppose, less precise but also less problematic.

Exaction? “The action of demanding and obtaining something from someone, especially a payment or service.” But it lacks the part about the potential embarrassment.

I’ll tell you the truth. As a black male, I have disliked the homophone blackmail for a very long time. So maybe we need a new term. Do you have one?

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