Photo credit: Jeff Watts-American University
Describe your latest book.
Following up my National Book Award–winning Stamped From the Beginning
, I sought to create an original approach to understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in our society — and in ourselves. After all, the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it. I hope that my new book, How to Be an Antiracist
, reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America — but even more fundamentally, that it points humanity toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. In How to Be an Antiracist
, I ask us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it.
I combine ethics, history, law, and science, threading it all together with personal stories of my own personal awakening to antiracism. How to Be an Antiracist
is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond an awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a truly just and equitable society.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I don’t remember having a favorite book as a child. My parents were avid readers, lining our walls with bookcases and their hands with books. But I did not read much. It is one of the great regrets of my life. And perhaps now, I read so much to make up for my childhood.
When did you know you were a writer?
I trained as a journalist in my undergraduate years. I learned to investigate and report and write down my findings and stories. But I did not necessarily see myself as a writer, a sort of painter with words. I did not really begin writing until I started writing a blog in graduate school. I called it The Progressive Corner
. It was the first time I felt fully free to create ideas and words.
What do you care about more than most people around you?
Being self-critical. I think people care more about criticizing others than criticizing themselves. I had to lean on this ability to self-critique in writing How to Be an Antiracist
. It is in many ways a book of self-criticism because to be antiracist is to be self-critical of the racist ideas that raised us.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
I think people should read Dorothy E. Roberts, a bioethics scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. I can’t just suggest one. I suggest her two classics, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty
and Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Recreate Race in the Twenty-First Century
What scares you the most as a writer?
The lifeblood of a writer is not the writing, but the ideas. What scares me the most is one day running out of ideas. And perhaps because I’m so scared of running out of ideas, I am anal about writing down every book or essay idea that comes to mind. I guess that is a good thing. And so, I am happy I’m scared about running out of ideas.
Offer a favorite sentence from another writer.
“Courage is not the absence of fear but the strength to do what is right in the face of fear.” The author of this sentence, I believe, is anonymous. But it is my favorite because it places internal courage, strength, what’s right, and fear in their proper perspectives. If I can be strong, then I can be courageous. If I can be courageous, then I will do what is right. If I’m doing what is right, then I am not enslaved by fear.
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
From the introduction to How to Be an Antiracist
: “This book is ultimately about the basic struggle we’re all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human.” I’m proud of this sentence — and the idea it conveys, that striving to be antiracist is effectively striving to be human.
Do you have any phobias?
I’m afraid of sharks. I grew up watching the Jaws
movies, and I’ve struggle to shake this phobia. I know it is not rational. I’m more likely to be harmed by things I don’t fear, but isn’t that what makes a phobia a phobia?
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
Love is a verb. I gathered this advice from bell hooks’s All About Love
. It completely changed the way I treated relatives and friends, how I expected those people to treat me — lovingly — treatment that demonstrated their love, not three words. Intent, as expressed in words, is secondary. It became the same for humanity. The intent of words, of policies, of people, matter less than the outcome. My definition of a racist policy is any policy that yields racial inequity — and intent is irrelevant.
Write a question of your own, then answer it.
For all those people who say, “I am not racist,” what is a not-racist? There’s no such thing as a not-racist; there are only racists and antiracists.
÷ ÷ ÷
Ibram X. Kendi
is a New York Times
bestselling author and the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. A professor of history and international relations and a frequent public speaker, Kendi is a columnist at The Atlantic
. He is the author of Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, and The Black Campus Movement
, which won the W. E. B. Du Bois Book Prize. His new book is How to Be an Antiracist
, which is published by One World/Random House.