Welcome to the first episode of the #causeascene Podcast Book Club.
The very first book we will be tackling is “How To Be An Antiracist” by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. I will cover a chapter a week, so I encourage you to read along. Also, please send your questions/comments/concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll address them as part of the next episode.
This episode briefly covers the Introduction and Chapter 1: Definitions
Hello everyone and welcome to the first episode of the first chapter that we will be reading together of How to be an Anti Racist by Dr. Ibram Kendi. I’m not sure yet how I’ll be doing this, I’ll probably figure out a format by episode seven or eight but right now we’re just going to wing it.
I’m just going to read you the chapters and what I’m going to do today is discuss a little bit or just highlight some of the things I’ve pulled out of the introduction and then we’re going to go on to Chapter 1, which is Definitions.
I haven’t yet figured out how I will set up questions because I would really like this to be more exploratory and engaging for everyone instead of a monologue and because this is not a live show, I have to figure out how to do that and I’m really not a fan of having comments on my podcast so maybe it will be, I do the recording, it comes out on Sunday, and then we spend part of the week following having conversations on Twitter or Instagram or whatever. But we’ll figure this out so here we go
So the chapters for this book are, based on the Table of Contents, there’s an introduction that is “My Racist Introduction” and chapter one is “Definitions”, chapter two is “Dueling Consciousness”, chapter three is “Power”, chapter four is “Biology”, chapter five is “Ethnicity”, chapter six is “Body”, chapter seven is “Culture”, chapter eight is “Behavior”, chapter nine is “Color”, chapter ten is “White”, chapter eleven is “Black”, chapter twelve is “Class”, chapter thirteen is “Space”, chapter fourteen is “Gender”, chapter fifteen is “Sexuality”, chapter sixteen is “Failure”, chapter seventeen is “Success”, chapter eighteen is “Survival”.
I also recognize that some of you are reading this via electronic medium and I read books because I love to highlight and draw lines, and everything. I like the physical book when I’m doing research or just digging into a book club selection and so I will be giving you, when I can remember, the page and then I’ll read you either something I’ve highlighted or an idea that’s come from something that I’ve written in the margins or something like that. But I’m going to try to keep, just wanted to let you know for people who are reading electronically along with us that your pages, I don’t know if they may line up with what I’m saying as I read.
So this first chapter is about Dr. Kendi’s actual lived experience he had. And so on page six, the one thing I highlighted is “Racist ideas make people of color think less of themselves which make them more vulnerable to racist ideas. Racist ideas make white people think more of themselves which further attracts them to racist ideas.”
On page seven, I didn’t realize that to say something is wrong about a racial group is to say something is inferior about that racial group. I did not realize that to say something is inferior about a racial group is to say a racist idea.
On page eight, “Internalized racism is the real black on black crime.” I just wanted to speak on this for a bit because I say this all the time that people of color, particularly black people in the United States have also a level of internalized white supremacy and anti-blackness that speaks directly to a lot of the things that we experience in our own communities.
And I’m trying to figure out do I say, do I want to say “but” or put an end to that. No, I’m going to put a period on that and say once you pull back the covers of a lot of the things that is considered black on black crime it is, you see the hand of white supremacy playing around in it. You see the hand because antiracist, I mean, anti-blackness is a tool or strategy of white supremacy. So it’s really interesting the more I learn, the more I learn, the more of the ideas that I used to think about black people coming from what I thought was, I didn’t even think about it, what people would consider a middle class upbringing even though it was feast or famine at times, we still had middle-class values and I’m only realizing now that those middle class values were actually white values they’re not middle class black values, they’re not middle class Latinx, Asian values, they are middle class white values and it’s about assimilating into a white culture and so the higher you get on the spectrum and – oh my god this reminds me of a book I read about on poverty and I need to find that book because it highlights in that book it has a grid or graph or an image and I’m closing my eyes because I can see it and it talks about how people in different classes in the United States treat money or we think about education or how we think about all these things and so the idea or the ideal is this middle class construct which is what our education system is about, what our healthcare system is about and I grasp that but I’m only now getting and seeing that, all of that is seen through the lens of whiteness and because of that, anything that does not look like whiteness is demonized and is bad. So there is so much to unpack.
So on page nine, “Denial is the heartbeat of racism.” And then it says: “Beating across the ideologies” (laughs) Hm. I’m having problems here, um as you can tell, I hope you can from my voice, I’m having some sinus issues.
“Denial is the heartbeat of racism, beating across ideologies, races and nations. It is beating within us. Many of us who strongly call out Trump’s racist ideas will strongly deny our own. How often to we become reflexively defensive when someone calls something we’ve done or said racist? How many of us would agree with the sentiment, racist isn’t a descriptive word, it is a pejorative word, it is equivalent to saying: ‘I don’t like you’. These are the actual words of white supremacist Richard Spencer, who, like Trump identifies as not racist. How many of us, who despise the Trumps and white supremacists in the world share this self-definition of ‘not racist.'”
So it goes on: “What’s the problem with being ‘not racist’? It is the claim that signifies neutrality: ‘I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.’ But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t” …
I’m getting tongue tied with all these is nots and isn’ts, but let me try this again – “The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist’, it is ‘antiracist’. What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of racial hierarchy as a racist or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people as a racist or locates the roots of problems in power and policy as an antiracist.
And this is a sentence I underlined: “There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist’. The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism…. ‘Racist’ is not – as Richard Spencer argues – a pejorative. It is not the worst word in the English language; it is not the equivalent of a slur. It is descriptive and the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it – and then dismantle it. The attempt to turn this usefully descriptive term into an almost unusable slur is, of course, designed to do the opposite: to freeze us into inaction.”
So this is why on a lot of things I have a baseline of things I will not have a discussion about, there is no debate about, I do not engage. Whether or not you agree with the baseline of my boundaries and it is because of this thing – it’s this attempt to turn a useful descriptivve term into an almost unusable slur. Of course, it’s designed to do the opposite, it’s deserved to freeze you in action. So, if I say something is racist, if I say something stems in white supremacy, if I say that impact is more important than intention, all these things – if I allow, and I’m going to be honest, if I allow whiteness in spaces that I”m in to have a default or fallback it becomes, it devolves it’s hitting a panic button where all whiteness, noise, for some reason, I don’t understand how, so this is why I have a hard line on what is racist to me and what is racist behavior.
So on page ten he also addresses color blindness. “The common idea of claiming color blindness is akin to the notion of being ‘not racist’. As with the ‘not racist’, the colorblind individual by ostensibly failing to see race, fails to see racism and falls into racist passivity. The language of the colorblind, like the language of the racist, is a mask to hide racism.
And further down, I put a question mark by this because he says “I no longer believe a Black person cannot be racist.” And I put that question mark there because I have, as I said just before, I have a very hard line that I draw when it comes to racism and one of them is that whiteness by8 design is racist. And that people of color, particularly the Black people in the US, cannot be racist because we do not have the power structure. We may have race prejudice but without the power structure, we cannot implement any policies, procedures or the things that are defined as racist policies. I put a question mark there because I’m interested in digging deeper into that based on what Dr. Kendi is talking about. And then the last part of the introduction that I want to address is: “It can become real if we focus on power instead of people, if we focus on changing policy instead of groups of people.”
And this is one reason that I continue to talk about systems, systems of oppressing, systems of whiteness, systems, systems, systems, because these are not individuals, individuals may enact or act out or act as agents of white supremacy or racism but the systems that are in place enable them to do so.
So we’re going to get into “Definitions” and as you know, as an educator, I’m always dealing with definitions – that’s why I love that this book started with definitions it starts at the beginning, it starts in the place beginning where I would start. And as an educator, it’s important to make sure that everybody, even if you don’t agree on the terms, understand the terms that we’re using, understand how we’ll be using them moving forward so starting with definitions makes sense to me.
So, his definition of racist: “One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inactions or expressing a racist idea.”
Antiracist: “One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.”
See, it’s that simple, it’s not … nothing, you know, to get emotional about or – they’re definitions, two words. But another thing I liked about this chapter is again about his lived experience or his parent’s lived experience and how they came to understand the differences in being black in Christianity. And it’s a really interesting story about the, on page fifteen, “the evangelical church …supported the status quo. It supported slavery; it supported segregation; it preached against any attempt of the Black man to stand on his own two feet.”
And that’s something that people need to reckon with. This is something that even in our community of blackness that we need to reckon with: that the Bible, that Christianity in the United States was used as justification for the annihilation of indigenous people in the enslavement of Africans. And this is a conversation that many people don’t want to have because it’s sacrilege to challenge the religion in Christianity in this country. But until we recognize that the roots of many stories in the Bible or how the Bible was used has been used as a tool of oppression and continues to be used as a tool of oppression, again, it’s that thing about cutting off a conversation. If I can’t talk about the thing that oppresses me, of the tool that you’re using to oppress me, then there’s no reason for me to have a conversation and by default you win. And that’s just, is not how it works any longer.
So he was referring to a gentleman named Tom Skinner and I’m going to drop that, he’s referring to a speech that happened at Urbana Champagne University of Illinois in 1970 and I actually found a link to the video that I’m going to add to the episode podcast. Here’s a quote from that: “Any gospel that does not speak to the issue of enslavement and injustice and inequality. Any gospel that doesn’t want to go where people are hungry or poverty-stricken in the name of Jesus Christ is not the gospel.” And I love this about, you know, he says his parents met at this event in 1970 in Urbana and I starred this because they met but they weren’t dating and they had this same cathartic experience. And it says, “They stopped thinking about saving Black people and started thinking about liberating Black people.”
And this is truly how I feel about the work I do in tech. As a Black woman in tech, it’s very important for me to improve inclusion and diversity in this space and yet, I’m not thinking about saving other marginalized people, what I’m thinking about is liberating other marginalized people and giving them the space and the tools and the resources to come into these space, own who they are and to just stand and be who they are and challenge whenever they come across situations or people who tell them they’re not good enough or they need to assimilate rather than a space that accomodates them. So I really resonated with this. So if people want to know my why. Why do I keep doing this, why I don’t get burned out, why do I have strategies, why am I being very methodical about this – it’s because I stopped thinking about saving people and I started thinking about how to liberate people, how to liberate tech.
I want to liberate tech. Tech is… it’s become it’s own monster and it’s harming itself, just as white supremacy does and I want to help liberate tech so we can stop harming others with our products and services and the people who come to work with us – any of those stakeholders.
So he talks about this on page 17: “And the key act for both of us was defining our terms so that we could begin to describe the world and our place in it. Definitions anchor us in principles.”
And this is why I starred everything in definitions. Because it’s the undergirding whether we’re all on the same page whether we agree to it or not – we have the same understanding.
“To be a racist is to constantly redefine racist, in a way that exonerates one’s changing policies, ideas and personhood.” And this is why I stand very much in the space of not debating what my definition of what racism or who’s racist because it’s constantly being redefined, as whiteness is being redefined and I’m not, I don’t have the emotional bandwidth, or do I have the desire to keep chasing a changing definition.
So now he gets into what he defines these terms. He says: “What is racism? Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produce and normalize racial inequities.”
Then he defines racial inequality: “Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing. […] 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 or unwritten rules, procedures, processes, regulations or guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community and every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequality or equality between racial groups.”
This is very important. There is again, I probably will not be reading as matter-a-factly as I am, you know, verbatim, in other chapters, but this is the definitions section so I’m going to, I’m going to harp on this, I really want to get that this is the baseline. So…
“Racist policies have been described in other terms: ‘institutional racism’, ‘structural racism’, and ‘systemic racism’, for instance. But those are vaguer terms than ‘racist policy’. When I use them, I find myself having to immediately explain what I mean.”
“‘Racist policy’ is more tangible in exacting and more likely to be immediately understood by people, including its victims, who may not have the benefit of extensive fluency in racial terms. ‘Racist policy’ says exactly what the problem is and where the problem is. ‘Institutional racism’, ‘structural racism’ and ‘systematic racism’ are redundant. Racism itself is institutional, structural and systemic.”
“‘Racial discrimination’ is an immediate and visible manifestation of an underlying racial policy… We all have the power to discriminate. Only an exclusive few have the power to make policy. Focusing on ‘racial discrimination’ takes our eyes off the central agents of racism: racist policies and racist policymakers, or what I call racist power.”
And this is where I subscribe to my definition of racism and what is racist is because as he says – we all have the power to discriminate but only an exclusive few have the power to make policies. And those exclusive few are white people and it’s not everybody who’s a white person but the power to make racist policies lies within whiteness.
“The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist.” I am going to be tongue-tied with this between equality and inequality, and what is racist and what’s not racist, I already see it coming for the rest of this thing. But this, I wrote a note in the margin – this reminds me of the efforts to improve inclusion and diversity in tech and why the pushback of, you know, everything has to be equal, and just reaching out to people of color for a job is discriminating against white people, and you know, that this is reverse racism and all these other things..No.
There is no neutral. Either it is racist or it is antiracist. And if we want to stem the tide of racist policies that are in our algorithms, that are in how we run our companies, that are baked into our cultures, we have to actively be antiracist – which means, we have to discriminate against racist policies. We have to replace them with antiracist policies. We have to actively do things that are antiracist to counter the years of racist policies and cultures and attitudes and ideas that have been long held within the tech community.
So, to say that these things are equal is a false equivalence. And I talk about this all the time. I can have the same, be at the same starting place as a white dude in tech and I will still be behind, I will still not have the same results, even if I’m producing more energy in getting where I am. So this is – I really appreciated that – it says that “the only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. “
Again, I’m going to say this again – “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
And then he talks about a quote from Lyndon B Johnson in 1965 – “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”
And then Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in 1978 says, “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.”
That is where affirmative action comes from; that is why it’s there. It’s not because these people are inferior, it is because the doors have always been closed and if you don’t actively create a door there’s no way to get in. If you don’t actively challenge the racist systems that are in play, bringing marginalized people, people of color into spaces all you’re doing is causing harm because you have not done anything to thwart the systems that are in place.
On page 20: “The most threatening racist movement is not the alt right’s unlikely drive for the White ethnostate but the regular American’s drive for a ‘race-neutral’ one.
“Race neutral one”, I need you to hear that. “The construct of race neutrality actually feeds White nationalist victimhood by positing the notion that any policy protecting or advancing non-White Americans toward equity is ‘reverse discrimination’.”
“So what is a racist idea? A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way… An antiracist idea is any idea that suggests the racial groups are equal in all their apparent differences….Racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequality and are substantiated by racist ideas. Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.”
So on the bottom of page 21 “There may be no more consequential White privilege than life itself. White lives matter to the tune of 3.5 additional years over Black lives in the United States” which is just the most…Okay I’m going to scrap all this, I’m not going to talk about this part. So scrap that, Mark. And so we’re going to finish up this chapter, okay, with…
“A racist is someone who is supporting a racist policy by their actions or inaction of expressing a racist idea. An antiracist is someone who is supporting an antiracist policy by their actions or expressing an antiracist idea. ‘Racist’ and ‘antiracist’ are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing in each moment. These are not permanent tattoos. No one becomes a racist or antiracist.”
I put a question mark by this because this goes back to “can Black people be racist?” – the question I have in my mind.
“Like fighting an addiction, becoming an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self evaluation, I mean, self-examination.”
I say this all the time – with again, I’m going to tie it to my idea – all whiteness is racist by design and that’s why I extrapolate the word ‘whiteness’ and not talk about white folks individually. So all whiteness is racist by design – that’s what the systems around you have created. So whiteness is racist by design and cannot be trusted by default. If you want to change that, in my eye, where it is about where do you fall on the spectrum of racism – are you actively on the spectrum of being actively white supremacist? Or actively antiracist?
And I can say, it’s not even a continuum, because just as Dr. Kendi talks about, there is no neutral. So it’s a binary. Okay, that’s what we’re going with. It’s a binary: are you a white supremacist in your thoughts and beliefs or are you antiracist in your thoughts, beliefs and actions? And it takes a constant, consistent demonstrated behavior that says whether you are where you say you are on the spectrum. And also, I like where it says it’s not a permanent tattoo – this is where I get into it with quote-unquote “allies” – individuals who at some point say that they are, you know, on our side, they’re the good guys, or someone told them one time at a meeting, or they did something – and they wear this like it’s a permanent thing while they’re actively causing harm.
And so that is not what this is. And so there is.. and so he ends the chapter with a quote from Audrey Lorde from 1980:
“‘We have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways, ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals.’ To be an antiracist is a radical choice in the face of this history, requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness”
I’m going to leave us there. I, again, am an educator so I’m happy that we started with the definitions and I’ll see where we go with each subsequent chapter but I’m happy that I took the time and that Dr. Kendi took the time to define terms for us and to also give us perspective into his lived experience and so the next time we meet, we will be tackling chapter two which is “Dueling Consciousness.” Thank you, and have a wonderful day.