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  • Book Review of Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be An Anti-Racist


          What can you say about a book that begins with the following sentence, “I used to be racist, homophobic, misogynist, and colorist…….”? One thing you can’t say about it is that author Ibram X. Kendi is afraid to be honest and vulnerable. In fact, he vigorously holds himself accountable for his numerous cognitive and behavioral crimes and misdemeanors. Throughout the book, he refuses to let himself maneuver away from some very ugly labels used to judge and condemn damaging and destructive human behaviors. In a world where it is difficult to go through a day where someone isn’t being told that they should “hold themselves accountable”, Kendi leads the way, and the way is not only as uncomfortable and awkward as one might expect, but it is also filled with humor and good-natured insights.

             Kendi, an African American author and professor of history and international relations, takes readers on a journey from his raw, adolescent, internalized racist views to his current anti-racist activism. Along the way, he learns that there is immense power in being completely honest with oneself and in examining one’s own flaws with a magnifying class. Once he admits to engaging in noxious thought patterns that range from casual homophobia to viewing his fellow African Americans in the same way that racist whites do while simultaneously lumping all people of European decent into the inferior category of “white racists”, he is able to clear away the emotional debris and confront the cognitive dissonance that is  embedded in a lot of anti-social behavior. The result is a literal “how-to” instructional guidebook that revolves around his autobiographical experiences.

             With chapters entitled “My Racist Introduction”, “Dueling Consciousness”, “Ethnicity”, “Culture”, “Color”, “Class”, “Gender”, and “Sexuality”, Kendi invites readers to see the world through his constantly evolving perspective. As a teenager, he belatedly realizes that he has given a speech full of racist ideas and anti-black tropes to a group of African Americans eager to uphold and internalize negative portrayals of themselves. Later in college, he is forced to acknowledge his unexamined misogyny and gender bias. All along his journey, Kendi uses examples from his own life to illustrate the limitations of certain thought patterns and behaviors. As he states, “The only way to undo racism [and other dangerous, discriminatory patterns of behavior] is to consistently identify and describe it [them] — and to dismantle it [them].” Despite the serious nature of Kendi’s rigorous self-analysis, there are plenty of humorous observations and anecdotes woven into the 241-page tome such as the time he realizes upon arriving at college the incongruity of fighting white supremacist ideologies while wearing hazel, “honey-colored” contact lenses.

             For anyone interested in going beneath the surface of race and gender relations to gain a better understanding of how to rout out undesirable and/or misguided thought processes, Kendi’s “How to Be an Anti-Racist” will prove satisfying. He covers a lot of ground in the book from classism and ethnic stereotyping to homophobia, but his chapters never feel rushed or underdeveloped. Instead, he brings a historical lens to all the issues he explores and invites readers along for an enlightening and entertaining ride that leaves them exhilarated and filled with hope at the end of the journey.



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    Dale News Online Publication: October 2023