Author of ‘How to Be An Antiracist’ urges action to support policy


NEW YORK (Reuters) – As protests against police brutality and systemic racism continue around the globe, Lauren Young and Arlene Washington of Reuters spoke with Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to Be an Antiracist” and director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, as part of our #AskReuters Twitter chat series.

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest against police brutality of Rio’s police forces and racism, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil June 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes/File Photo

Below are edited highlights.

Lauren Young: We’ve seen protests and marches for racial equality for decades. What is different about this moment in history?

Ibram X. Kendi: The demonstrations have literally rocked every part of the United States, from small towns to big cities. And more white people than ever before, according to some recent surveys, recognize that racism is an essential problem and are demonstrating for antiracist change.

Arlene Washington: Can you explain the distinction between a racist and an antiracist?

IK: A racist is one who is expressing a racist idea or supporting a racist policy with their actions or inaction. An antiracist is one who is expressing an antiracist idea or supporting an antiracist policy with their actions. Racist ideas suggest certain racial groups are inferior or superior; that something is wrong with let’s say black people. Antiracist ideas suggest the racial groups are equals even amid cultural differences. Racist policy leads to racial inequity; antiracist policy, racial equity.

AW: Can you address the racism that exists within the black community?

IK: To grow up in the U.S. is to be raised to believe there is something wrong with black people, which are racist ideas. Black people too internalize these anti-black racist ideas and when they do they attack other black people as the problem instead of racist power and policy. The only thing wrong with black people is that we think something is wrong with black people.

AW: During your talk with Brene Brown, you mentioned “shame is not a social justice tool.” Can you expound more on that and what that looks like in action?

IK: People feel ashamed when diagnosed as racist. But do people feel ashamed when diagnosed with cancer when living in a polluted neighborhood? No, they often recognize their bodies were polluted; just as our minds have been polluted with racist ideas legitimizing racist policy.

The question is will we continue to pollute society, harm people with our racism? Or, will we get treatment? Will we be part of the movement to heal our society, to heal the victims of racism by ensuring they have equitable opportunities and resources and power?

LY: What is your take on defunding police departments?

IK: I support the policy. We know areas with higher levels of poverty and long-term unemployment tend to have higher levels of violent crime no matter their racial makeup. So why are we over-funding the police to battle violent crime rather than defunding the police to fund job programs?

AW: How can parents teach tolerance and unity?

IK: Parents should be constantly teaching their children that all the skin colors are beautiful; that people are different but that doesn’t mean something is wrong with them; explaining that certain groups have more, not because they are more. Have the conversations again and again.

LY: Do you have any thoughts on the UK taking down colonial statues?

IK: Statues memorialize people, immortalize people in reverence. I don’t think any nation should be revering racist historical figures who terrorized, enslaved, colonized, exploited, lynched, degraded, and murdered peoples of color. They should all come down now.

AW: What gives you hope?

IK: The resistance from coast to coast. The resistance always gives me hope.

Editing by Lauren Young and David Gregorio

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