How to Be an Antiracist is a “handbook” that combines memoir, storytelling, rhetoric, and persuasion on the same page. It is a book that realistically yet hopefully offers concrete solutions to the problems of racism. It is a book that tackles one of the most pressing issues of current society from a historical, theoretical, practical, and personal angle, providing the audiences with insights into the roots of racism as well as ways to combat the oppressive system. The antiracism “handbook” challenges misconceptions, using its wit and power to initiate changes, and Kendi, a great activist himself, uses words as weapons to accurately diagnose racism—a disease like cancer.
The book is very well-structured. Integrating anecdotes, personal narratives, historical evidence, theories of activism, and explanations in each chapter, Kendi manages to find a perfect balance between storytelling and educating the audiences, meanwhile never failing to bore his readers. The poignant stories, whether as a young African American boy or sophisticated professor, all support the arguments that Kendi makes from a personal level. In the meantime, the definitions and persuasive elements in the book make the personal narratives stand out. Supporting and elevating each other, the anecdotes at the start of each chapter and the argumentative sections work very well together, creating a unique style and recognizable format in the book.
Under the compelling structure, Kendi delivers his messages using clear definitions as well as a signature format for his arguments. Kendi always provides his audiences with comprehensive and easily understood definitions of key terms (such as racism, antiracism, activism, etc) using simple language. The definition not only incorporates his unique insights but also explains the logic of things very well. For example, when defining activism, Kendi stresses the importance of policy and power shifts instead of simple changes in minds and feelings, encompassing his own understanding of activism in the objective and insightful definition.
After offering the definition, Kendi would use his classical format—“to be antiracist is” offer concrete solutions as guidelines for antiracism. In each chapter, Kendi discusses one aspect of racism, and the format remains consistent. When delivering the messages on ethnicity and race, for example, Kendi writes that “to be antiracist is to view national and transnational ethnic groups as equal in all their differences. To be antiracist is to challenge the racist policies that plague racialized ethnic groups across the world. To be antiracist is to view the inequities between all racialized ethnic groups as a problem of policy.” The listing of three important things as antiracist tutorials accurately point out the roots of the problems and ways to address them.
In the definitions, solutions, as well as Kendi’s reflection of his own past, he demonstrates a comprehensive understanding of racism, constantly addressing common misconceptions people have that stagnate progressive efforts. As he emphasizes the importance of changing policy, he explains that it is a common mistake for people to blame the deficiencies on people, which becomes problematic. Kendi also objects the attribution of racism to fear and ignorance but endorses self-interest as the core of racism, further supporting his solution of policy changes.
Throughout the narrative, Kendi exemplifies thorough self-retrospection as well as self-growth from a racist to antiracist, acknowledging his mistakes in the past and using them as sources of wisdom. Kendi is able to carry humility and pride at the same time: while he humbly faces his past and identifies his mistakes, he never loses pride as an African American. Like he acknowledges, “being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination,” and he demonstrates the very qualities in his writing and storytelling. Kendi challenges the idea that only whites can be racist and uses himself as an example of the inferiority complex: when people of color think less of themselves, he explains, they are more vulnerable to racist ideas and can become racist themselves.
The book encompasses diversity, inclusivity, intersectionality, and complexity. Kendi devotes each chapter to discussing the intersection between race and biology, ethnicity, body, culture, behavior, class, space, gender, and sexuality. In many of these cases, he rescinds from his privilege as a heterosexual male to empathize with other social groups, understanding their identities and struggles. His ability to acknowledge privilege and expand the conversation to discussing other domains related to race strengthens his arguments in the books. In the sexuality chapter, for example, he writes that “queer antiracism is equating all the race-sexualities, striving to eliminate the inequities between the race-sexualities. We cannot be antiracist if we are homophobic or transphobic.”
The analogy of racism as a form of disease that requires imminent and correct cure is also powerful, especially as a way to conclude the book. Kendi believes that “our world is suffering from metastatic cancer.” He compares and characterizes racism as cancer, accurately capturing the deadly effects of the problem as well as correct ways to address it. Racism, like cancer, spreads at a rapid speed, intersects with various bigotry as discussed above, and threatens the lives of people. Importantly, racism requires removal of the tumors—the eradication of oppressive and discriminatory policies.
As the concrete solutions testify, the book is a hopeful one. It lies on the perfect spot between optimism and reality. Behind the well-explained solutions, the clear reasoning back up the practicality of those solutions. Unlike Between the World and Me, How to Be an Antiracist entails a hopeful outlook that empowers the audiences. Instead of triggering feelings like sadness and outrage, it is a book that makes the audiences think and feel informed and empowered. Kendi’s belief in racists and antiracists as flexible identities alludes to the hopeful nature of the book because despite the institutional system, “what we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what — not who — we are.”
As a contagious memoir, analytical tutorial, and informative “handbook” on antiracism, How to Be an Antiracist opens doors to a world of fair policies and equality that we should all strive for. Encouraging humility and advocating empathy, the book impacts communities and beyond.
Information: How to be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi