How to Be an Antiracist is more like a textbook than I would like, but then there is much schooling to be done. Kendi succinctly takes down assimilationist thinking (“Assimilationists typically position White people as the superior standard”) and the glamorising of poverty as “authentic blackness” (with typical honesty, he confesses to having been guilty of this)... This is a dogmatic book, but that should be no surprise given that the title takes the form of a “How To”. Kendi gets away with the instructional tone, both because of the work he has put in, and because of his ability to face up to his own flaws.
It’s a mark of the transformative and unsettling power of Ibram X Kendi’s writing that I relaxed into How to Be an Antiracist with the comforting and self-righteous knowledge that the title was not addressing me. After all I am black; I couldn’t possibly be racist, could I? By the book’s end, I wasn’t so sure...How to Be an Antiracist offers a way out from the tangled disingenuousness of mainstream narratives around racism. Whether you’re an institution such as the BBC, fumbling editorially in determinedly refusing to describe Trump as a racist, or an individual in moral paralysis, dumbfounded by the febrile emotions now at large in a resurgence of racist attitudes, you are not alone; hope is on its way. At its simplest, the book argues that to be an antiracist is to take an active and persistent stance against racism.
In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi recycles ideas from his earlier book and weaves them into a memoir of his own life, from his middle-class childhood in multiethnic New York, through the racial standoff in the South, to the largely white university communities in which he now teaches. In an often engaging amble through three decades, he touches on themes that do need airing: the contrast, for one, between the descendants of black slaves, still poor and underachieving, and their eager-beaver African and Caribbean immigrant cousins, now cutting a swathe through corporate life... Kendi is right that, to understand America, you cannot escape the chasm of its racial divide, and I would love to cheer on his desire to treat race as a serious topic of study. But he seems like a prophet warning us of a future we’ve already passed through. Without more rigorous tools of analysis, the storytelling is likely to end up promoting the political outcome he would most hate: more racial division, and more Trump.