In just a few short months SARN will be three years old, and one thing I’ve learned in this process is that I can’t do it alone. There’s a LOT of info out there to help us with our campaign to end racism. And there are new books every day. Much as I’d like to, I can’t read them all. That’s why I’m excited to introduce you to Dr. Jonathan Ashong-Lamptey and his Element of Inclusion Book Insights.
I recently spoke to him for the Building Our Own Table interview series. He reviews books all the time, and has his own unique approach. I’ve asked him to review Ibram X Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist because 1) it’s a book everyone should know about 2) it’s an example of what Element of Inclusion Book Insights provides. Here’s his alternative view of the book How To be An Antiracist.
Professor Ibram X Kendi is best known as the author of How To be An Antiracist.
I think it’s one of the most important books you can read on antiracism.
I don’t think it should be the first book you read on the topic.
Here’s are 4 themes from the book that I don’t hear people talk about enough.
1. Antiracism is Binary
According to the author a person is either Anti Racist or they are not.
It’s described as all or nothing in the book.
This is a high standard that people may not be used to.
I think it’s a higher standard for organisations that claim to be “Antiracist”.
I’m not convinced that mainstream organisations:
- Understand this meaning of the word anti racist.
- Are familiar with an alternative meaning for being anti racist.
2. Antiracism is a Verb
One of the strongest messages of the book is that being Anti Racist is defined by action.
To illustrate this let’s explore what being racist means:
According to the author a racist is someone who is supporting a racist policy through “their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea”.
This means doing nothing in the presence of a racist policy makes a person a racist.
A racist policy is described as “any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups”.
The author has a profound understanding of:
- Systemic racism
- Structural racism
- Institutional racism
However he chooses not to use these terms frequently.
I think the author is quite dismissive of these terms.
3. Antiracism is not a Fixed State
The author makes it clear that a person can be racist sometimes and anti-racist at other times.
To explain this further, the author describes different occasions when he has been racist and anti-racist.
This was important because it was insightful and refreshing for me as a reader.
It suggests that our behaviour is indicative of who we are as people.
This underpins the importance of action in defining Anti racism in the book.
4. Discrimination is a tool of Antiracism
Racial inequity is the target for Anti racist policies.
The author suggests that if discrimination is required to create equity; then it’s anti racist.
The author is clear:
The only remedy to racist discrimination is Anti Racist discrimination.
The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.
The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.
These are some of the commitments attached to Professor Kendi’s version of Anti Racism.
I like this book as a strong introduction to Antiracism but it’s not for everyone.
- It’s non linear.
- It’s unconventional.
- It’s assumes a lot of prior knowledge about Race.
This is why I don’t think it should be the first book you read about Race.
Enjoyed this book review? Read this book? Share your thoughts below.
If you enjoyed these insights from Dr. Jonathan then you will love his Book Club.
Dr. Jonathan is on a mission to help a million people like you to make your workplace inclusive by providing practical insight that will help us take action on building an anti-racist society.
Dr. Jonathan has developed a system based on three principles that can help you curate and apply practical ideas from various fields of DEI.
With the Element of Inclusion Book Insights, you'll get an analysis of a DEI-related book every two weeks.
Practical application of lessons learned.
With the Element of Inclusion Book Insights, you'll get practical takeaways from each book that you can apply in your own life.
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With the Element of Inclusion Book Insights, you'll get access to books that are relevant, trustworthy, and practical.
So how does it work?
Every two weeks, you'll receive an analysis of a DEI-related book that Dr. Jonathan has reviewed using his 5 Step Signature Approach and his 5-4-3-2-1 Review Method.
This means you'll get insights in less time and have guidance on what is relevant for your needs at work.
If you want to save time, have practical guidance, and start building an anti-racist society, then the Element of Inclusion Book Insights is for you.
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.
I am an anti-racism writer, educator and activist, Co-Founder of Mission Equality the author of “I’m Tired of Racism”, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast.
Ms. Hurley-Hall, I appreciated Dr.Ashong-Lamptey's review on " How To Make a Racist." To me however, there are some inconsistencies between the concept that anti- racism is binary and anti- racism is not a fixed state. First of all I was a reluctant racist. I didn't want to be racist, but with some introspection I realized that I did racist things and thought racist thoughts. Luckily I saw the error in my ways and with the help from writers like you, Clay Rivers, Rosalyn Morris, and Marley K, my racist views are going by the wayside. I am living testimony that people can change if they really want to and put their minds to it. Additionally, anti-racism is not fixed. It really depends on who you are talking with. I have no need to talk about anti- racist things with black people unless I want to convince them of my sincerity. Taking an anti-racism stand is taking action on the need to concentrate on convincing white people of the great inequities black people face.
In short while anti-racism depends on who you are talking to- it is not a fixed state it is not either or for it can change with time.
Thank you for sharing this review of Kendi's book. I am not sure whether you wrote the review, or whether it was by Jonathan. But to be honest, I am not a fan of the book.
What I have noticed in the review, and the vast majority or reviews has been that it ignores many key points about racism and being an anti-racist. Was it not bell hooks who "coined" the phrase "anti-racist?" How about the fact that when "race" gets discusses, studied, scrutinized that the "white patriarchal" norm underlies the discourse?
"Race" is more than about talking about "men" and the violence perpetrated against Black, Brown, or Indigenous men. The whole patriarchal discourse permeates the entire book. Kendi remains quite dismissive of Black women. While in point 2 in the article it notes the following,
"The author has a profound understanding of:
- Systemic racism
- Structural racism
- Institutional racism"
One could honestly claim that Kendi practices structural sexism, systemic sexism, and institutional sexism for refusing to acknowledge Black women and their experiences. To that point, while I, myself am a straight cis male, of Asian Indian origin, I have to recognize the privileges that I have as a male, and the other privileges that might have been granted due to circumstances of birth. It remains incumbent upon me to learn about the experiences of women, particularly of non-white women and work towards society that recognizes that women must be evaluated on their own merits, not according to male merits. In society, here in the United States and around the world, the socialization has been that of not recognizing, not appreciating women (females) as being no different than men (right here, there are problems with the statement I wrote, but the spirit is that women have capabilities that society refuses to acknowledge, and must be afforded the same opportunities as men, and the same for LGBTQ+).
Kendi demonstrates a decided ignorance of how the discourse has been formulated. Space in a literal sense, in a physical sense, and even in a figurative senses remains defined by the society at large, by the "norms" around people.
[The space people inhabit, whether it be in the personal realm or in the workplace environment, the definition of that space relies upon definitions being created by those who reap the benefits from being in power and members of the majority. This posits the following questions, “‘How does the organization of space come to have meaning?’” Answering this question obligates one to understand that women’s movement and even their discussion has been restricted (Fenster 1999, 3). Space " reflects social and power relations within a society as well as affecting them and, to a large extent, special relations actually represent and sometimes also reproduce social relations.” Discourses about “public spaces” themselves are never neutral, that they rely upon established social structures, whereby “corporate space,” reflects societal mores. ]
- Henrietta Moore (1986), Tovi Fenster (1999)
Why does Kendi not talk about Black women and their experiences in white society? Kendi refuses to talk about Black women, and what needs to be done to be an "anti-racist." The whole "Civil Rights" movement in the United States centers on "Dr. King" and from the time period from 1954/56 - 1968/69. It condemns the work of people such as Coretta Scott King, Fannie Lou Hammer, Shirley Anita Chisholm, Claudette Colvin, and others to be relegated to the sidelines. Dr. King would not have accomplished what he did without Coretta, and numerous other Black individuals, men and women. The book does not recognize that Black women have been at the forefront of fighting for Human Rights for Blacks in the United States since the “original 13 colonies.”
The book had been written for a white audience. Much akin to work done by Robin D'Angelo with "White Fragility." There is absolutely no need to be "nice" or “sensitive” to white feelings or “sensibilities.” Fannie Lou Hammer who testified at the Democratic National Convention in 1964, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” As a man of Indian origin, I might only surmise how "sick and tired” Black women of being continually marginalized.
Review of Kendi's books by someone on Good Reads:
Fenster, Tovi. (1999). “Gender and Human Rights: Implications for Planning and
Development.” In Gender, Planning, and Human Rights, edited by Tovi Fenster.
Pp. 3 – 21. New York: Routledge
Moore, Henrietta L. (1986). Space, Text, and Gender: An Anthropological Study of the
Marakewet of Kenya. New York: Cambridge University Press