In his groundbreaking book, How To Be An Antiracist, historian and National Book Award-winning author Ibram X. Kendi offers us two new, powerful tools to fight racism.
Firstly, he firmly establishes the long-denied truth that we all participate in racist systems. In the past, many have espoused that people of color could not be racist because, to be racist, you must have power, and we, being victims of racist power, seemingly powerless, can’t be racist. With clear examples from our history, Kendi shows that this is wrong—that we people of color regularly exercise the power we have in our everyday lives to victimize one another and, ultimately, ourselves, by behaving in racist ways. This is an important recognition which will help us move forward.
The second important tool Kendi offers is viewing systemic and institutional racism as an assemblage of racist policies rather than an abstract, seemingly insurmountable obstacle that we can only forlornly speak against and futilely poke at. This insight is a powerful tool precisely because we are all parts of systems and institutions. Therefore, if we look around ourselves in our daily lives, we can identify racist policies that we can change through our individual power or dismantle by working with other antiracists. This makes fighting systemic racism much more realistic and achievable.
Furthermore, if we are Episcopalians, we must consider Kendi’s tools through the foundational lens of our faith as followers of Jesus, the Christ. This perspective should allow us to view racism and all forms of oppression as contrary to our life model. Kendi identifies the driving force behind racism as “self-interest.” Perhaps we can expand that idea to include excessive materialism and greed for wealth, power, and social recognition, all forces which have driven racism in our country for the past 400 years.
When we combine our foundational belief with Kendi’s tools, we see that dismantling racism is a much more doable task.