I came at this book obliquely.
I think I tried reading Stamped from the Beginning a couple years ago, but it didn’t really grab me. Going into this, I only had a vague sense of what he’s arguing for here, but I wasn’t fully convinced. It just seemed a little silly to me that everything has to either be “racist” or “antiracist”. And I disagree with his idea of amending the Constitution to reflect this – the implications of that are…complicated.
To back up a minute – I listen to a lot of political podcasts, including those that I generally disagree with. I listen to a lot of the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web”: Sam Harris, Coleman Hughes, Michael Shermer, (some) Joe Rogan….. the perpetual complainers about “woke culture” and “identity politics.” The kind of people who describe white supremacists as “the fringe of the fringe” and social justice warriors and ANTIFA as the true threat to American freedom. But they totally aren’t Republicans or Trump fans, guys. Many of them are “classical liberals”.
I generally find them disingenuous and nauseating, but I’ve found them to also be pretty good sources into what a certain demographic thinks. I’ve seen them described as a “dumb person’s idea of a smart person”, and I’ve always found that apt.
I think this is probably where I was first exposed to the name Ibram X. Kendi – and it was always spoken with derision.
Most recently, in mid-October, Coleman Hughes released an episode of his podcast titled An Open Letter to Ibram X. Kendi (which is essentially just him reading his review of the book). He’s very critical of the entire premise of How to Be An Antiracist, and doesn’t flinch from laying out clear examples of his problems. And, it must be stated, the issues he raises are real. There are problems with this book – and Kendi’s broader philosophy. He does play loose with his facts, and does rely on cherry-picked data (or sketchy data), and presents as self-evident what is anything but.
To give one example that I noticed: Kendi claims that the life expectancy of black trans women in America is 35 years. He isn’t the first to cite this, but it still doesn’t appear to be true.
But none of this is to say that this book is wrong, or not worth your time. I think there is a lot here that meaningful and informative.
This book is part memoir, part exploration of the historical roots of racism, and part philosophical treatise on the term “antiracism”. So there’s quite a bit to unpack, here. And I can’t say that I was won over. I think I get what he’s saying, but I don’t know why it’s necessary – let alone why he feels the need to change how we view racism. It seems that there is something here worth exploring, but requiring that we all change our vocabulary seems to needlessly muddle the waters.
Why not come up with a new word? Or using “antiracist” is fine, but I think his definition of “racism” is far too restrictive. I don’t believe people are can so easily be pigeon-holed into two boxes like Kendi wants them to be.
My feelings on the whole “antiracist” idea presented here was kind of all over the place while reading. I moved from not agreeing with Kendi at all to thinking he’s made a good case for his belief – and I occupied pretty much every part of the spectrum in between those extremes. At the end, I don’t think I’m really educated enough to argue the merits of his view. But I do find parts of the book poorly argued (and the review by Coleman Hughes gives good examples, I think).
Where I think the part of this book that truly shines is the journey he took from angry young black child to open-minded and thoughtful adult. It was often the moments in between these recountings that felt intrusive and unnecessary. I thought this was a great memoir, and interesting but flawed book on race.