Introduction and Chapters 1-3 Discussion Questions:
In the introduction of his book, Kendi shares his own experience of internalized racism as he recounts a speech that he gave for an MLK oratory competition when he was in high school. Looking back now he writes: “I saw the ongoing struggles of Black people and decided that the people themselves were the problem. This is the consistent function of racist ideas: to manipulate us into seeing people as the problem, instead of the policies that ensnare them.” How does Kendi’s honesty and vulnerability help us to recognize the ways in which our own ideas are shaped by racist culture?
Kendi writes: “Racist ideas have defined our society since the its beginning and can feel so natural and obvious as to be banal, but antiracist ideas remain difficult to comprehend, in part because they go against the flow of this country’s history.” Then he quotes Audra Lorde: “‘We have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals.’” Kendi concludes: “To be an antiracist is a radical choice in the face of this history, requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness.” What do you see as the biggest challenges of anti-racism work? What helps us to overcome these challenges?
W. E. B. Du Bois writes about double-consciousness in The Souls of Black Folk as a “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” How can this dueling consciousness nourish a sense of pride in Black identity? How can this dueling consciousness also cultivate shame? How did dueling consciousness impact Kendi’s parents and, in turn, influence his own upbringing? (See the definitions of Assimilationist, Segregationist, and Antiracist for reference.)
When did Kendi first become aware of his racial identity? During a school tour with his parents, why was the teacher surprised when Kendi questioned her about the lack of Black teachers? When did you first become aware of your own racial identity? How about your children, students, or other young people in your life? What has their experience of “racial identity” been thus far?
Racist - One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.
Antiracist - One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.[*These are not fixed identities, but rather about actions and ideas in the moment. **There is no such thing as “not-racist”; No neutrality when it comes to supporting systems and ideas that promote inequality or equality.]
Assimilationist - One who is expressing the racist idea that a racial group is culturally or behaviorally inferior and is supporting culture or behavioral enrichment programs to develop that racial group.
Segregationist - One who is expressing the racist idea that a permanently inferior racial group can never be developed and is supporting policy that segregates away that racial group.
Antiracist - One who is expressing the idea that racial groups are equals and none needs developing, and is supporting a policy that reduces racial inequity.
Race - A power construct of collected or merged difference that lives socially. (Concepts of “race” come from already established racist systems and policies and work to justify the racial hierarchy/oppression.)
Chapters 4–7 Discussion Questions:
Kendi’s story about his experience of trying to defend his Black classmate in third grade, reminds us that “racism” for many people is not first an intellectual exercise. Rather it is a real, lived, confusing, and painful reality, that people experience starting from a very young age and continuing throughout their lives. Can you feel the pain and emotion in Kendi’s retelling of this and other stories from his childhood? How is your heart experiencing Kendi’s writing?
Kendi no longer uses the term “microaggression” which Derald Wing Sue has defined as “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership.” (p.46) Instead he calls it “racist abuse” (p. 47) to more accurately express its harmful and unrelenting effects on people. What are some examples of these “everyday exchanges” that you have witnessed - either as a perpetrator, a victim, or a bystander?
Some people believe that if we stop identifying people by race and stop talking about race in general, then “racism” will go away. But Kendi points out that without racial categories, we cannot identify racial inequities and racist policies. And without this recognition, we cannot challenge the system. “If we cannot challenge racist policies, then racist power’s final solution will be achieved: a world of inequity none of us can see, let alone resist. … To be antiracist is to recognize the living, breathing reality of the racial mirage, which makes our skin colors more meaningful than our individuality. To be antiracist is to focus on ending racism that shapes the mirages, not to ignore the mirages that shape peoples’ lives.” (pp. 54-55) Discuss what Kendi means and the implications this has for antiracist living?
In his discussion of Ethnic Racism, Kendi points to the way that African-Americans, African immigrants, and Afro-Carribean Americans and/or immigrants have biased thinking and prejudice against each other. Kendi critiques this “double standard” in racism as it makes one love their position on the ladder above supposed ‘inferior’ ethnic groups, but hate their position below supposed ‘superior’ ethnic groups. Futhermore, he points out that this kind of judgement “fails to recognize that the racist ideas we consume about others come from the same restaurant and the same cook who used the same ingredients to make different degrading dishes for us all.” (p. 66) What factors play into this phenomenon?
How does fear function to reinforce bodily and cultural racism? Relatedly, how do manufactured fear and white supremacy work together? How can we better recognize our own insecurities and resist being manipulated by fear? When is real fear necessary and appropriate? How can we use this type of fear to motivate us into antiracist action?
Biological Racist - One who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully different in their biology and that these differences create a hierarchy of value.
Biological Antiracist - One who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully the same in their biology and there are no genetic racial differences.
Ethnic Racism - A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by racist ideas about these groups.
Ethnic Antiracism - A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about these groups.
Bodily Racist - One who is perceiving certain racialized bodies as more animal-like and violent than others.
Bodily Antiracist - One who is humanizing, deracializing, and individualizing non-violent and violent behavior.
Cultural Racist - One who is creating a cultural standard and imposing a cultural hierarchy among racial groups.
Cultural Antiracist - One who is rejecting cultural standards and equalizing cultural differences among racial groups.
Chapters 8-11 Discussion Questions:
(Chapter 8: Behavior) “Every time someone racializes behavior, they are expressing a racist idea. To be an antiracist is to recognize there is no such thing as racial behavior. … All we have are stories of individual behavior. … Just as race doesn’t exist biologically, race doesn’t exist behaviorally.” (p. 95) What is Kendi trying to get at here? How does he nuance his argument by talking about cultural norms and practices - those that are found within racial groups but not applicable to everyone in that group?
(Chapter 9: Color) What are some examples of “colorism” that you have witnessed in society - either personally or through books, tv, movies, social media? How is it reflected in today’s beauty standards? What steps can we take to build and support a culture that celebrates natural beauty?
(Chapter 10: White) Kendi argues that attributing racist policies and power to all White people is also a form of racism and is counterproductive in antiracism efforts. While it’s important and justified to be angry about racism and resent that inequality that it creates, Kendi believes that “racist power thrives on Anti-White racist ideas”. He writes: “When Black people concentrate their hatred on everyday White people, they are not fighting racist power or racist policy makers. In losing focus on racist power, they fail to challenge anti-Black racist policies, which means those policies are more likely to flourish.” (p. 131) How do you understand Kendi’s argument? What questions does it raise for you?
(Chapter 11: Black 4) What are Kendi’s critiques of the “powerless defense” and the commonly held notion that Black (and other oppressed groups) can’t be racist because they don’t have power? How does history and Kendi’s own life inform his argument? What informs your thinking on this issue? In what ways do you agree and/or disagree with Kendi?
Behavioral Racist - One who is making individuals responsible for the the perceived behavior of racial groups and making racial groups responsible for the behavior of individuals.
Behavioral Antiracist - One who is making racial group behavior fictional and individual behavior real.
Colorism - A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequities between Light people and Dark people, supported by racist ideas about Light and Dark people.
Color Antiracism - A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between Light people and Dark people, supported by antiracist ideas about Light and Dark people.
Anti-White Racist - One who is classifying people of European descent as biologically, culturally, or behaviorally inferior or conflating the entire race of White people with racist power.
Powerless Defense - The illusory, concealing, disempowering, and racist idea that Black people can’t be racist because Black people don’t have power.
Chapters 12-15 Discussion Questions:
What is intersectionality? What does it mean to use an intersectional approach to antiracism and why is it important to understand intersections between privileges? Discuss examples of class racism, gendered racism, and queer racism, and reflect on how these might play out in our towns, schools, and families.
What did you learn about how spaces are racialized in “Space” - Kendi’s chapter 13? Discuss how Kendi explains the nuances of segregation, separation, and integration. (eg. inherent inequities of segregation; the benefits of having “separate” spaces, especially for marginalized groups; and the pitfalls of integration without equal access to power.)
Have you ever entered a racialized space where you were not a member of the dominant racial group? If yes, how did you feel in the space? If not, why do you think you have not had this experience?
Kendi continually intertwines historical facts and analysis with reflections on his own personal journey, using specific examples of how his thinking has been shaped by encounters and relationships with other people. What personal experiences have you had that helped you to grow and see another perspective? And in what ways has your learning been shaped by what you know (or didn’t know) about American history? How would you improve the way history is taught in schools so that kids can grow up with a more complete understanding of the various forms of racism?
Class Racist: One who is radicalizing the classes, supporting policies of racial capitalism against those race-classes, and justifying them by racist ideas about those race-classes.
Antiracist Anticapitalist: One who is opposing racial capitalism.
Space Racism: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to resource inequity between radicalized spaces or the elimination of certain radicalized spaces, which are substantiated by racist ideas about radicalized spaces. Space Antiracism: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity between integrated and protected radicalized spaces, which are substantiated by antiracist ideas about radicalized spaces.
Gender Racism: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-genders and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-genders.
Gender Antiracism: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between race-genders and are substantiated by anti-racist ideas about race-genders.
Queer Racism: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-sexualities.
Queer Antiracism: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about race-sexualities.
Chapters 16-18 Discussion Questions:
“What if economic, political, and self-interest drives racist policy makers, not hateful immorality, not ignorance?” (p.206) Kendi poses this question in his argument that antiracist efforts are best when they start with changes in policy and power rather than on individual behavior methods such as “moral and educational suasion”. Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. he says: “‘We’ve had it wrong and mixed up in our country, and this has led Negro Americans in the past to seek their goals through love and moral suasion devoid of power.’” (p. 208) Kendi summarizes his own similar assertion this way: “To fight for mental and moral changes after policy is changed means fighting alongside growing benefits and the dissipation of fears, making it possible for antiracist power to succeed. To fight for mental and moral change as a prerequisite for policy change is to fight against growing fears and apathy, making it almost impossible for antiracist power to succeed.” (p. 208) How do you understand Kendi’s argument? And what implications does it have for our antiracism work - in our own lives, with our children, in our schools and in our communities?
Kendi defines Activist as “one who has a record of power or policy change.” (p. 201) Some of his ideas for how to take steps in eliminating racial inequity include: name, investigate and uncover racist policies; invent or find antiracist policies that produce equity; figure out who has the power to implement such policies; work with these policy makers to effect change; hold policy makers accountable and work to remove those who do not support antiracist measures; monitor and evaluate new antiracist policies for effectiveness; when policies fail, don’t blame people but rather seek out new and more effective antiracist policies. (pp. 231-232) How can we implement these suggestions in our antiracism work? How can we be “activists” and not just “learners”? Now that we “know better” how can we “do better”?
In his final chapter, Kendi shares about his family’s experiences with cancer, including his own diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer in 2018. He compares racism to cancer this way: “Our world is suffering from metastatic cancer. Stage 4. Racism has spread to nearly every part of the body politic, intersecting with bigotry of all kinds, justifying all kinds of inequities by victim blaming; heightening exploitation and misplaced hate.” (p. 234) Kendi also points to the stages of denial, admission, treatment, and hope for survival in both cancer and racism. In what ways is denial still the “heartbeat of racism” in our country, our neighborhoods, our schools, our faith communities, and our families? What are some of the best treatments, in your opinion? Do you have hope that our society can survive racism?