Ibram X. Kendi has spent years studying the history of racism and is intimately familiar with its violence, horror and brutality.
When he became a father six years ago, the thought of exposing his daughter to the legacy and reality of racism troubled him deeply.
The issue became more personal when Imani, then 1, was attached to a white doll with blue eyes and blonde hair in daycare.
“We didn’t know what to make of it,” said Kendi, National Book Award winner, MacArthur grantee and director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, Wednesday night in USC’s Bovard Auditorium. “Did she hang on the doll and it happened to appear white, or did she pin the white of the doll to it?” he thought.
This unknown and the possibility that she was attracted to the doll’s white color bothered him. “That really showed me the importance of thinking about these issues, and it put me on the path to eventually writing the book.” she could play, and that she needed other opportunities as well.
This month, Kendi released How to Raise an Antiracist, a deeply personal and researched guide for parents, teachers and carers and a follow-up to his 2019 international bestseller, How to Be an Antiracist.
Kendi joined columnist Sandy Banks for a wide-ranging talk at the LA Times Book Club about fatherhood, teaching kids about racism and showing kids what makes groups of people similar, as well as talks about what makes them different.
“So how do we teach and prepare children for racism without portraying the world as a completely horrible place?” Banks asked during the hour-long discussion.
Kendi used the analogy of teaching a child to look both ways before crossing the street.
“We tell them that there are dangers in society and that it’s incredibly important to protect yourself from those dangers, and if you actually do those things, you don’t necessarily end up getting hit,” Kendi explained.
“When we teach our children to look both ways and to always hold an adult’s hand when crossing the street, we basically think about protecting them,” he said. “That is our focus. We’re less concerned about the discomfort they’re having.”
When we teach kids about race, we protect them from it, Kendi said, adding that it’s important for adults to distinguish between constructive and destructive discomfort, “which will happen if they’re not protected.”
During the discussion, Banks addressed the troubling, growing trend of white supremacists recruiting white teens online and what teachers and caregivers could do about it.
First of all, Kendi said, they need to know what it is — if they can identify it, if they come across it, they’ll know it’s fake.
“How can a white teenager protect himself from white supremacy if he has never known about it?”
So what does it mean to be anti-racist? Banks asked early on.
Kendi began by distinguishing a racist idea from an anti-racist one.
“A racist idea means racial hierarchy — that a particular racial group is superior or inferior, or in contemporary terms, ‘That’s wrong about black people,’ or ‘That’s right about that other group,'” explained Kendi.
Alternatively, anti-racist ideas suggest that all racial groups are equal – biologically, culturally, behaviorally.
He stressed that a key difference between “anti-racist” and “non-racist” — a common response when someone is accused of saying something racist — lies in people’s actions.
For example, a racist person might support policies that perpetuate inequality and injustice, or do nothing to challenge them, which helps perpetuate the status quo.
“The opposite of that is anti-racism; It actively challenges these racist policies by enacting just and fair policies and recognizing racial equality,” said Kendi.
Being anti-racist, he continued, also means acknowledging and recognizing when you are racist.
When it comes to children saying racially insensitive things, Kendi says it’s important to question them rather than respond with “don’t say that.”
“The child may stop saying it, but they will still think it” or repeat it to someone else, he said. But questioning them opens up conversations about people’s differences and similarities, and highlights this truth: “Racism corrupts and poisons what makes us, what makes humanity beautiful — our differences,” he said.
The audience clapped, cheered and gave Kendi a standing ovation at the end of the event.
Jay Jackson was among them.
The 71-year-old Culver City educator said she hasn’t read any of Kendi’s books but appreciates his perspective comes from research and life experience.
“I like that he peppered his lectures with examples of what we can do in our lives [to confront racism], either in our line of work or just being out on the playground watching someone abuse a kid because of the color of their skin,” she said. “A lot of us have faced situations, but we’re like, ‘I don’t want to create a problem.'”
Mary Lang, a 65-year-old retired schoolteacher, was particularly moved by Kendi’s hopeful parting words: that a post-racist world depends on children being able to envision it; That’s the vision he sets out in a new companion book for children, Goodnight, Racism.
“What he said about children really struck me: that they can imagine it and dream it, but if they can only see it or have a clue of it [an antiracist world is] possible, then they will work towards it.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2022-06-23/ibram-x-kendi-on-preparing-children-for-the-realities-of-racism Ibram Kendi talks raising antiracists at Book Club