GWJ Antiracism Book Discussion - Book 1 How to Be an Antiracist

We'll be reading and discussing How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi as our first book in the GWJ Antiracism Book Discussion.

The discussion, pacing, and process is all open for discussion. We'll figure it out together and adjust as we learn.

Just getting started. I’m reading on the kindle. Noticed that there are endnotes (yay). Book mentioned on Black Power (Waiting Til the Midnight Hour) isn’t at either library I have access to as ebook. But there’s another for my reading list!

Husband is reading along with me

We've had some good suggestions from the main GWJ Antiracism Book Discussion thread that I'll do my best to incorporate and balance here. I've never lead a book group discussion in real life or online, so your patience and feedback is greatly appreciated.

Let's set Friday, July 10 as our official starting point for reading How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

Here's my suggested schedule for reading and discussion:

  • Week 1, July 10 - 18: Introduction, Chapters 1-3
  • Week 2, July 19 - 25: Chapters 4-6
  • Week 3, July 26 - August 1: Chapters 7-9
  • Week 4, August 2 - 9: Chapters 10-12
  • Week 5, August 10 - 16: Chapters 13-15
  • Week 6, August 17 - 23: Chapters 16-18
  • Week 7, August 24 - 30: Chapters 16-18

These should be considered guidelines and not rules chiseled in stone. People reading ahead of this pace should feel free to post thoughts, questions, or insights as they occur to you. Don't feel like you have to wait for the schedule to catch up to you. Post while the thoughts, inspirations, and questions are fresh in your mind and heart.

Discussion in the GWJ forums (overwhelming favorite in the poll, by the way) makes that work well. Others will reach that point eventually and may benefit or comment on what you've shared. If people are behind the suggested pace, they'll be able to see what's been posted previously and participate in their own time.

If you're reading this book or forum in October 2020 or July 2032 your comments, thoughts, and questions are as welcome then as they are today.

So . . . with that as a suggested launch point, I welcome your constructive criticism. Please share your opinions on the organization, scheduling, and coordination of this discussion. I volunteered to act as a facilitator but am not qualified to lead the discussion. That part is up to every one of us.

Let's read, think, share, grow, and learn together.

I don’t have the book in front of me, so my references ATM will be non specific.

In critical thinking, the false dichotomy is one of the key logical fallacies. Example: If you’re not with me, you’re against me. It’s a false dichotomy because there will always be more than two possible choices when nuanced thinking is incorporated. But the idea that you’re either being racist or antiracist at any given moment is an example of a legitimate dichotomy.

I also agree with the idea that a person can be practicing racism in one moment and antiracism in another moment. Kendi says that they’re interchangeable labels, like a sticker on your shirt that can be peeled off, replaced, and reapplied.

An idea that was new to me was how discrimination can be racist or antiracist. If the discrimination is creating inequities between races then it’s racist discrimination. If the discrimination is is creating equity between races then it’s antiracist discrimination.

[I’m paraphrasing]
The only cure for past discrimination is present discrimination. The only cure for present discrimination is future discrimination.

I’ll post some of my favorite lines and passages in the near future.

UUUUGGGHHH!!!!!

I just learned that a friend of mine is a borderline white supremist. I thought he might be one of those racists by way of apathy, but I was wrong. I was hoping he was sort of on the fence; someone who might be pulled into the light. At least I know not to waste too much effort on him. At this point all I can do is lead by example and hope against hope that some antiracist ideas might rub off on him. So disappointed.

The reason I’m posting here is That without this book I wouldn’t have the tools and vocabulary to properly understand this particular situation.

I need to catch up on this book because I’m in a similar situation. I recently had a knock down drag out fight with a close Army buddy over the Chipotle lady of all things. (He feels the White woman who pulled a gun was being threatened and responded appropriately).

I’ve always tried to keep an open mind and give people the benefit of the doubt in the past, especially if we had other things in common beyond politics. I’m starting to realize I need to start rethinking that strategy.

I really dislike the Karen slur. Sorry for coming across as judgey. My intention is not to make you feel uncomfortable or to start an argument.

I recently learned that when I refer to someone as my “spirit animal” its culturally insensitive towards Native Americans. My instinct was replace that term with “guru”. It occurred to me that guru might not be any better than spirit animal.

It may seem like hair splitting or being overly PC, but if a term is likely to offend or hurt someone, I am trying to eliminate it from my vocabulary.

RawkGWJ wrote:

I really dislike the Karen slur. Sorry for coming across as judgey. My intention is not to make you feel uncomfortable or to start an argument.

I recently learned that when I refer to someone as my “spirit animal” its culturally insensitive towards Native Americans. My instinct was replace that term with “guru”. It occurred to me that guru might not be any better than spirit animal.

It may seem like hair splitting or being overly PC, but if a term is likely to offend or hurt someone, I am trying to eliminate it from my vocabulary.

No worries - while I’m of the opinion that Karen is as Karen does, I can also see that the label can be used by sexists to belittle women. So I’ve changed it above.

Thanks for being cool about it.

The "Chipotle lady"?

*one quick web search later*

JESUS f*ckING f*ck PEOPLE WHAT THE f*ck.

I hope that lady faces the full weight of the justice system like a minority would for what she did. Holy f*cking sh*t. Words just completely fail me.

Seriously I don’t know which is worse. Check out Amy Cooper and Permit Patty if you dare.

Unfortunately, I can’t find the full Amy Cooper video, which shows how she feigned terror after not being taken seriously at first by the 911 operator. Odd... I just don’t know...

Original tweet of Cooper.

I have watched the video but without sound.

The thread is interesting. At least there was a lot of support for Chris and his sister.

I’m reading on audiobook, and I just started today while I was mowing the lawn. It took me a long time of my life to come to terms with my own racism. It was never as overt or outspoken as my family of origin was, but it was there, camouflaged in “I’m not racist, but...” kinds of thoughts and defenses. I thought I wasn’t racist because I grew up around Latinos/as and Polynesians and thought I didn’t think poorly of them based on their race. I had other “reasons” for the way I thought, that were mired in racist causes that I was too naive to examine. It was discovering that racism is more than just overt personal prejudices that made me re-examine my own racism.

I really like the main idea so far: being non-racist is neutral where no neutrality can exist. The opposite of racism is anti-racism.

I’m not too far in yet, but how’s the first chapters going for everyone?

I'm at Chapter 8 via audiobook, and I think it's good to keep in mind that he often starts chapters and passages with personal anectdote, zooms out a bit for connection to topic for context, then zooms back into nuanced concepts or topic details, and then kind of zooms back out again waxing binary statements with if lots of ifs/thans when wrapping up segments or chapters. I don't fault it, I think it's very poweful, but if you're not looking at how he plays with contrast and polarity in his written voice, some of that detail can be overlooked as a bit too hyperbolic.

I'd argue that it serves his message, but it takes some time reading to appreciate it and I wonder if that could mean some folks might not get it's intention or impact. After I finish I might give it another re-listen now that I've gotten used to the pace and direction of how he writes.

I don't often hear audiobooks narrated by the author's themselves, so it was actually really interesting and refreshing to hear his own voice, especially when sharing personal stories. It's felt.

This is my second time listening to the audiobook. I’m reading the print version too so I can take notes. So far I can’t find any fault in what Kendi is saying. I’ve had moments where I thought that I disagreed with one of the concepts only to change my mind once Kendi got down to a more granular explanation.

-

On the “Karen” topic:
Here is another example of me feeling one way about an issue, and then changing my mind once I got a more granular understanding of it. Earlier in this thread I was expressing my discomfort with the “slur”, yet when put in the appropriate context, it’s an adjective rather than a pejorative, and actually an “antiracist” term. It turns out that the term “Karen” is originality meant to describe a woman, usually white, who is using her social status privilege to exercise control over people who are in less privileged groups. So, Cooper indeed was behaving as a “Karen” in the classic sense. When the word is used as a way to describe racist behavior then it’s a descriptive word rather than a slur. But the term is mostly used as a slur in my opinion, since most people use it as a pejorative rather than an adjective.

This podcast episode does a great job explaining it. Codeswitch

About 80% through chapter 12. The linking between capitalism and racism at this point had me floored. Obviously not a new concept, just how it is presented here is powerful as hell.

Amoebic wrote:

About 80% through chapter 12. The linking between capitalism and racism at this point had me floored. Obviously not a new concept, just how it is presented here is powerful as hell.

HOLY CRAP!! Me too. For the past 15 years or so, I have been kicking around the idea that Capitalism requires a slave class in order to function effectively. In the 1600s the slave class was literally enslaved African people. Before that it took the form of indentured servitude and feudalism, but was basically the same thing, with the exception that the slave class during that period was white. More recently the slave class has been undocumented immigrants, immigrant work furloughs, prison work furloughs, and third world labor. I am thankful for the term anti-capitalist. It acknowledges the problems inherent in capitalism, but doesn’t invoke the specific names of other economic systems.

For example, when Bernie Sanders proclaims that he is a socialist it makes me wince in pain. I like Bernie and I like his political ideas, but the term Socialism makes me think instantly of a totalitarian dictatorship. So I cannot say that I’m a socialist, but I feel very confident to say that I’m an anti-capitalist.

RawkGWJ wrote:

I like Bernie and I like his political ideas, but the term Socialism makes me think instantly of a totalitarian dictatorship. So I cannot say that I’m a socialist, but I feel very confident to say that I’m an anti-capitalist.

One of those things is not like the other.

So now you've got another reading assignment to do after this one, to learn the yawning chasm of difference between socialism and totalitarianism / unlearn the right-wing propaganda that applies an almost entirely fictitious definition to the term "socialism".

Because I suspect that in actual fact, you're a socialist who misunderstands the term.

I’m taking this book quite a bit slower and I just finished chapter 2 about power and it completely turned me upside down. If I’m reading it right it sounds like:

1) white European discovers African people over whom he can exert power and control and forcibly removes them to Europe for the wealth of free labor and financial “Worth” of slaves
2) justification is needed, so myriad tribes and shades of people are labeled as the race of Africans and given a lesser set of traits
3) further justification from religion to deemphasize slavery and economics and call it “soul saving”
4) race labeling spreads to indigenous Americans and Asian nations, with a constructed hierarchy that places “white” at the top

I always had assumed that racism came from judging of difference and fear of unknowable others is what fueled slavery, yet it’s interesting that the slave trade was not forced on Asians or natives in America, only people in Africa— yet all those nations, tribes, and people would have been just as unknown to Europeans. So racism causing slavery doesn’t really seem to be the causal order, but that slavery caused racism.

I need some time to digest this more. Am I missing any key points?

Edit: also realizing my own American-centric view of the slave trade as occurring in 1620 at the earliest is a white American privilege as it ignores nearly 200 years of the European slave trade—the difference between “just” 200 years of slavery and the reality of 400+ years. Yeesh!

Also, racism as purposeful man-made construction is so many degrees worse than what I was taught that racism is a “natural” byproduct of different people of different “races” interacting. It feels icky that I was taught and never questioned that and even ickier that the reality was that it was entirely made up over wealth and greed and power. I’m feeling sickened over this right now.

Yeah, that blew me away too.

“Race is a construct”—OK, yeah, I’ve been taking that on faith for years. But Kendi shows how it was constructed, pointing out how all the Tinker Toys fit together.

(Oh god, Tinker Toys aren’t racist, are they?)

The first chapter where he goes through definitions and outlines racism, antiracism, and racist policies/framework was all really heavy and a new (to me) way of thinking about this topic. Like a word you say over and over again I found the word 'race' losing meaning and it was really hard to get through it. Pushing through that chapter to see the words and concepts used in historical and personal context was absolutely worth it.

I'm about half-way through Chapter 5 (Ethnicity). Considering the sheer amount of bleak news (unrelated on its surface, but actually deeply embedded in America's history of racist policies), having this thread and some amount of group accountability and a place to share generally thoughts has really helped me get into this.

I've just acquired the audio book and am going to begin listening this evening. I appreciate everyone's input so far. I expect to be taking it pretty slowly.

Chapter 15. I had to stop just to process. What a warm up he works up to.

raevenote wrote:

...having this thread and some amount of group accountability and a place to share generally thoughts has really helped me get into this.

I agree. I don’t have a group of RL friends that are willing or able to have the types of conversations that my conscience is craving. Most of my friends are far left but they just aren’t ready to face the deplorable history that has led to the deplorable state of modern racism.

I tried to explain the modern stop and frisk policies to a friend of mine. He was in disbelief to the point of denial. I always tell people, “Don’t take my word for it. Check google. Check YouTube. Tell me what you discover and we’ll talk about it.” I’m still waiting to talk about it with him.

Ibram Kendi has an article up on The Atlantic; they're discussing that and structural change on 1A Thursday.

EDIT: Internets are hard.

Chapter 4: Biology

I wasn’t hit over the head with a new world view in this chapter they way I was with previous chapters. The concepts of biological equality is one I already believed. Mostly this chapter comes across to me as a support and expansion on previous chapters, that race is a purely man-made construct, for instance, and here’s some extra proof.

I see this as the foundation being poured, cured, and reinforced. And it feels like the building is about to start going up.

Author is speaking at our library via zoom on the 19th. I’ll want to be sure to have the book finished by then.

H.P. Lovesauce wrote:

Ibram Kendi has an article up on The Atlantic; they're discussing that and structural change on 1A Thursday.

EDIT: Internets are hard.

MathGoddess wrote:

Author is speaking at our library via zoom on the 19th. I’ll want to be sure to have the book finished by then.

That’s rad! The Atlantic article is also rad.

I’m curious about his research center. I’m going to have to look into that soon. I’m also going to listen to the audiobook of his previous book which is called stamped from the beginning