36 Crucial Quotes from Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist

36 Crucial Quotes from Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist

If you have read Ibram X. Kendi’s bestseller How to Be an Antiracist, then you know that it is an absolute must-read. Kendi clearly explains why and how racism is sustained—and how it affects every group of people in dozens of intersecting ways—and he uses these facts to demonstrate how to dismantle it. While I definitely recommend that you read the entire book, here are some of my favorite quotes.

1. “Racist ideas make people of color think less of themselves, which makes them more vulnerable to racist ideas. Racist ideas make White people think more of themselves, which further attracts them to racist ideas.” p. 6

2. “Internalized racism is the real Black on Black crime.” p. 8

3. “The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘antiracist.'” p. 9

4. “One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or located the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist.” p. 9

5. “We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what—not who—we are.” p. 10

6. “I used to be racist most of the time. I am changing. I am no longer identifying with racists by claiming to be ‘not racist.’ I am no longer speaking through the mask of racial neutrality. I am no longer manipulated by racist ideas to see racial groups as problems.” p. 10

7. “‘Institutional racism’ and ‘structural racism’ and ‘systemic racism’ are redundant. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.” p. 18

8. “The most threatening racist movement is not the alt right’s drive for a White ethnostate but the regular American’s drive for a ‘race-neutral’ one.” p. 20

9. “An antiracist idea is any idea that suggests the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences—that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group. Antiracist ideas argue that racist policies are the cause of racial inequities.” p. 20

10. “Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.” p. 23

11. “To be an antiracist is a radical choice in the face of this history, requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness.” p. 23

12. “Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy. It’s a pretty easy mistake to make: People are in our faces. Policies are distant. We are particularly poor at seeing the policies lurking behind the struggles of people.” p. 28

13. “Some White people do not identify as White for the same reason they identify as not-racist: to avoid reckoning with the ways that Whiteness—even as a construction and mirage—has informed their notions of America and identity and offered them privilege, the primary one being the privilege of being inherently normal, standard, and legal.” p. 38

14. “Race creates new forms of power: the power to categorize and judge, elevate and downgrade, include and exclude. Race makers use that power to process distinct individuals, ethnicities, and nationalities into monolithic races.” p. 38

15. “. . . races were never meant to be neutral categories. Racist power created them for a purpose.” p. 41

16. “Who needs scientific proof when a biological racial distinction can be imagined by reading fiction? By reading the Bible? . . . Proof did not matter when biological racial difference could be created by misreading the Bible. But science can also be misread.” pp. 50-51

17. “To be antiracist is to focus on ending the racism that shapes the mirages, not to ignore the mirages that shape people’s lives.” pp. 54-55

18. “Black people are apparently responsible for calming the fears of violent cops in the way women are supposedly responsible for calming the sexual desires of male rapists. If we don’t, then we are blamed for our own assaults, our own deaths.” p. 76

19. “Whoever creates the cultural standard usually puts themself at the top of the hierarchy.” p. 91

20. “To be an antiracist is not to reverse the beauty standard. To be an antiracist is to eliminate any beauty standard based on skin and eye color, hair texture, facial and bodily features shared by groups. To be an antiracist is to diversify our standards of beauty like our standards of culture or intelligence, to see beauty equally in all skin colors, broad and thin noses, kinky and straight hair, light and dark eyes. To be an antiracist is to build and live in a beauty culture that accentuates instead of erases our natural beauty.” p. 114

21. “Racist power, hoarding wealth and resources, has the most to lose in the building of an equitable society.” p. 129

22. “White racists do not want to define racial hierarchy or policies that yield racial inequalities as racist. To do so would be to define their ideas and policies as racist. Instead, they define policies not rigged for White people as racist. Ideas not centering White lives are racist. Beleaguered White racists who can’t imagine their lives not being the focus of any movement respond to ‘Black Lives Matter’ with ‘All Lives Matter.’ Embattled police officers who can’t imagine losing their right to racially profile and brutalize respond with ‘Blue Lives Matter.'” p. 131

23. “Every single person actually has the power to protest racist and antiracist policies, to advance them, or, in some small way, to stall them.” p. 141

24. “The saying ‘Black people can’t be racist’ reproduces the false duality of racist and not-racist promoted by White racists to deny their racism. It merges Black people with White Trump voters who are angry about being called racist but who want to express racist views and support their racist policies while being identified as not-racist, no matter what they say or do.” p. 144

25. “But it is impossible to know racism without understanding its intersection with capitalism. . . . Prince Henry’s Portugal birthed conjoined twins—capitalism and racism—when it initiated the transatlantic slave trade of African people.” p. 156

26. “In doing so, these conservative defenders are defining capitalism. They define capitalism as the freedom to exploit people into economic ruin; the freedom to assassinate unions; the freedom to prey on unprotected consumers, workers, and environments; the freedom to value quarterly profits over climate change; the freedom to undermine small businesses and cushion corporations; the freedom from competition; the freedom not to pay taxes; the freedom to heave the tax burden onto the middle and lower classes; the freedom to commodify everything and everyone; the freedom to keep poor people poor and middle-income people struggling to stay middle income, and make rich people richer. The history of capitalism—of world warring, classing, slave trading, enslaving, colonizing, depressing wages, and dispossessing land and labor and resources and rights—bears out the conservative definition of capitalism.” p. 161

27. “To love capitalism is to love racism. To love racism is to love capitalism. The conjoined twins are two sides of the same destructive body. . . . Capitalism is essentially racist; racism is essentially capitalist. They were birthed together from the same unnatural causes, and they shall one day die together from unnatural causes. Or racial capitalism will live into another epoch of theft and rapacious inequality, especially if activists naively fight the conjoined twins independently, as if they are not the same.” p. 163

28. “How many times did I individualize the error in White spaces, blaming the individual and not the White space? How many times did I generalize the error in the Black space—in the Black church of at a Black gathering—and blame the Black space instead of the individual?” p. 173

29. “The integrationist strategy—the placing of White and non-White bodies in the same spaces—is thought to cultivate away the barbarism of people of color and the racism of White people. The integrationist strategy expects Black bodies to heal in proximity to Whites who haven’t yet stopped fighting them.” p. 174

30. “To truly be antiracist is to be feminist. To truly be feminist is to be antiracist.” p. 189

31. “We cannot be antiracist if we are homophobic or transphobic. . . . All Black lives include those of poor transgender Black women, perhaps the most violated and oppressed of all the Black intersectional groups.” p. 197

32. “Incorrect assumptions of race as a social construct (as opposed to a power construct), of racial history as a singular march of racial progress (as opposed to a duel of antiracist and racist progress), of the race problem as rooted in ignorance and hate (as opposed to powerful self-interest)—all come together to produce solutions bound to fail. . . . Healing symptoms instead of changing policies is bound to fail in healing society.” p. 202

33. “Generations of Black bodies have been raised by the judges of ‘uplift suasion.’ The judges strap the entire Black race onto the Black body’s back, shove the burdened Black body into White spaces, order the burdened Black body to always act in an upstanding manner to persuade away White racism, and punish poor Black conduct with sentences of shame for reinforcing racism, for bringing the race down. I felt the burden my whole Black life to be perfect before both White people and the Black people judging whether I am representing the race well. The judges never let me just be, be myself, be my imperfect self.” p. 203

34. “The problem of race has always at its core been the problem of power, not the problem of immortality or ignorance.” p. 208

35. “The construct of covert institutional racism opens American eyes to racism and, ironically, closes them, too. Separating the overt individual from the covert institutional veils the specific policy choices that cause racial inequities, policies made by specific people. Covering up specific policies and policymakers prevents us from identifying and replacing the specific policies and policymakers. We become unconscious to racist policymakers and policies as we lash out angrily at the abstract bogeyman of ‘the system.'” p. 221

36. “Admit racial inequity is a problem of bad policy, not bad people.
Identify racial inequity in all its intersections and manifestations.
Investigate and uncover the racist policies causing racial inequity.
Invent or find antiracist policy that can eliminate racial inequity.
Figure out who or what group has the power to institute antiracist policy.
Disseminate and educate about the uncovered racist policy and antiracist policy correctives.
Work with sympathetic antiracist policymakers to institute the antiracist policy.
Deploy antiracist power to compel or drive from power the unsympathetic racist policymakers in order to institute the antiracist policy.
Monitor closely to ensure the antiracist policy reduces and eliminates racial inequity.
When policies fail, do not blame the people. Start over and seek out new and more effective antiracist treatments until they work.
Monitor closely to prevent new racist policies from being instituted.
” pp. 231-232

Work cited:

Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to be an antiracist. One World.

4 thoughts on “36 Crucial Quotes from Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist

  • November 21, 2021 at 10:31 am

    I can see why many people have a negative view of Kendi’s book. But I can also appreciate why Kendi has this kind of reaction. Thanks for the quotes. They are quite illuminating.

    My first reaction is similar to that of Steve. But I am rethinking that.

    To me, the term “anti-racist” suggests engaging in street fighting to oppose racism. But perhaps that isn’t what Kendi means.

    For myself, I’m opposed to all kinds of racism. But I have not thought of that attitude as anti-racist. Rather, I have thought of it in terms of seeking fairness and equity for all.

    On the other hand, there are people who pay no attention to racism. I mostly think of such people as being somewhat racist. But perhaps that’s what Kendi means when he objects to “non-racist”.

    I may need to read the book to find out what he actually means.

    • November 21, 2021 at 11:14 am

      I think you would enjoy the book. There were even more quotes that can sound radical without context so I didn’t include them, but that’s all the more reason to read the whole book in full.

      To be honest, it involves a pretty seismic worldview shift and as a white person it is pretty uncomfortable. But we have to just sit and listen, and Kendi might be more straightforward than other Black activists but most of them are saying this same stuff so it’s worth listening to.


What do you think?