Slavery belongs to history – racism is timeless

How to be an antiracist
Forfatter: Ibram X. Kendi One World
Forlag: Random House (USA)
ANTIRASISM / In the 1700th century, it was profitable shop to capture people as slaves and commodities. In the 19th century, slavery was abolished. In the world of Ibram X. Kendi, captivity still exists – every time we fail to protest against racism.


"I suspect Negroes and generally all other human species (there are four or five different types) of the natural condition of being inferior to whites," wrote the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume in 1753.

Celebrity book How to Be an Antiracist is packed with historical and current examples of racism. Many of them are considerably more subtle than the quote above. They all serve one purpose: to map the terrain and find ways to combat racism. The African-American New York author has concluded that there is no neutrality in this struggle. The opposite of "racist" is not "non-racist". It is anti-racist; which implies a deeper recognition of the content of the concept and that this recognition entails a responsibility. This responsibility contains no compulsion to act, but encourages fearless cleansing of the mind. With his own step-by-step awakening, he shows the way.

The actions of the individual

Kendi went through a period of hatred towards the whites until he saw the need to clear his mind. "Either we as racists believe that the problems have their roots in ethnic groups, or we, as anti-racists, locate the core of the problem where it is to be found, in power and in political guidelines."

Kendi no longer believes that one black person can never be racist, as "none of us represents a race." Not a race? Exactly that can be a bold statement, faced with intensely charged narratives.

In 2012, when an armed white man in Florida felt "threatened" by Trayvon martin, an unarmed black teenager with a hoodie who had done nothing but be on his way home, and found it necessary to kill him, the action was not an expression of the white race's abuse of the black. It was a criminal act committed by an individual.

The same can be said about the murder of the African American George floyd. Such actions evoke not only strong emotions, but social polarization, and the statistics support it: black people makes up 13 percent of America's population. But 21 percent of black bodies was killed by police in 2018, according to the Washington Post. Unarmed blacks are twice as likely to be killed as unarmed whites

Photo: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

On the scrap heap of cultural racism

The author elaborates and defines themes such as dual consciousness, power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, behavior, color, class, gender, sexuality, failure, success and survival. One cultural anti-racist is, for example, "one who rejects cultural standards and sees cultural differences between groups of different races as equal". Therefore – rap and Beethoven – different, but equal.

If we have not already done so, in the spirit of celebrity, we put the term "fine culture" on the scrap heap of cultural racism once and for all. The same applies to statements from the renowned Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal, who wrote in 1944 An American Dilemma, a book called the "Bible" of the civil rights movement. Here he postulates that "through virtually all its inconsistencies, African-American culture is a distorted development, or a pathological condition, within the general American culture."

When the politician we voted for does not change a racist policy, adds
we blame it on uncontrolled racism instead of our support for the wrong politicians.

It is difficult to imagine that black civil rights activists may have read all the pages of this text, but the trend of assimilation was a widespread phenomenon: Americans », wrote Myrdal.

President Theodor Roosevelt, a man we can otherwise respect for, among other things, the creation of America's national parks, stated in 1905: high civilization, developed by the ancestors. "

The fictional black behavior

Counter-movements to this type of categorical downgrading of entire ethnic groups were inevitable, and we have received Black Power og Black Lives Matter #. The result has contributed to a further division of society, among other things with reference to "The Race Card" – the race card – to accuse someone of being racist in order to gain their own advantage.

Kendi hits the table in the chapter on behavior: “Black behavior is as fictional as black genes. No one has ever proven that blacks are angrier, kinder, funnier, slower, less punctual, more moral, more religious than others. " What about the reference to ethnic groups clumping together in cultural cocoons: blacks in the south, Asians in New York's Chinatown, or whites in the suburbs of Texas? A racially rooted culture? Kendi: “Anti-racism means separating the notion of culture from the notion of behavior. Behavior defines the inherent human traits and potential that everyone shares. "

Sometimes racism can be easier to describe than anti-racism, and it can be especially infamous when it comes to beauty ideals. The German Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768) is considered the "father" of Western art history: "African people must accept the correct view of beauty," he demanded in History of the Art of Antiquity in 1764. "A body will be more beautiful the whiter it is."

This suited the slave owners well. To be white was to be superior. A slave was allowed to work closer to the slave owner the whiter he / she was. Whiter slaves were given more qualified tasks in the house; black slaves had to struggle out in the field.

A failure as an anti-racist

Kendi fights for the conviction that being anti-racist never means equating "white" with "racist", and always be on the lookout for your own prejudices and mistakes. He describes his own failure as an anti-racist activist with self-irony: One day in 2007, in Louisiana, the lives of six young people hung in the balance. Racial riots among students had led to the white troublemakers being reprimanded, while six of the blacks were arrested for attempted murder.

The agitated Ibram X. wanted to lead a group of protesters to rescue the six. He gives a fiery speech and describes the plan: Collect long caravans decorated with slogans, block traffic, puncture car tires – all to save the six. "It's illegal – they want to throw us in jail," a listener objected. Undisturbed, Kendi shouts, “Sure, we could end up in jail. But what does it matter ?! We're already in jail. That's what America means – prison. " A little twist on Malcolm X's terminology there.

Attempts to recruit co-activists fail. The six young people were rescued in a more traditional way, by lawyers. Afterwards, Kendi realizes the reason for the failure: The anxious audience had good reasons for their refusal. The captain still blamed them for his own failure. He eventually realized that when we fail to inspire others, it is easy to blame a lack of commitment instead of a lack of leadership. When the politician we voted for does not change a racist policy, we blame the uncontrolled racism instead of our support for the wrong politician, Kendi claims.

The author goes to great lengths to clear up the confusion of racism concepts. To be able to call himself an anti-racist, he boils down to the definition: "someone who supports anti-racist policies or expresses anti-racist ideas". It is an active position, available to all of us. In Kendi's case, it led him in July 2020 to the job of director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University.

Also read: USA – It's going down on structural violence.

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