by Ethan Bakuli, Brie Bristol, and Cynthia Ntinunu
On Wednesday night, November 7th, over 500 people gathered in the University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center Concert Hall for a talk by New York Times best-selling author Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. His lecture, titled “How to Be An AntiRacist” was part of the inaugural UMass “Stand United, Fight Hate” series. The title of Kendi’s lecture is based off the name of his forthcoming book, while the talk itself covered the topics to be explored in his second novel, “Stamped From the Beginning: A Definitive History Of Racist Ideas In America”.
Kendi’s arrival to campus comes in the wake of several racist incidents that have taken place on the UMass Amherst campus since the semester began. In particular, the morning of the lecture, there were white nationalist flyers and stickers plastered across the campus by the group Identity Evropa. (Note: This is not the first time Identity Evropa propaganda have been found at UMass Amherst. In March of 2017, numerous flyers were found in Lot 44).
In light of these incidents, Kendi started the talk by imploring the audience to understand the real purpose of racial terror. “[Their] purpose is to undermine anti-racist efforts. Just like when racist ideas make people ignorant, racist terror makes people fear.”
As the night went on, Kendi would center his talk on “recognizing the distinctions between racist and anti-racist” ideas and policies. Kendi believes that one of the problems with racism is that people don’t have a concrete definition of the word. Thus this leads to people interpreting what it means to be racist in their own terms which means people have a false definition and may see themselves as not racist.
Kendi made sure to give the audience clear definitions. According to Kendi, a racist is “supporting policies that yield racial inequity”, justifying those policies by stating certain racial groups are unequal. While an anti-racist is “supporting policies that yield racial equity” and expressing ideas that connote that the racial groups are equals.
These definitions laid the groundwork for Kendi to go on and define others terms like anti-racist/racist ideas and policies. According to Kendi, a racist idea is “any idea that suggests a racial group is superior or inferior to another racial group in any way”. While an anti-racist idea is “any idea that places racial groups as equals”.
In envisioning the steps toward being an anti-racist, Kendi proposed people to stop self-identifying as “not racist”. Drawing on historical examples of slaveholders justifying slavery through the Bible and politicians defending mass incarceration of black and brown bodies as “putting away bad people”, Kendi demonstrated how “not racists” have always redefined what is racist or anti-racist to benefit their self-interest and power.
“You can’t really separate the history of racism with the history of people saying that they’re not racist. The heartbeat of racism itself is the denial of racism itself.” Kendi went on to explain that claiming to be “not racist” allows a person to continue denying their racist ideas and the racist policies they support.
Kendi expressed that another way to avoid being an anti-racist is to not believe the misleading statistics about certain races. So if we are ever going to start on that road of being not anti-racist we need to stop viewing ourselves as not racists and stop believing falsified facts thrown at us.
Kendi ended his lecture calling on the audience to “understand the source of racist policies, so they can challenge those racist policies” in their communities. And the source of racist policies is power.
“To be anti-racist is to be engaged in the power struggle.” According to Kendi, in order for society to create equity it’s not by “educating millions of people that it’s okay,” rather “it’s getting in a position of power where you can change policy that creates equity.”
After Kendi finished speaking, Associate Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Anna Branch presented a video from the Erase the Hate campaign, encouraging the audience to continue learning how to combat hate and hate crimes. The event wrapped up with a book signing where people could talk with Kendi for a moment and have a copy of “Stamped From the Beginning” autographed.