Ibram X. Kendi: We are in a pitched battle to create anti-racist society

Ibram X. Kendi has two new books, “How To Raise An Antiracist,” and a children’s picture book, “Goodnight Racism.” (Courtesy of Stephen Voss)

Credit: Stephen Voss

Credit: Stephen Voss

Ibram X. Kendi has two new books, “How To Raise An Antiracist,” and a children’s picture book, “Goodnight Racism.” (Courtesy of Stephen Voss)

Historian and writer Ibram X. Kendi learned as an adult what he hopes his young daughter and all children of color to learn from birth: They are not the racial problem. No racial group has more because they are more. No racial group has less because they are less.

New laws, including Georgia’s ban on teaching divisive concepts, undermine the ability to explain to children, as Kendi did, for example, to his own perplexed daughter, why there were few Black and brown faces at a medical school graduation. It was not a complex explanation — his daughter is only 6 — but it stressed that Black and brown graduates were underrepresented not because they had something wrong with them, but because of bad and unfair rules.

Kendi worries the Georgia ban will dissuade teachers from sharing the courage of Ruby Bridges or discussing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s concern that, “The history books, which have almost completely ignored the contribution of the Negro in American history, have only served to intensify the Negroes’ sense of worthlessness and to augment the anachronistic doctrine of white supremacy.”

Kendi urges teachers to learn about the courageous Black teachers in the Jim Crow South forbidden from teaching the experiences and history of African Americans, risking firing and violence if they did. “They found ways around those laws because they cared about the minds of the children they were teaching. Teachers in the state of Georgia have to look no further than those Black teachers who raised Martin Luther King and other civil rights icons who would change the state,” said Kendi, a prominent anti-racist scholar and co-author of one of the most banned books of the last two years, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, held up Kendi’s 2020 picture book “Antiracist Baby” as a prop during his grilling of Ketanji Brown Jackson during the hearing on her Supreme Court nomination.

On Tuesday, Kendi released two new books, “How To Raise An Antiracist,” and a children’s picture book, “Goodnight Racism.” In an interview in advance of his appearance Saturday night at Agnes Scott College, Kendi talked about his books and the power struggle over whose history is taught in Georgia schools.


Credit: Courtesy photo

icon to expand image

Credit: Courtesy photo

Kendi urges teachers to find inspiration in the book “Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching,” in which author Jarvis Givens seeks out “the tools African American teachers of the past left behind for us to pick up, reconfigure, and do battle with in our time.”

And that battle has intensified this last year with the politically driven hysteria over how race and racism are discussed in public schools. The orchestrated hysteria led to a slew of state laws, including here in Georgia, that require racism be taught quietly, if at all, as not to discomfort white children.

“We are in a pitched battle,” said Kendi, “and I hope and am hopeful because of those who want to create an education system where all students have access to highly trained teachers and highly resourced schools, where there aren’t lower or higher expectations because of a student’s skin color and where students are not punished more because of skin color. I am hopeful we can see that sort of society. In my own personal work, the number of parents and teachers who are gravitating to those of us writing on anti-racism gives me hope.”

When Kendi married a pediatric emergency physician in 2016 from Albany, Georgia, the newlyweds adopted the last name Kendi, which means “loved one” in Meru. Dr. Sadiqa Kendi’s mother, Sharon “Nyota” Tucker, was the first female African American graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law.

As the father of a little girl, whose birth and early years inform much of “How To Raise An Antiracist,” Kendi said his research and writing on anti-racism are even more imperative. “If you are raising a child of color, you want to instill in them there is nothing wrong with you because of the color of your skin. But the world is going to tell them differently. You don’t want them to be thinking less of themselves because they are Latino, Latinx or Black. The only way to deal with that is to actively talk to them about racism and actively try to get them to imagine a different world and what a different world can be.”

Such conversations were not common when Kendi grew up as Ibram Henry Rogers, with fiercely protective parents. He attended eight schools before he graduated from Stonewall Jackson High School in Virginia in 2000. His parents not only switched schools to escape racist classrooms, but they also switched states, moving from New York to Virginia. As Ibram Rogers, Kendi had a brief tenure as a sports department intern at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2004 when he was a journalism major at Florida A&M. He left journalism to follow his interest in becoming a historian of anti-Black racism.

In “How To Raise An Antiracist,” Kendi describes jolting exposures to racism as a child, including a white man pushing his mother out of the doorway of a Manhattan apartment building, disbelieving that she and her two sons were there to visit family. In another instance, his wife was searching for her lost dog in her Albany neighborhood when a white preschooler called her a racial slur from a second-floor balcony.

His new children’s picture book “Goodnight Racism” contains a simple plea for a world “where our rules open doors, open minds, and create equity and justice for all...Goodnight racism, Goodnight.”