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.
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.”