Ironically, Americans who self-identify as not racist—whether they're conservatives, moderates, liberals, radicals, progressives—they don't realize… that we are connecting ourselves to a history of slave traders who self-identified as not racist (although they didn't use that term).
We're connecting ourselves to enslavers who said, “Yes, when we say black people should be enslaved; when we say slavery is a positive good; when we say slavery is a necessary evil; when we say that black people are the cursed descendants of Ham, those are not racist ideas, that's God's law. That's science's law, that's nature, that's logic.”
We don't realize we're connecting to Jim Crow segregationists who said, “I'm not racist, it's separate but equal down here... You can't tell it's separate but equal? We're following the law. We're not racist.”
We're connecting to eugenicists—who were really the first group of Americans to be classified as racist—who also turned around and said, “This is science. This isn't racism. This is science. We have empirical data to demonstrate that black people are intellectually inferior by nature. Just look at their test scores.”
And today we have white nationalists. We have white supremacists who self-identify as not racist. We have white supremacists who, before they go into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, write a manifesto claiming that Latinx immigrants are invading Texas. And then also claiming, “I'm not racist.”
We have this long history of racists classifying themselves as as not racist; racists who cannot imagine that they have been reinforcing notions that there’s something wrong with a particular racial group; racists who can't imagine that the policies and policy makers they're supporting are creating and reproducing racial inequity.
Fundamentally racism—its heartbeat—has always been denial. And the sound of that heartbeat has always been “I'm not racist.” To be more specific, the sound of that heartbeat has always been “not racist.”
And so in writing How to be an Antiracist,I've had one singular goal. If I could somehow shape the world, what I would hope would come out of this book is very simply we would eradicate the term “not racist” from the American vocabulary. And then it would force people to recognize that they’re either what? Racist or anti-racist.
It would force Americans…to recognize that all policies are either racist or anti-racist. …All ideas are either racist or anti-racist. Then we can truly have an accounting of ourselves, of our ideas, of our policies, and of our country. Because at some point we are going to have to stop denying that we have metastatic racism. Because if you didn't already know, it is literally killing America. It is literally killing this world. The three lethal weapons that are threatening American existence, and human existence, are of course nuclear war, climate change, and bigotry.
This reading is an excerpt of a speech delivered by Ibram X. Kendi at UC Berkeley on September 12, 2019.