Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is a trailblazing author and activist devoted to creating an antiracist society. His string of best-selling novels seek to foster critical thinking on race in American society. Despite what Kendi’s critics may say, a call to analyze racism is not a divisive stance. Rather, it is the first step in rooting out inequality. In his writing, Kendi elucidates how the greater our understanding of the historical roots and legacy of racism in America, the better we can decisively turn away from it and choose the path of equality. That is, to be an antiracist.
As director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, Kendi’s mission statement calls for creating a society that “ensures equity and justice for all.” The key roadblock standing in the way of achieving this goal is the fact that our society can’t repair an issue if it refuses to acknowledge its existence in the first place.
Kendi looks to help initiate that first step, writing books that encourage an honest and productive discussion of race in America. From this crucial starting point, we can all work together to learn and grow towards a more just and equal future.
Juneteenth is the oldest commemorative celebration of the end of slavery. The date refers specifically to June 19th, 1865, when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to ensure that the news of emancipation had been spread and all enslaved individuals were set free. This was over two years after The Emancipation Proclamation was issued, showing that the decree of freedom wasn’t met with instantaneous action. The long-overdue liberation gave rise to a celebration deemed “Jubilee Day,” now known as Juneteenth.
It was only last year that Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday. The delay and the general lack of historical awareness about the holiday point to the fact that there is certainly more work to be done in our society. As the presidential briefing from last year proclaimed, “Juneteenth not only commemorates the past. It calls us to action today.”
In Kendi’s literary work and scholarship, we find the key to this path from education to action. His writings proclaim the necessity of learning about the past in order to create an antiracist future.
So in honor of Juneteenth, here is an overview of Kendi’s antiracist literary activism and accompanying reading guide.
Winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction, Kendi’s debut work is a decisive analysis of racism through a historical lens. Notably, he uses the stories of 5 American intellectual figures (Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B Du Bois, and Angela Davis) to chronicle the eye-opening reality of our nation’s deeply entrenched inequities. It is a perfect starting point for anyone wanting to brush up on their historical understanding of racial tensions and how they pertain to modern-day issues.
Kendi’s groundbreaking 2019 release is part memoir, part sociocultural commentary. Broadly, it concerns how we can commit ourselves to uprooting racial prejudice at the individual level alongside sweeping systemic changes. Per the title, Kendi introduces and explores the core term of his activism: antiracism. This term is, in short, a call to go beyond the stance of colorblindness and oppose racism at the source.
Kendi’s brand new release, influenced by his own journey of fatherhood, takes the premise of his previous read and channels it toward tackling the challenging, hotly-debated questions of concerned parents. Principally, what about race and racism should be taught to kids, and how?
In this timely and informative read, Kendi brilliantly addresses some of the most pressing issues of modern society and education. Check out the clip below to hear Dr.Kendi speak more on the prevalence of this book in teaching kids the beauty of the rainbow. In other words, the diverse beauty of humanity.
Moving forward in the literary exploration of the antiracist cause, Kendi’s book recommendations provide us with further direction. Linked here is his compiled 2019 reading list of 38 vital nonfiction books. Some notable names from the selection include James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Jesmyn Ward, Angela Davis, and James Forman.
In Kendi’s words, these are “the kinds of books that send us searching and learning and changing more and more.” In other words, they point us toward a better world.
Finally, for further reading on the significance of Juneteenth, click here.