How to Fight Racism: Challenge Policies, Not Ideas

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Stamped from the Beginning" by Ibram X. Kendi. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Will there ever be a world without racism? Is challenging racist rhetoric an effective solution to rooting out racism?

Racism is a deeply entrenched societal issue that will take many years to root out completely. According to Ibram X. Kendi, the author of Stamped From the Beginning, the path to a world without racism lies in fighting racist policies, not challenging racist rhetoric.

Here is how to fight racism, according to Kendi.

How to Fight Racism

Kendi argues that we can never truly eliminate racism because there will always be people willing to advance themselves with racist policies and to invent racist ideas to justify these policies. And as we’ve seen, strategies like education and uplift do nothing to stop those policies or the ideas that spring from them.

Instead, Kendi argues, the solution is to defeat racist policies themselves—and keep them from coming back. To do so will require antiracists to achieve political power, enact antiracist policies, and hold on to their power (and policies) long enough for antiracist thought to become the new public common sense. At that point, Kendi says, the general populace will need to hold the government responsible for maintaining the newly antiracist society.

How to Be an Antiracist Society

Because Stamped from the Beginning is a history book, Kendi only sketches out a political plan and doesn’t go into much depth about how to fight racism. However, in his second book, How to Be an Antiracist, he lays out a more detailed plan:

1) Figure out which policies are causing inequity and think of antiracist policies to replace them.

2) Determine who has the power to put antiracist policies into effect.

3) Educate the public about the racist policies and your proposed antiracist replacements. Persuade policymakers to adopt your proposed changes.

4) If that doesn’t work, use demonstrations and protests to move the public to action. 

5) Make sure the new policies lead to more equitable outcomes. If they don’t, find new policies.

Kendi, a cancer survivor, likens racism to societal cancer. He argues that like cancer, racism eventually spreads to take over all of a society’s vital systems. If left unchecked, he says, racism will kill society as surely as cancer will kill a person. On the other hand, if we’re willing to acknowledge and fight racism, he says that antiracist policies work like chemotherapy, shrinking the racist “tumor” until it’s small enough for us to surgically remove any remaining racist policies. At that point, as with cancer, we should watch for the first signs that racism is returning, so that we can deal with it before it spreads and causes more harm.
How to Fight Racism: Challenge Policies, Not Ideas

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  • How enslavers convinced themselves that slavery benefited slaves
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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