Uplift Suasion: Being Too Good for Racism

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

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What is uplift suasion? Why is this strategy for addressing racism problematic?

Uplift suasion is the idea that White people won’t be racist if Black people just show them how good they are. Of course, this validates racist ideas and puts the pressure on Black people prove them wrong.

Read more about uplift suasion and why it doesn’t work.

Uplift Suasion

Uplift suasion is the idea that Black people can teach White people not to be racist by behaving exceptionally. For example, free Black people thought that if they set a good example, White people would free other enslaved Black people. 

In addition to being an ineffective method for fighting racism, it comes with some problematic ideas:

  • It suggests that White criticisms of Black behavior are valid.
  • It puts the responsibility on everyone except White people to change their racist ideas.
  • It excuses Black people in positions of power from trying to change policy. According to uplift suasion, just having reached a position of power is exceptional.
  • It’s doomed to fail because no one is perfect all the time.
  • It gives weight to the idea that any Black person who behaves well is unusual because regular Black people all behave badly.
  • It doesn’t allow Black people to be themselves.

Early White abolitionists gave free Black people this idea, and it resurfaced in Ibram’s generation. For example, when Ibram was on a date with Sadiqa at a restaurant that had a Buddha statue, a drunk White man fondled the statue. Sadiqa said that she was glad the man wasn’t Black. Ibram had had this kind of thought before and they talked about it. If the man had been Black, Sadiqa would have been embarrassed because he made the whole race look bad in front of White people. As a result, White people would become more racist.

But this suasion didn’t work pre-Civil War and it doesn’t work now either.

Uplift Suasion: Being Too Good for Racism

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Here's what you'll find in our full How to Be an Antiracist summary:

  • What racism is and how it evolved
  • How you might have subtle racist thoughts and not even be aware of them
  • Why being "not racist" isn't good enough

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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