A MUST READ FOR THE MOMENT, historian Ibram X. Kendi published “How to Be an Antiracist” last summer. Jeffrey C. Stewart, a museum veteran and biographer of Alain Locke, reviewed the volume for The New York Times. Stewart called it a “stunner of a book” and a “manual of racial ethics.”

“How to Be an Antiracist” has been on the Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction for 13 weeks. It is No. 5 on the Times list dated June 14, 2020. (It’s No. 3 on the combined print and e-book list.) In previous weeks it didn’t rank. The book was last on the Times list for six weeks spread across January, February and March, hovering between No. 10 and No. 14.

Today, “How to Be an Antiracist” is the No. 3 “most sold” nonfiction book on Amazon. There’s an immediacy to the renewed interest in the book, which coincides with national protests against racism and police brutality.

 


“We know how to be racist. We know how to pretend to be not racist. Now let’s know how to be antiracist,” Ibram X. Kendi writes in the introduction to “How to Be an Antiracist.” (One World, 320 pages). | Published Aug. 13, 2019

 

In the wake of a succession of murders by police, Americans have taken to the streets to say the names of black victims and uplift their memories, demand change in the nation’s police departments, and declare “Black Lives Matter.”

Americans are also reading, turning to books to understand the contemporary moment. This reflex is reflected in the latest bestsellers lists. People are seeking out authors and published experts to help them come to terms with the nation’s problematic history of racism and legacy of slavery.

Protestors are calling for equity and reform. A reckoning is afoot. Perhaps a book by a race scholar can chart the path forward.

In his review of “How to Be an Antiracist,” Stewart asks, “What do you do after you have written ‘Stamped From the Beginning,’ an award-winning history of racist ideas that examined some of America’s most seemingly progressive intellectuals — Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, W. E. B. Du Bois — to expose what one reviewer called the ‘unwitting racism of the well-meaning.'”

He continues: “If you’re Ibram X. Kendi, you craft another stunner of a book that is in some ways your previous work’s natural counterpart: ‘How to Be an Antiracist,’ a 21st-century manual of racial ethics.”

“We know how to be racist. We know how to pretend to be not racist. Now let’s know how to be antiracist.” — Ibram X. Kendi

A PROFESSOR OF HISTORY and international relations, Kendi is the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. His first book, “Stamped From the Beginning,” won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2016. Now his second book is drawing critical and popular attention.

There are no “nonracists,” Kendi asserts. In the author’s mind, people fall into two categories: racists and anti-racists.

“Kendi is on a mission to push those of us who believe we are not racists to become something else: antiracists, who support ideas and policies affirming that ‘the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences — that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group,’” Stewart writes.

“There are only racists — people who allow racist ideas to proliferate without opposition — and antiracists, those who expose and eradicate such ideas wherever they encounter them.”

“How to be an Antiracist” is joined on the Times bestseller list by memoirs from First Lady Michelle Obama, fashion trailblazer Andre Leon Talley, and Bakari Sellers, a former member of the South Carolina State Legislature. All three are public figures who discuss the challenges of their exceptional lives through the lens of race.

“Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” (No. 6) by James Nestor was published May 26 and appears on the list for the first time this week, ironic timing and likely feeding the desire of some to intellectualize the desperate calls of George Floyd and Eric Garner, that they couldn’t breathe as they were being choked to death by police. Layla F. Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor” holds the No. 10 spot on the list.

 


“Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi (Bold Type Books, 592 pages). | Published April 12, 2016

 

MANY OTHER CURRENT BESTSELLERS indicate book buyers are eager to explore the issues of race and culture and policing and justice being debated in the streets, on television, and in the halls of city councils, statehouses, and Congress. The trend is longstanding.

“White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo has been on the Times paperback nonfiction bestsellers list for 91 weeks, nearly two years. It is currently No. 1 and is also the top-selling nonfiction book on Amazon. Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” is No. 3 and has been on the Times list for nearly twice as long (188 weeks).

The Times paperback nonfiction list also includes “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo (No. 5); “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson, a leading figure and major voice in the fight for criminal justice reform (No. 6); Trevor Noah’s memoir “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,” exploring his experience growing up biracial during apartheid (No. 9); and “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein (No. 14).

Bookselling platforms are recognizing the clamor for information. Bookshop‘s homepage is promoting anti-racist reading recommendations for adults, teens, and children. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist” is the first title featured.

Forthcoming next week, Kendi has another book coming out. A board book illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky, “Antiracist Baby” is already a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon in the “Children’s Prejudice & Racism Books” category.

Kendi believes in the power of books to bring awareness to the masses and spread his antiracist message. In April 2019, he organized the first Annual National Antiracist Book Festival at American University. This year’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis. Next year’s festival, is scheduled for April 24, 2021.

 


“White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo (Beacon Press, 192 pages). | Published June 26, 2018

 

A CELEBRATED AUTHOR in his own right, Stewart is a professor of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He won the 2018 National Book Award for nonfiction and the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for biography for his book “The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke.”

Stewart has also worked with museums. He served as director of research at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, and a senior advisor to the Reginald Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture in Baltimore. He brings this background, knowledge, and expertise to his review of “How to Be an Antiracist.”

“Ibram X. Kendi rejects the now-hackneyed notion that blacks cannot be racist because they do not have power. He asks: Don’t elected black officials have power?” — Jeffrey C. Stewart

“Kendi rejects the now-hackneyed notion that blacks cannot be racist because they do not have power. He asks: Don’t elected black officials have power? Doesn’t Clarence Thomas have power? He shifts our attention away from people’s ethnic identities to the racist nature of their ideas and policies, and argues that these are the things on which we should judge a person,” Stewart writes.

“While acknowledging the reality of racism in contemporary life, Kendi wants to free us from using tainted ideas to stigmatize people and support policies that define others as inferior.”

Concluding his review, Stewart describes the volume as “the most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind, a confessional of self-examination that may, in fact, be our best chance to free ourselves from our national nightmare.” CT

 

IMAGE: Top right, Ibram X. Kendi at American University. | Photo by Jeff Watts

 

READ MORE about “How to Be an Antiracist” in Jeffrey C. Stewart’s full review

READ MORE about Ibram X. Kendi in this feature profile

 

WATCH MORE about Ibram X. Kendi’s ideas for building an antiracist world in a new TED Talk conversation recorded today, June 9, 2020

 

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