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kottke.org posts about Ibram X. Kendi

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2020

Book cover for Four Hundred Souls

From historians Keisha N. Blain (author of Set the World on Fire) and Ibram X. Kendi (author of How to Be an Antiracist) comes what sounds like a fascinating new book, Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019. As editors, Blain and Kendi assembled 90 Black writers & poets to write a chronological history of Black America. Details on the bookseller sites are sparse, but Kendi explained the project on Instagram:

Histories of Black America have almost always been written by individuals, usually men. But why not a community of writers chronicling the history of a community? Keisha and I assembled a community of eighty Black writers and ten Black poets who represented some of the best Black recorders of Black America at its four-hundred-year mark. Though the project was conceived in late 2018, most of the pieces were written in 2019. We wanted the community to be writing during the four hundredth year. We wanted FOUR HUNDRED SOULS to write history and be history, a diary entry in the history of letters when Black America symbolically turned four hundred years old.

In different ways and forms, eighty writers each chronicled five years of Black America’s history in succession, amounting to four hundred years. They related that history, those five years, to our time. The volume’s first writer, Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the 1619 Project, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, writes from August 20, 1619 to August 19, 1624. The volume’s final writer, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, writes from August 20, 2014 to August 19, 2019. All 90 contributors are leaders in their fields. I can’t wait to introduce all of them. The lineup is beyond belief.

FOUR HUNDRED SOULS has ten sections, each spanning forty years. Each section concludes with a poem that recaptures forty years of the history in verse. Sometimes history is best captured by poets — as these ten Black poets show. Indeed, the lives of Black Americans have been nothing short of poetic.

That sounds super interesting, in both form and content. You can preorder Four Hundred Souls today; it comes out on Feb 2nd.

The American Nightmare & The American Dream

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2020

In a powerful essay for The Atlantic, Ibram X. Kendi writes about The American Nightmare.

To be black and conscious of anti-black racism is to stare into the mirror of your own extinction. Ask the souls of the 10,000 black victims of COVID-19 who might still be living if they had been white. Ask the souls of those who were told the pandemic was the “great equalizer.” Ask the souls of those forced to choose between their low-wage jobs and their treasured life. Ask the souls of those blamed for their own death. Ask the souls of those who disproportionately lost their jobs and then their life as others disproportionately raged about losing their freedom to infect us all. Ask the souls of those ignored by the governors reopening their states.

The American nightmare has everything and nothing to do with the pandemic. Ask the souls of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. Step into their souls.

How to Be an Antiracist

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2019

Historian Ibram X. Kendi first crossed my radar as a frequent contributor on the podcast series Seeing White (which I loved and urge you all to listen to). Kendi’s new book, How to Be an Antiracist, looks like one we all should be reading this fall.

Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism — and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. At its core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas — from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities — that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.

In a NY Times review, Jeffrey Stewart called the book “a 21st-century manual of racial ethics”.

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.” For Kendi, the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, there are no nonracists; 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 We Talk About Racism in America is Wrong

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2019

For Vox, Jane Coaston writes about why Republicans took 15 years to act on House member Steve King’s racism. I found her point about how racism has become an insult to be wielded or avoided (depending on your perspective) rather than a useful descriptive term of behavior or views really interesting.

The way we talk about race and racism in the United States is wrong. In short, we think of “racist” as an insult rather than as an adjective. And we have narrowed down the concept of racism to an almost ludicrous extent, in effect often excusing real racism — such as that espoused by people like King — and its impact on nonwhite Americans because it is not literally wearing a hood or setting a cross alight on a lawn.

Later on in the piece, she quotes historian Ibram X. Kendi (who was a frequent guest on the excellent Seeing White podcast series) about this unhelpful shift.

“I think that the way a better part of America defines what a racist is someone who self identifies as a white nationalist or a white supremacist,” said Ibram X. Kendi, a historian at American University and author of Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. “Someone who is in the Ku Klux Klan, someone who says the n-word, someone who engages in racial violence. Anything else, according to them, is not racist.”

We tend to define racism in a way that will not implicate our own views or ideas. “I think people define racism in a way that exonerates them. If they can narrow [the definition of racism] as much as possible to things they are not saying or doing or are about, that leaves them off the hook,” Kendi continued.

In his view, rather than “racist” being “a descriptive term with a clear-cut definition,” we have turned it into a “fixed derogatory putdown,” an insult. He told me that “by conceiving it in this way, we create a culture of denial in which everyone denies being racist but very few people know what a racist is.”

In effect, the term “racist,” which has an actual meaning, has now been turned into a schoolyard insult.