How to be Antiracist : Summary and Analysis

Kendi

For this month’s reading and discussion in our Gospel & Race Project, I’ve put together a lengthy summary and analysis of How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi is the most influential antiracist scholar today. When we consider critiques of modern-day secular perspectives on social justice, we cannot provide a meaningful biblical response without seriously engaging with the work of Kendi’s work on antiracism.

Before reading further, I want to dampen your expectations of this review. For one, I am not an expert in history, policy, or economics. As a pastor, my engagement with this book is primarily from a theological perspective; specifically, trying to understand the claims of this book and try to engage with it from a Biblical perspective. Second, I am still new to the discussion on race and I focused on listening to the author, understand his motivations, and engage with it to the best of my abilities from a biblical perspective. I know there are probably some who will be more sympathetic to Kendi’s claims than I am, and some more critical. Regardless, I hope this review serves as a starting point for conversations in our church on engaging secular assessments and solutions for the problems surrounding race in America.  

This review is I have broken up into three major sections: 1) Background 2) Chapter Summary and Analysis 3) Concluding Thoughts. The first section is more of a summary of understanding Kendi’s motivation for the book, gleaning any helpful insights, and critiquing when necessary. Following this section, I have a much more detailed assessment of the key chapters in the book. This section has some important definitions and assertions that will be helpful for us to engage with in the future when discussing the modern-day anti-racist movement. Finally, I close with a summary of helpful insights as well as disagreements I had with the book. Let’s begin with understanding Kendi’s background, his motivation, and his main thesis in this book.

Kendi’s Background, Motivation, and Thesis

Kendi’s parents were influenced by liberation theology which was a response to the evangelical church supporting slavery, and segregation (p.15). For Kendi, “Any gospel that does not…speak to the issue of enslavement” and “injustice” and “inequality—any gospel that does not want to go where people are hungry and poverty-stricken and set them free in the name of Jesus Christ—is not the gospel.” While we can agree with Kendi on the complicity of much of the evangelical church and the inconsistency in the gospel they preached and the actions against black people, liberation theology twisted the gospel in a different direction. This is made clear when Kendi’s parents “stopped thinking about saving Black people and started thinking about liberating Black people.” (p.16) and came to believe that “a Christian is one who is striving for liberation.” (p.17).  While Kendi is not a Christian, he admits that “this new definition of the Christian life became the creed that grounded my parents’ lives and the lives of their children.” He goes on to say that he ”cannot disconnect my parents’ religious strivings to be Christian from my secular strivings to be an antiracist” (p.17). Understanding Kendi’s background and influences are key to understanding him as an author and activist.

It is also helpful to begin the book by understanding Kendi’s motivation in writing the book. Kendi reveals his deepest motivation in the following way: “this books ultimately about the basic struggle we’re all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human” (p.10) This quote encapsulates a deep desire in every human being to be recognized and treated as fully human regardless of any other secondary differences we might have. This helps me sympathize with Kendi and eager to hear his story.

Now that we understand a bit about his background and his motivation, let’s consider the main thesis of his book. Kendi asserts, “What’s the problem with being “not racist”? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “antiracist.” What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist” (p.9). This quote is good summation of Kendi’s main point in the book. For Kendi, it is not sufficient to be “not racist,” rather, one is either “racist” or anti-racist” – there is no middle ground. The “good news” according to Kendi is that “that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what—not who—we are.” What do these words mean? Kendi defines them in the next chapter

Chapter Summaries and Analysis

In the following section, I walk through the key chapters in Kendi’s book. I use the definitions he provides at the beginning of each chapter and follow up with some of my commentary.  

Chapter 1:  Definitions

Race … means descent,” from the beginning, to make races was to make racial hierarchy. French poet Jacques de Breze first used the term “race” in 1481.  
Racism is powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas.
Racist is one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inactions or expressing a racist idea.
Antiracist is one who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.

Even though there might be some disagreement with Kendi’s definition of race, I think it is largely consistent with the Christian worldview. The biblical perspective of our common humanity recognizes that God has “made of one blood all peoples of the earth," (Acts 17:26) while at the same time recognizing unique ethnicities that we are part of (Rev 7:9). While we might disagree with the modern-day usage of the term race, Kendi view recognizes our common humanity when he says “The most important fact of life on this Earth is our common humanity.” (p. 52) However, he goes on to say that while “race is a mirage, (it is) one that humanity has organized itself around in very real ways.” (p. 54). This reality admits that race is a social construct but has some very real implications for the way life works in this world. On this point, there is a clear overlap between the biblical worldview and Kendi’s version of antiracism as well as with Critical Race Theory. (See earlier post on race vs. ethnicity)

Racial inequality is when different racial groups do not share the same level of power in a society. 
Racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.
Policy means written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people.
Racist policy is more tangible and exacting, and more likely to be immediately understood by people, including its victims, who may not have the benefit of extensive fluency in racial terms.
An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups. 
Racist idea - A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way. Racist ideas argue that the inferiorities and superiorities of racial groups explain racial inequities in society. There is no such thing as a not-racist idea, only racist ideas and antiracist ideas.
Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing. Here’s an example of racial inequity: 71 percent of White families lived in owner-occupied homes in 2014, compared to 45 percent of Latinx families and 41 percent of Black families.
Racial equity is when two or more racial groups are standing on a relatively equal footing. An example of racial equity would be if there were relatively equitable percentages of all three racial groups living in owner-occupied homes in the forties, seventies, or, better, nineties.

I will address these definitions in later chapters, but the key point to note here is that Kendi’s ideas on racism and antiracism are intrinsically tied to policies that perpetuate disparities in opportunities and outcomes across racial lines.

Chapter 2:  Dueling Consciousness

Assimilationist ideas reduce people of color to the level of children needing instruction on how to act.  Assimilationist ideas suggest that a racial group is temporarily inferior. Assimilationists believe that persons can be developed. 
Segregationist ideas hold that people of color cannot be developed to White standards.  Segregationist ideas suggest that a racial group is permanently inferior. 
Antiracist ideas are based in the truth that racial groups are equals in all the ways they are different, assimilationist ideas are rooted in the notion that certain racial groups are culturally or behaviorally inferior, and segregationist ideas spring from a belief in genetic racial distinction and fixed hierarchy.

 

 Beliefs

Ideas

Policies

Assimilationist 

Certain racial groups are culturally or behaviorally inferior: People of color can be developed.

[paternalistic]

racial group is temporarily inferior

Geared toward developing, civilizing, and integrating a racial group. 

Segregationist

Genetic racial distinction and fixed hierarchy: People of color cannot be developed.

racial group is permanently inferior

Geared toward segregating, enslaving, incarcerating, deporting, and killing.

Antiracist  

Racial groups are equal in all the ways they are different

To be antiracist is to emancipate oneself from the dueling consciousness. (p. 33-34). 

Knowing there is no such thing as the American body, only American bodies, racialized by power. (p. 34)

Geared toward reducing racial inequities and creating equal opportunity. (mass equalizing)

The categories and definitions in the table above are critical to Kendi’s analysis and are helpful for us to consider for a moment. According to Kendi, both the Assimilationist and Segregationist are racists. While the segregationist is clearly racist from a biblical perspective since he or she holds to ethnic or biological hierarchy, I’m not sure if the Assimilationist is necessarily or clearly a racist. Kendi accuses the Assimilationist of developing cultural and behavioral hierarchy that leads to ethnocentrism and racism.

From a Biblical perspective, we have to be able to distinguish between ethnicity and culture, at least in the way that Kendi uses these terms. Ethnicity, at least the way Kendi uses the term, is fixed and rooted in biology, but culture, the way Kendi uses the term, is always shifting and consists of the traditions, ideas, norms, that are valued and practiced by a particular people group. The biblical perspective calls us to respect the image of each person regardless of their ethnicity (using this term to mean a people group), while at the same exhorts us to critique cultural norms that are unbiblical. Some cultural norms have a moral component (e.g. marriage, parenting, hard work) and some cultural norms are amoral (e.g. language, dress, traditions, food). There is such a close relationship between race/ethnicity and the associated culture/behaviors, that it is hard to not have general stereotypes toward racial groups. In attributing a racial hierarchy based on cultural of behavioral stereotypes, I think Kendi is right that this is problematic. We must be careful not to assume that our amoral cultural norms are superior and that other ethnicities comprehensively speaking “can be developed” to achieve a higher level of culture. Finally, I disagree with Kendi’s assertion that being Antiracist means acknowledging that “Racial groups are equal in all the ways they are different” (p. 20). Here, Kendi flattens the ethnic/cultural distinction and assumes the goodness of all cultural and behavioral differences. However, we must do our best to not make swift generalizations about a particular individual based on observed cultural or behavioral stereotypes.  

Chapter 3: Power

Power is a construct of collected or merged difference that lives socially.
Racist power and self-interest have always been the root problem of racism. 
Racist policies are undergirded by powerful economic, political and cultural self-interest. 
Racist ideas justify racist policies to redirect the blame for their era’s racial inequities from those policies and onto people.

Race creates new forms of power. The power to process distinct individuals, ethnicities, and nationalities into monolithic races. It is true that racist policies in the past were made possible only by a power differential between the majority white and minority black population in this country. One of the most helpful insights from this chapter is that just like race is a socially developed construct, it has implications for how the power structures in our society were developed and maintained. Kendi observes that &rdquo race creates new forms of power: the power to categorize and judge, elevate and downgrade, include and exclude. Race makers use that power to process distinct individuals, ethnicities, and nationalities into monolithic races. (p.38)” Power is not a category that I have considered very much before, but it does seem to be an intrinsic part of the conversation on how racism exists within the structures of society today.

However, there is one aspect of Kendi’s analysis that I struggle with here. On the one hand, Kendi wants to highlight the common humanity we all have and minimize our ethnic and cultural differences, but on the other hand, he relies so heavily on preserving the racial construct to develop his anti-racist ideology that it seems self-refuting. Kendi says this,

 “It is one of the ironies of antiracism that we must identify racially in order to identify the racial privileges and dangers of being in our bodies. Latinx and Asian and African and European and Indigenous and Middle Eastern: These six races—at least in the American context—are fundamentally power identities, because race is fundamentally a power construct of blended difference that lives socially.” (p.38)

While I think there is some merit in assessing privileges and dangers of socially constructed races, this type of analysis does the very thing that it is trying to eradicate – “process distinct individuals, ethnicities, and nationalities into monolithic races.” (p 38). I worry that this type of power analysis has created greater division, suspicion, and angst in the conversation. There must be a better way to discuss these in a manner that treats others as fellow-image bearers instead of labels of “privileged” or “dangerous.”

Chapter 4: Biology

Biological racist One who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully different in their biology and that these differences create hierarchy of value. 
Biological antiracist One who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully the same in their biology and that there are no genetic racial differences.
 

Kendi’s definitions of biological racists and antiracists are fully consistent with the biblical understanding that there is no hierarchy of value between persons created in the image of God. Unfortunately, this was not always the case in American history.

Chapter 5: Ethnicity

Ethnic Racism: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized ethnic groups.
Ethnic Antiracism: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about racialized ethnic groups.

The difference between the previous chapter and this chapter is that the previous chapter focuses on racists ideas based on biological differences while this chapter focuses on racist policies based on ethnicity. It is hard to distinguish at times because Kendi doesn’t give us a clear definition of ethnicity. Again, Kendi uses the words equity and inequity in these definitions. If these definitions mean equal opportunity, then we can agree with him. But if he means equal outcomes, that is problematic on many levels. I will say that persons from black and minority neighborhoods Dayton do not seem to have same opportunities as many of their white counterparts in the suburbs when it comes to education, healthcare, housing, and jobs. What do we make of that? Since many of these disparities are a result of historical ethnic racist policies (e.g. redlining) that still impact the lives and neighborhoods today.

Chapter 6: Body

Bodily Racist: One who is perceiving certain racialized bodies as more animal-like and violent than others.
Bodily Antiracist: One who is humanizing, deracializing, and individualizing nonviolent and violent behavior.

I have to admit that this chapter was difficult to read. There are stereotypes about black bodies that I have unknowingly accumulated over the years that do cause me to fear black people at times. Kendi did have an insightful observation here. He wonders, “We are not meant to fear suits with policies that kill. We are not meant to fear good White males with AR-15s. No, we are to fear the weary, unarmed Latinx body from Latin America. The Arab body kneeling to Allah is to be feared. The Black body from hell is to be feared. Adept politicians and crime entrepreneurs manufacture the fear and stand before voters to deliver them—messiahs who will liberate them from fear of these other bodies.” There is a level of fear that I associate with some of these racist stereotypes that keeps me from treating each person one who has been created in the image of God.

What about the statistical data of “violent black neighborhoods?” Kendi submits that “researchers have found a much stronger and clearer correlation between violent-crime levels and unemployment levels than between violent crime and race.” That is something to keep in mind when we talk about crime in black neighborhoods. It certainly is not because black people are intrinsically more violent as compared with other ethnicities. As Christians, we must fight against the stereotypes that cause us to fear certain ‘races’ as being more violent and others being safe. We should also support work and policies to address the lack of economic opportunities available in these neighborhoods that still bear the marks of racist policies in the past as well as work to support policies that build and preserve the family structure.

Chapter 7: Culture

Cultural Racist: One who is creating a cultural standard and imposing a cultural hierarchy among racial groups.
Cultural Antiracist: One who is rejecting cultural standards and equalizing cultural differences among racial groups.

This chapter explores the nature of how cultural differences have created cultural and thus racialized hierarchies. As I mentioned earlier, there are moral and amoral cultural standards that we must distinguish between. When it comes to amoral cultural norms, e.g., the way English is spoken in America, there is a “norm” of what is considered proper or sophisticated. When norms like these arise, it is easy to look down upon those who speak the English language differently. Kendi highlights how ebonics is considered a lesser form of the English language because it has been racialized over time. It is an important point to remember, but the same type of negative stereotypes can be associated with those from the South who have a particular accent of English that some can look down upon. As Christians, we must be careful to not consider people from other ethnicities who have different amoral cultural standards as being less than or something they should leave behind to adopt our norms. Instead, we should be patient and understanding about these differences and try to understand the beauty of cultural diversity.

However, there are cultural differences that are intrinsically moral that the Bible addresses clearly. Whether it is the nature of human beings as being created in the image of God, the beauty of manhood and womanhood, and the importance of marriage for human flourishing, these must all be treated as hierarchical because these norms are rooted in Scripture. However, as so often is the case, we tend to see the moral deficiencies in other cultures while giving our own culturally adopted norms a pass. For example, we can be quick to bring up cultural deficiencies among blacks as a people who have a much higher rate of abortion and absentee fathers as compared to other ethnicities. However, we rarely consider our own unbiblical culturally adopted norms which are rarely under the same level of critique like greed, materialism, and indifference toward to plight of the poor. The reality is that the depravity of human beings across all ethnicities should cause us to be careful about highlighting moral deficiencies in other ethnicities while giving ourselves a pass in areas where we fall short of God’s standards. When we consider how these biases inform disparities in hiring and housing, we need to promote policies that are just and treat persons as created in the image of God.

Chapter 8: Behavior

Behavioral Racist: One who is making individuals responsible for the perceived behavior of racial groups and making racial groups responsible for the behavior of individuals.
Behavioral Antiracist: One who is making racial group behavior fictional and individual behavior real.
Behavior: defines the inherent human traits and potential that everyone shares.

I think Kendi’s definitions in this chapter generally comport with the Bible. It is unfortunate that behavior is so often racialized. In my own heart, I can often have negative stereotypes associated with black people, poor white people, that I can assume about a particular individual I see on the side of the street or meet initially. I pray that I can grow in treating each individual I come across with respect and dignity and be able to set aside the negative stereotypes about them. For example, whenever there is a police shooting of an unarmed black man, the negative stereotypes in my mind can cause me to assume that the black person must have done something wrong or illegal and that the police officer was likely doing the best he can and made a mistake. I often reached these conclusions without knowing the facts. What is worse is that I often wanted the facts to align with my pre-determined stereotypes so that it would prove that I was right all along. These are wicked thoughts and inclinations in my heart that I need to repent of and grow to see each person having the potential of being guilty and sinful, and that each person is capable of doing the right thing.

Chapter 9: Color

Colorism: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequities between Light and Dark people, supported by racist ideas about Light and Dark people.
Color Antiracism: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between Light and Dark people, supported by antiracist ideas about Light and Dark people.
Anti-Dark colorism: follows the logic of behavioral racism, linking behavior to color.

Kendi focuses on how the color of our skin affects racist ideas towards them. I’ve lived in a country with brown-shaded people and in a part of America with mostly white-shaded people and it is interesting to observe that most people prefer to be lighter skinned because it seems to be the standard for beauty, generally speaking. Even in India, where just about everyone is brown-shaded, there is a preference to be a lighter shade of brown. Here in America, though white people sometimes want to be a bit tanner, in general, I don’t think I have heard a white person say that they would prefer to have dark skin like an Indian or African American. This just highlights how our sin sometimes causes us to value people of a particular color as more than or less than. As Christians, we should love the way the Lord created us according to the beautiful diversity of the color of our skin. And we should guard our minds against preferring people of particular skin color as more valuable or better suited just based on that initial observable difference.

Chapter 10: White 

Anti-White Racist is someone who classifies people of European descent as biologically, culturally, or behaviorally inferior or conflates the entire race of White people with racist power.

Kendi asserts that black persons can be racist toward white people. He says that “whenever someone classifies people of European descent as biologically, culturally, or behaviorally inferior, whenever someone says there is something wrong with White people as a group, someone is articulating a racist idea. (p.128) For Kendi, to be antiracist means distinguishing between white people and racist people since there can be antiracist Whites and racist non-Whites. I must admit that I was surprised when I read this chapter because I often hear that those that promote antiracism do not grant that non-White people can be racist and that all White people are not racist inherently. This is consistent with the biblical assertion that all human beings, regardless of race or ethnicity have been corrupted by sin and its effects (Rom 3:23).

Chapter 11: Black 

Powerless Defense is the illusionary, concealing, disempowering, and racist, idea that Black people can’t be racist because Black people don’t have power.

In this chapter, Kendi focuses on the nature of racism within the Black community. He dismantles the idea that Black people cannot be racist because they lack power. While the last chapter focused on racist ideas that Black people can hold toward White people, this chapter focuses on ‘racist’ ideas that Black people can hold toward other Black people. Kendi argues that when Black people create group identities for some Black people who do bad things by calling them ‘n***ers,’ they are themselves creating a hierarchy within the Black community. While I am not sure if racism is the right label for this type of prejudice, it is certainly something I can relate to when I have considered myself better than other Indians in America who have not assimilated to American culture in the same way that I have.  From a Biblical perspective, the main idea in this chapter is consistent with the biblical doctrine that sin affects every person and no ethnic group is exempt from showing partiality, even among themselves.

However, Kendi also thinks that Black people can be racist when they support racist policies. Remember, racist policies are any policy that perpetuates racial inequities. This seems problematic to Kendi’s entire thesis because he is certain that racial inequities are a result of present racial discrimination. He does not allow for any other factors that might also contribute to these disparities. For example, he says, “a whopping 60 percent of Black people had joined with the 83 percent of White people that year who found explanations other than racism to explain persisting racial inequities. The internalizing of racist ideas was likely the reason” (p.139). I think reading Thomas Sowell next will provide some exploration of this issue from a different perspective.

Chapter 12: Class

A Class Racist is someone who racializes the classes, supporting policies of racial capitalism against those race-classes, and justifying them by racist ideas about those race-classes.
Antiracist Anticapitalists are people who oppose racial capitalism.

Kendi argues in this chapter that racism and capitalism have always co-existed together, and racialized capitalism is one of the greatest sources that perpetuate racism. Kendi says that “it is impossible to know racism without understanding its intersection with capitalism (p. 156). He does have an interesting insight from Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism who once wrote, “the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.” Marx rightly recognized the intersection of capitalism and racism. History has shown that racist policies often were a result of financial self-interest of a majority race that had the power to increase its financial gain by the means of subjugating a minority people group. This can be seen in the financial gain that was at stake in the Middle Passage slave trade, the slavery in the cotton fields of the American south, and many other examples that show the inextricable link between racism and financial gain. However, in critiquing racial capitalism, he does not promote socialism or communism as the antiracist solution since he says that “some socialists and communists have pushed a segregationist or post-racial program in order not to alienate racist White workers” (p. 159).  

The bible certainly rules out communism and favors a capitalistic economic system. I think capitalism is likely the best system we have that is the fairest, most efficient, one that is most likely to benefit everyone in the long run and reduce poverty across the board since it encourages free trade, entrepreneurship, and minimal government intervention in the market. I think many biblical priorities undergird capitalism, e.g. - private property, hard work, entrepreneurship, stewardship. I also think the critiques against capitalism are often unfair since greed and materialism are not intrinsic to the system alone, but an unfortunate result of sin regardless of the economic system. While we will not have a perfect economic system here until we have sinful people, we can work to reform our current system to improve equality and justice for all.

I am convinced that unregulated capitalism that is not informed by biblical ethics will lead to all kinds of harm in society. The version of capitalism that Kendi is critiquing is the kind that can manifest when we defend policies that give people the freedom to “exploit people into economic ruin; the freedom to assassinate unions; the freedom to prey on unprotected consumers, workers, and environments; the freedom to value quarterly profits over climate change; the freedom to undermine small businesses and cushion corporations; the freedom from competition; the freedom not to pay taxes; the freedom to heave the tax burden onto the middle and lower classes; the freedom to commodify everything and everyone; the freedom to keep poor people poor and middle-income people struggling to stay middle income, and make rich people richer (p. 161).”  If Christians are going to defend capitalism as the biblically preferred economic system, which we must, we must also be open to acknowledging the critiques of our current form of capitalism in America, and propose common-sense regulations that levels the playing field for all people.

Chapter 13: Space

Space Racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to resource inequity between racialized spaces or the elimination of certain racialized spaces, which are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized spaces.
Space Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity between integrated and protected racialized spaces, which are substantiated by antiracist ideas about racialized spaces.

In this chapter, Kendi focuses on how racist ideas about black neighborhoods perpetuate resource disparities between black and white neighborhoods. Kendi argues that “racist Americans stigmatize entire Black neighborhoods as places of homicide and mortal violence but don’t similarly connect White neighborhoods to the disproportionate number of White males who engage in mass shootings. He goes on to say that “policies of space racism over resource White spaces and underresourced non-White spaces. Ideas of space racism justify resource inequity through creating a racial hierarchy of space, lifting up White spaces as heaven, downgrading non-White spaces as hell” (p.169).

I have to admit that I have certainly bought into the idea of “dangerous black neighborhoods.” Last year I decided to a popular restaurant in West Dayton with all my fears heightened informed by my ill-informed stereotypes. I was surprised by the poverty and lack of resources that seemed evident, but there was nothing dangerous or out of the ordinary that I observed. The lack of resources, lack of corporate investment, the lack of educational opportunities are all likely affected in part by our collective stereotype of these “dangerous neighborhoods.” I don’t know what the fine line is between actually dangerous parts of town because I know wisdom would tell me to keep a safe distance, but I am certain that I cannot categorically say that all of West Dayton is dangerous and I need to stay away. I have much to learn here.

Chapter 14,15: Gender and Sexuality

Gender Racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-genders and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-genders.
Gender Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between racegenders and are substantiated by anti-racist ideas and race-genders.
Queer Racism is a strong collection of racist policies leading to inequity amongst race-sexualities.  
Queer antiracism is the phenomenal gathering of antiracist policies leading to equity amongst race sexualities for authentication by antiracist ideas on race-sexualities.

In the following two chapters, Kendi explores the inequities produced by race-genders and race-sexualities under the notion of “intersectionality.” developed by critical race theorist, Kimberlé Crenshaw. According to this principle, social analysis must be done on a multidimensional basis since no person has a unitary identity. In this way, we can observe that social inequalities are mutually constructing and complex. For example, an African American person might be a woman, a Republican, and living in rural Idaho. This person may have potentially conflicting, overlapping identities, loyalties, and allegiances that contribute to our understanding of social inequalities.

Kendi argues that “to be antiracist is to reject not only the hierarchy of races but of race-genders. To be feminist is to reject not only the hierarchy of genders but of race-genders. To truly be antiracist is to be feminist. To truly be feminist is to be antiracist. To be antiracist (and feminist) is to level the different race-genders, is to root the inequities between the equal race-genders in the policies of gender racism” (p.189). While Christians can agree with Kendi that there is no ontological hierarchy between male and female, since both are created in the image of God and equal in dignity, value, and worth (Gen 1:26-27), we would also want to acknowledge “that God, in His wisdom and providence, created two complementary sexes for our good and His glory. In light of His good created order, and the fact that men and women both share in divine image-bearing, God intends for men and women to have different yet complementary roles and responsibilities in the church and home. These role distinctions do not arise from cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity but are an integral part of God’s plan for humanity, as revealed in Scripture. We should recognize them as God’s grace to men and women, protecting, preserving and practicing them for His glory, our joy and for the sake of human flourishing .” (Village Position Paper) As Christians, we must begin with a Christian understanding of gender and acknowledge that part of beauty God’s design of humanity is that the two complementary sexes are not interchangeable in their design.

The next chapter focuses on sexuality and asserts that “Homophobia cannot be separated from racism” (p.193). Just as gender intersects with race, so does sexuality according to Kendi. While Christians must be against all forms of homophobia, or hatred of a person based on their sexual orientation, we must unequivocally assert that God’s design for sexuality is to be expressed only within the confines of a marriage between one man and one woman for life. The fact that Kendi’s moral framework surrounding gender and sexuality are culturally defined further diminishes his arguments on race by unnecessarily tying them to cultural notions of gender and sexuality.

Conclusion

I’ve tried to provide some level of summary and analysis of the key chapters in this book. Let me just conclude by summarizing what I think were some helpful insights from this book and what were my main areas of disagreement.

Kendi writes in a manner that is genuine and personable. More than just a treatise on antiracism, this book weaves in Kendi’s life experiences – the good and the bad – which has shaped much of his thinking and motivations concerning the issue of race in America. He is pretty vulnerable in sharing his own racist ideas and admits that he is still on a journey to be an antiracist. Even when I disagreed with Kendi, I was genuinely moved to listen to what he is saying and try and understand him because he seems like an honest and genuine guy who carries a deep burden “to be fully human and to see that others are fully human” (p. 10). I think Kendi is a compelling writer. He is simple, he is clear, and he is engaging. I was often drawn into the many personal stories that he weaves through each chapter.

It is important to remember that Kendi is writing from a secular perspective and does not use biblical categories to define his terms. Nevertheless, his fundamental assertion of the moral evil of racism is consistent with the biblical understanding of ethnic partiality. His chapters on biological racism (Ch. 4) ethnic racism(Ch. 5), and bodily racism (Ch. 6) are largely consistent with the biblical understanding of ethnic partiality. His chapters on White (Ch. 10), and Black (Ch 11) helpfully diagnosed the reality that people of all ethnicities can be racist, including black people. His chapters on Space (Ch. 12) and Class (13) were also helpful in seeing how racist policies of the past affect the socioeconomic dimensions of resourcing in black neighborhoods, to include availability of jobs, a decent education, and basic opportunities that are more easily available in suburban white neighborhoods. While one might disagree with the solutions being offered in these chapters, Christians must carefully consider how these racist policies in the past have lasting impacts in these neighborhoods today.

Let me conclude with some sharp disagreements with Kendi. The most notable is regarding his chapter on gender (Ch. 14) and sexuality (Ch. 15). While the biblical worldview compels us to treat each person regardless of gender or sexual preference with dignity and respect, the bible also speaks to the reality of gender distinctions and the sinfulness of sexual acts outside the confines of a marriage between one man and one woman. Kendi has taken the norms from the sexual and transgender revolution and adopted them to his antiracist agenda. There is much room for Christians to grow in this area by loving those that choose a lifestyle that is antithetical to biblical norms, while at the same time speaking the truth about God’s will for for marriage, sexuality, and family structures that lead to human flourishing.

Another aspect of disagreement I found throughout this book is that most people reading this book are labeled racists simply because of the way he defines the term racism as something that is inextricably linked to racist policy and racial inequity. If a person is not actively fighting to promote antiracist policy that promotes equitable outcomes among races, that person is racist. His primary target here is conservative economic policies (Ch 12). Kendi leaves no room for disagreement here. What I found unsatisfying is that he does not demonstrate how these specific conservative policies are intrinsically racist. Furthermore, in my opinion, the nature of current disparities between ethnicities is likely much more a result of historic racist policies than current policies. Kendi also asserts that the root problem is “racist policies leading to racist ideas, not the other way around, as we have commonly thought” (p.230). I do think from a policy perspective, things have improved for the better and that is something Kendi does not admit. In fact, he says that “My society has racism. The most serious stage (comparing it to Stage 4 cancer). Racism is likely to kill my society. My society can survive racism against all odds” (p.235).

I think Kendi’s assessment of ‘culture’ (Ch 7) is unhelpful because it lacks a moral component. Kendi’s assertion that all cultures are equally good is antithetical to the biblical understanding of culture. One thing Kendi does not do is define ‘culture.’ A simple working definition of culture I have found helpful is from John Frame who says, “creation is what God makes by himself, and culture is what he makes through us.” Andy Crouch helpfully adds to this definition by saying that culture is not only what we make of this world, but what we give meaning to, he says, “culture is the activity of making meaning.” This basic definition, and the biblical understanding of sin that affects all that humanity cause us to distinguish between those aspects of culture that have an explicit moral component (e.g. marriage, parenting, vocation) versus other cultural norms that are not explicitly moral (e.g. language, dress, traditions, food).

Finally, and probably most importantly, Kendi’s solutions do not have the power of the gospel. I was surprised by the complete absence of concepts of forgiveness, grace from this book. The main problem according to Kendi is not sin, but racist policies. The solution to addressing these problems is also ultimately unbiblical but is given an illusion of being reborn to be antiracist.” There are echoes in Kendi’s way forward to the sinner’s prayer:

  1. Stop saying, “I am not racist.”
  2. Admit racism exists and is ascribed to you.
  3. Be truthful about the racist ideas you support and express.
  4. Own the source of your racial knowledge information acquisition.
  5. Own your own definition of antiracism.
  6. Act, work to change policy, donate time and money to activities that try to change antiracist policies and structures.
  7. Be proud of your antiracist power struggles and advocacy.
  8. Be an antiracist in the face of other racial bigotries.
  9. Be open with your struggles with antiracist ideas.
  10. Not easily fooled into generalizing individual negativity.
  11. Not fooled into believing misleading statistics or data blaming people for racial inequality.

Salvation - or absolution from being labeled a racist - for a person according to Kendi is found in the eleven steps above. It is ultimately bankrupt because the concepts of reconciliation, forgiveness of sin, and redemption are completely absent. Christians who stand on the merits of Christ’s righteousness ought to be able to admit their complicity in racism while at the same time working to bring reconciliation among people from differing ethnicities through the power of the gospel. On a personal level we must admit and confess our racist ideas that disparage the image of God in others. If there are explicitly racist policies that target a particular people group specifically, we must oppose it. But at the end of the day, our hope does not lie in antiracist activism but in the power of the gospel that reconciled us to God to reconcile us to one another across ethnic lines.

There is much more to learn about different secular perspectives and how to interact with from a Biblical perspective. Next month we will read and discuss Discrimination and Disparities by Thomas Sowell. 

 Reflect

  • How did Kendi’s background and motivation help you understand him better?
  • What were some helpful insights for you from this book?
  • What are areas that you disagreed with?
  • How can you grow in listening and understanding those you disagree with?

Pray

  • That we would humbly learn from others with whom we disagree
  • That we would have biblical discernment distinguish good from evil when interacting with secular perspectives.
  • That the Lord would help us repent of wicked prejudices against people based on their ethnicity, color, socio-economic class, gender, or sexual orientation.