Ibram X. Kendi on fatherhood, empathy and the dream of better worlds

Author and educator Ibram X. Kendi burst into our consciousness in 2016 with “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” becoming the youngest winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction. Since then, he has published five best-selling books, including “How to Be an Anti-Racist”, and is a preeminent voice not only for understanding the deep roots of racism in our society, but also the obligation of each of us to fight it. an individual level.

In her latest book, “How to Raise an Anti-Racist,” Kendi takes us on a personal journey through the birth of her first child, Imani, and how becoming a parent helped deepen her work.

Ahead of his June 22 conversation at the LA Times Book Club, Kendi spoke about authorship, empathy and what he hopes readers take away from his book.

Much of this book is about becoming a father and how it changed the way you think about racism and our individual ability to change systemic issues. Can you tell us how your daughter changed your point of view?
Like any parent, like any mother or father, I want above all to protect my child. And when my daughter was born, I first thought or assumed or assumed without necessarily thinking about it, that the way to protect her was to keep her away, if that’s even possible, from the toxicity of racism. . But through my own journey, and certainly through my journey through a century of research, I’ve discovered that it’s actually quite the opposite, that the more I prepare her for the negative messages she may receive about people who look like her, the more I prepare her to realize that black people don’t have less because they are less, the more a parent prepares her child to realize that inequality is not the result of bad people but of bad people. ‘a bad policy, the more we are able to protect them, to ensure they live a healthy life. Coming to this motivates me even more to do this work and have these difficult conversations with my daughter.

Did any of these conversations with your daughter surprise you?
I think what’s surprising is when she initiates conversations, because like any human being, you never know. And you certainly never know with a 6 year old. The other day, my wife was showing Imani a video of a medical graduation, in which one of my wife’s mentees graduated. My wife is a doctor. And so my daughter was looking at him and then she asks why aren’t there more brunettes here? You know, graduate? And we would never know that she was going to see this and notice it and ask us for an explanation as to why. And obviously that prompted us to explain to her why, because we didn’t want her to think that brown people aren’t there because there’s something wrong with brown people. We don’t want her to think there’s something wrong with her, because there’s something wrong with Black [and] brown people. We don’t want a white or brown child to think that. So that compelled us to have this conversation. But we never know when this conversation will take place. But we always have to be prepared as parents.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) held one of your books during the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Ketanji Brown Jackson. Can you tell me how you became aware of it and how you think about it?
I was shocked that literally Senator Ted Cruz could read a line in my book, read a line that said, you know, [do you want to be] racist or anti-racist? And then turned that, for me, into saying it was inherently racist. He’s a racist baby. And what do you think ? It was just disturbing. But for me, it was a symbolic moment of what I had to go through and that others went through. We try to encourage teachers, parents and caregivers to have these active conversations with their children. And that’s our job. It was distorted and distorted. And people attacked their own distortions of our work. And it created a situation [like] how do you answer that? How do you respond to criticism of your work that bears no resemblance to your actual work?

You recently said, “I didn’t realize when writing ‘How to Raise an Anti-Racist’ that the research would point to one conclusion: it’s protective for our children to raise them to be anti-racist and talk to them about race. .” Can you talk a bit about what you mean and how you see it playing out in our schools today, where we now have a near constant fear of violence, in part based on race?
Let’s think about this. For summer 2020, only a small percentage of teachers, about 15% to 20%, felt they had the training and resources to deliver anti-racism education to students. An anti-racist education was therefore rare. It was rare for students to actively talk about racism. It was common for students to see racial disparities in their communities. So that meant the students were trying to figure out why. Why are blacks or browns the poor in my society? Do they have less because they are less? You know, how can they not assume that when no one else gives them another explanation, some people are less so. And then they look into their actual curriculum and see that literally people of color are less in their curriculum. So it almost constantly reinforces the racial hierarchy, that people of color are less, without anyone ever talking openly about race. But [there is] all this non-verbal communication about race. And so that was kind of the school standard. And that remains the norm.

What do you hope readers take away from this work?
The first is that it really is never too early. Or, you know, a child is never too old for us to begin the process of raising them to be anti-racist. And, I think particularly of young children, when we think of [modeling] anti-racist behavior is behavior akin to being considerate or sharing. We try to model this behavior and instill it as early as possible, because we understand that as our children grow we are going to be able to instill it in a more complex way. It’s the same with being anti-racist. And so that’s just another thing that should be in our toolbox. And what’s great is that many parents and teachers also try to instill traits like empathy. And raising an empathetic child, in fact, is raising an anti-racist child. And also critical thinking. Researchers consistently show that critical thinking is like the antithesis of harmful thinking. And so the more we raise a critical thinker and an empathetic human being, the more we’re going to raise a child who truly appreciates the people around them and can put themselves in their shoes and tries to understand the beautiful diversity of our world.

You also have a second book, a children’s book called “Goodnight Racism”, which has just been released. What inspired you to write this?
As a parent, as an educator, and as a human being, I know that in order for us to do anything, we must first imagine it. So I’m excited to write a book that imagines what a world without racism, an anti-racism society would be like, and to be able to really present that to our youngest who have the biggest and most beautiful imaginations. And obviously, in the context of a “Goodnight”, it helps our children to fall asleep and start dreaming about what another world is like.

What’s on your reading list this summer?
I’m reading a book by Dorothy Roberts called “Torn Apart”. Basically, she explains how the “child welfare system” quote is harmful to children. She is an author. Every time she writes a book, I read it. So I was so excited to see his new book.

What do you read to escape?
I don’t tend to read to escape. I tend to drink sangria.

If you go: book club

What: Author and historian Ibram X. Kendi discusses “How to raise an anti-racist” with a columnist sandbanks at the LA Times Book Club.

When: 7 p.m. Pacific June 22

Where: In person at USC’s Bovard Auditorium. Get tickets on Eventbrite.

Join us: Sign up for the book club newsletter for the latest events and updates: latimes.com/bookclub

Los Angeles Times

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