Transcript, Web links and Credits below.
Are you a racist? A slightly different way for me to ask the question is, “are you racist?” I know that’s an uncomfortable question and my best guess is that if you are listening to this podcast, that your answer is probably “no.” That you’re not a racist. But for the next few minutes, I want you to suspend what you think you know about racism and let me guide you down a path to a better definition of what racism is and isn’t.
And then we’re going to explore a brilliant new book by my friend and brother Dr. Ibram Kendi. It’s out today in bookstores everywhere, and it’s called “How to be an Antiracist.”
Let’s dig in.
This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!
When I was in college, all the way back in the stone ages in 1997, I had a brother in my dorm whose real name I can’t remember because we all called him “Red.” He had a short red afro, was from the Bay Area of California I believe, and was the only guy I knew who was as serious as I was on a daily basis. I actually wish that I laughed and smiled and joked more as a teenager, but I had been through a lot. When I got to Atlanta and Morehouse College in 1997, I was as serious as a heart attack every single day. Red was like that too.
And the brother was brilliant. I was a new Christian and Red was what’s called a 5 percenter. It’s a lot of Black nationalism, a little Nation of Islam, and a whole lot of debating. And Red I remember, used to ask us questions like, “You know Jesus wasn’t a Christian, right?” So listen, I’m a country brother from Versailles, Kentucky. Where I grew up, we didn’t have a lot of conversations debating the merits of the Bible. But I used to love debating and talking with these brothers and they knew the Bible better than most Christians. And they would get these young brothers all tied up with that question, “You know Jesus wasn’t a Christian, right?”
I say the question now, and I laugh because of course he wasn’t a Christian. But they would use questions like that to spark a conversation, and it always worked.
And so I have a question just like that for you right now. It’s not a trick question, but it is a thought provoking one.
What’s the opposite of racist?
I think for most of the country, particularly for the past 40-50 years, the answer to this has always been, “not racist.”
We hear the phrase every day. “I’m not racist.” The phrase that I hear most often nowadays that makes me laugh is, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
Racism has absolutely NOTHING to do with your bones. In fact, you could be in the KKK and not have any racist bones. It’s not about bones! Trump’s favorite statement is now, “I’m the least racist person you’ve ever met.”
Again, this is just another form of “not racist.”
My friend and brother, Dr. Ibram Kendi, who has a brand new book that was just released today, called “How to be an Antiracist” says the opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” Instead, the opposite of “racist” is “antiracist.”
And that all of us — yes all of us — are either racist or antiracist. Either you are fighting against racism and racist systems and structures, either you are fighting against inequity, or you are benefitting from it — either deliberately or passively. Dr. Kendi says it this way, “The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it.” The “denial” of racism — denial that it exists, denial that you benefit from it, denial that systems and structures maintain it, denial that you’ve done anything to advance it — “denial is the heartbeat of racism.”
And I agree. But I need us to understand that this doesn’t just apply to Donald Trump — although it REALLY applies to Donald Trump — but we have to be careful that we don’t somehow pretend as if racism and racist systems and structures and policies began when he started running for office and will disappear when he leaves office. He didn’t build mass incarceration. He didn’t create the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He didn’t create laws during Jim Crow. He didn’t cause dozens of banks to discriminate against millions of Black customers. He didn’t create the crisis of police brutality.
But because he finds himself in a perpetual state of saying he’s not racist, instead of being pro-actively antiracist, all of those systems and structures, and their legacies and impact remain in place. But my question today, for all of us is deeper than Trump, it’s a question for you.
(ACTION STEP MUSIC)
Are you racist? In any way? In your perceptions? In your understandings? In your worldview? In your philosophy? In your politics?
Do you benefit from racist systems and structures? Knowingly or unknowingly? Let me share this quote again from Dr. Kendi,
“The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it—and then dismantle it”
And do you find yourself mainly thinking of yourself as a non-racist or are you regularly, proactively, consistently examining yourself — and the systems and structures around you — and fighting against racism every way you know how?
I want the audience of this podcast, I want all of our listeners to be antiracist. I want to be antiracist and I want you to be antiracist.
We don’t yet have a book club for The Breakdown, but if we had one, our first book would be “How to be Antiracist” from Dr. Ibram Kendi and I strongly encourage you to pick it up today at your local bookseller or order it online because I’d like for us to talk about it together.
Thank you all for making it all the way through this episode of The Breakdown!
If you haven’t already subscribed to our podcast, we’ll be right back here every single weekday, breaking down important news stories and issues, and we’d love for you to subscribe on your favorite podcast apps like Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Please share this podcast with your friends and family. Our next goal is to get to 100,000 subscribers, and we won’t get there without you! Have you left a review yet?
Thank you so much to the nearly 30,000 founding members of The North Star whose generosity even makes this podcast possible. Love y’all and appreciate you so much.
If you love this podcast and want to support our work — or want to see the show notes and transcript for each episode — we’d love it if you considered becoming a founding member of our community at TheNorthStar.com. There we not only have our podcasts, but hundreds of original articles and stories and commentaries from some of the leading scholars and thinkers and journalists in the world.
Lastly, a shout out to our Associate Producer Lyssandra and Podcasting Director and Senior Producer Willis for their hard work on this and every episode.
Take care everybody.
Produced by Willis Polk II
Additional production by Christian “Idrys” Shannon
Additional Instrumentation by Christian “Idrys” Shannon, Lance “Lance Fury” Powlis & Markeith Black
Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library
Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush & Jason Coffey
Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg