Author Ibram X. Kendi’s next book due in August, “How to Be an Antiracist,” will explore just that. However, on Thursday, in front of a crowd of about 300 at the Historical Society of Philadelphia, Kendi took a deep dive into how racism frames the current discussion around reparations.
“You have some people who say, ‘We have given Black people everything. We are a post-racial society. What would be the purpose of reparations?’” said Kendi, a Temple alum and director at American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center. “And you have others who say that Black people’s history of slavery and of segregation and living in poverty will cause them to waste away their reparations. ‘Don’t give Black people that; they’ll just waste it away.’
“And then you have antiracists on the opposite side who say, ‘Yes, this history of racist policies has historically created extremely difficult conditions for Black people but they have maintained their humanity,” Kendi continued. “All Black people have ever been asking for and needed was opportunity and resources, not civilizing programs. And that is what fundamentally has been taken away from Black people as a result of this history of racism in this country — opportunities and resources.”
Regarded as one the nation’s foremost historians and leading antiracist voices, Kendi, 37, is the author of “The Black Campus Movement,” which won the 2013 W.E.B. Du Bois Book Prize, and “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2016.
At the Library Company of Philadelphia’s Juneteenth Freedom Seminar, Kendi spoke for about 45 minutes and then engaged the audience in a question-and-answer session for about 30 minutes.
Much of his talk focused on Wednesday’s hearing on Capitol Hill that centered around the creation of a commission to develop proposals to address the lingering effects of slavery and consider a “national apology” for the harm it caused and continues to perpetuate.
Slavery lasted from 1619 to June 19, 1865, when Union Major Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and told the last remaining enslaved people that they had been emancipated.
Kendi said reparations would do two things: Make up for the lost amount of resources and opportunities that African Americans have suffered as a result of slavery “once and for all.”
He tied slavery directly to the wealth gap that exists today between the average white family ($171,000 in net wealth) and the average African-American family ($17,000 in net wealth).
“The racist doesn’t want a level playing field,” Kendi said. “These are the very same people who are saying that Black people are inferior, yet they don’t want to have a level playing field. They don’t want the competition to be equal.”
Kendi defines racists as those who are “supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or supporting a racist idea,” while antiracists are those who are “supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.”
An antiracist, Kendi said, “recognizes that one of the most damaging inequalities of our time is the racial wealth gap. It’s fundamentally the result of racist polices and wealth is a function of present and past, of what you do and what you get. For hundreds of years, Black people received nothing.”
Kendi will go into further detail in “How to Be an Antiracist.” The book, he said, has its roots in the conversations that occurred during speaking engagements for his last book.
“People would constantly say, ‘Tell me how I can be antiracist,’” Kendi said. “The more the question came up, the more I realized that I had another book on my hands.”