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Ibram X. Kendi Walks His Talk With 'Be Anti-Racist' Podcast

Ibram X. Kendi, professor in the Department of History in the College of Arts & Sciences and founder/director of Boston University's Center for Antiracist Research. (Janice Checchio for Boston University Photography)
Ibram X. Kendi, professor in the Department of History in the College of Arts & Sciences and founder/director of Boston University's Center for Antiracist Research. (Janice Checchio for Boston University Photography)

Bestselling author and professor Ibram X. Kendi has convened a national conversation on being an antiracist.

The director for Antiracist Research at Boston University wrote the bestselling 2019 book “How to Be an Antiracist.” And now, Kendi is starting a literal conversation with his “action podcast” called “Be Anti-Racist with Ibram X. Kendi,” where he explores the intersection of racism with other areas of bias.

In his book, Kendi lays out the difference between someone who is not racist and someone who is an antiracist. Antiracist people oppose policies and ideas that oppress Black, Brown and Indigenous people such as voting restrictions, he says.

Kendi calls for people to actively do something about racism — and that’s what he’s attempting to achieve with his podcast. He thinks back to 200 years ago, when abolitionists in Boston recognized that slavery wouldn’t end unless people organized and spoke out against it.

“It’s the same thing today that if we aren’t speaking out against racism, if we’re not speaking out against the problem of racial inequity, what’s going to happen to it?” he says. “It’s going to persist.”

In one episode of “Be Anti-Racist,” CNN anchor Don Lemon spoke about being both a gay and Black man.

“I didn’t want to come out for the longest time because I was already Black and I said, ‘OK, I’m Black. Do I really need another strike?’ ” Lemon told Kendi. “Now I welcome it because it’s made me who I am.”

Kendi says he wants people to understand how racism intersects with other forms of bigotry. In his conversation with Rebecca Coakley, the disability rights activist explained that she views the intersection of ableism and racism as “roots of the same tree.”

One of these parallels is that being a Black person experiencing mental illness makes one more likely to be killed by police. During his conversation with Coakley, Kendi talks about how much he fears for his disabled brother when it comes to the police.

One of the “scariest moments” of Kendi’s life was when his brother called the police during an episode, he says.

“My parents called me when the police showed up. And I rushed over there,” Kendi recalls, “and felt that I was rushing over there to potentially save my brother’s life.”

Journalist Ari Berman, who covers voting rights for Mother Jones, explained on the podcast how voter suppression laws are part of a larger strategy. He outlined the processes: First, undermine people’s faith in elections, then try to throw away votes, and finally make it harder for people to vote.

“This is a strategy and this is a plan here,” Berman said. “This is a roadmap for I think a lot of people are not connecting one to the other to the other.”

To combat voter suppression, antiracist people can call their elected officials to advocate for the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act as well as more local bills that expand voting rights, Kendi says.

“The easier it is for people to vote, the more people are going to vote and the more well functioning our democracy will be,” he says.

Sports commentator Jemele Hill discusses racism in sports on the podcast and explains the importance of athletes using their platform to speak up for racial justice within sports. Black athletes have been “confined and controlled” for years, Kendi says.

“We’re living in a new time in which more and more athletes are refusing to just shut up and dribble or to shut up and just catch or run the football,” he says. “And they’re really speaking out and they’re really using their voice and they’re really demanding their power.”

Kendi’s podcast aims to reach open-minded people who are willing to learn and challenge their existing world views. But he says it’s difficult to reach other people who are “addicted to racist ideas.”

“It’s really incumbent upon them and the people who are close to them,” he says. “And so I may not be able to get them to think differently, but if I can get their family member who then is able to sort of work with them to really overcome this belief that racial inequality is normal, then to me, that’s a job well done.”


Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RayAllison Hagan adapted it for the web. 

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.