Authors: Ibram X. Kendi
thinking all week about denial, before the diagnosis, after the diagnosis. I still could not separate racism and cancer. I sat in the waiting rooms, between medical meetings, tests, and procedures, writing an essay arguing
that the heartbeat of racism is denial, the heartbeat of antiracism is confession. It appeared in
The New York Times
on Sunday, January 14, 2018, three days after my diagnosis. But my writing on the denial of racism did not stop me from denying the severity of my cancer. I could not confess I was likely to die.
I had been privately making sense of racism through cancer since Sadiqa’s diagnosis. Except now I started making sense out of my cancer through my new conception of racism. Denying my ability to succeed in my cancer fight did not differ from those denying our ability to succeed in the antiracism fight. Denial is much easier than admission, than confession.
I have cancer. The most serious stage. Cancer is likely to kill me. I can survive cancer against all odds.
My society has racism. The most serious stage. Racism is likely to kill my society. My society can survive racism against all odds.
I prepared myself to fight. I looked past what could harm me in the fight to see all that could bring me joy if I survived. Dancing through life with my surviving and thriving partner. Watching my nearly two-year-old Black girl grow into a phenomenal woman. Growing myself into a better self through the love of my constructive family and friends and mentors I know and do not know. Engaging the open-minded readers of
Stamped from the Beginning
. Building the Antiracism Center into an intellectual factory of antiracist policy. Witnessing my beloved New York Knicks finally win an NBA championship. Writing for
in the same pages as W.E.B. Du Bois. Finishing this book and sharing it with the world.
I looked at the antiracist progress coming in my lifetime, the antiracist society coming in my granddaughter’s lifetime, our great-grandchildren refusing to return to the racist time when all the victims of all forms of bigotries that feed and are fed by racism had far less resources, far less of an opportunity to be one with their humanity, to be one with human difference, to be one with our shared humanity.
Y TREATMENT PLAN
took shape like battle plans. Six months of chemotherapy. If my tumors shrank, the chance for surgery. The chance of removing the rest of the tumors. The chance at life if there was not a recurrence. A long shot. But a chance.
On Mondays, every three weeks, beginning in late January 2018, I received chemo injections and started taking two weeks of chemo pills. By Tuesdays, I already felt like I had been jumped by Smurf and his boys. Could barely climb out of bed. Could barely write this book. Could barely eat and drink. But I pushed myself to get out of bed, to write, to stay hydrated, because when I did not exercise my body and mind, when I did not consume enough protein and thoughts and fluids, I could feel the toxicity levels rising in my body, exacerbating all the symptoms.
To keep up with my normal life, I had to go outside into the bitter cold of winter, not merely to the gym but to meetings, to speaking engagements, to life. The chemo made me hypersensitive to cold. Thirty degrees outside felt like negative ten degrees inside me. Whenever I breathed in cold air, it hurt my lungs. Whenever I drank ice-cold fluids, it hurt my throat. Whenever I touched anything cold, it hurt my fingers.
Instead of wallowing in the chronic discomfort or asking the doctor to ease the chemo, I found ways to make myself more comfortable. Pain is usually essential to healing. When it comes to healing America of racism, we want to heal America without pain, but without pain, there is no progress.
Y TUMORS SHRANK
enough for me to go on the surgical table by the end of the summer of 2018. Surgeons removed what was left and sewed me back together. Pathologists dissected what they took out and did not find any cancer cells. The six months of chemotherapy had obliterated, apparently, all the cancer. My doctors were as shocked as I had been when I was diagnosed. I had a good chance to land in the 12 percent of people who survived stage-4 colon cancer.
E CAN SURVIVE
metastatic racism. Forgive me. I cannot separate the two, and no longer try. What if humanity connected the two? Not just the number of people of all races who would not die each year from cancer if we launched a war against cancer instead of against bodies of color who kill us in far lesser numbers. Not just the better prevention and treatment options doctors would have if we diverted to cancer care and research a portion of the
trillions of tax dollars we spend on cutting taxes for the rich, imprisoning people, bombing people, and putting troops in harm’s way.
What if we treated racism in the way we treat cancer? What has historically been effective at combatting racism is analogous to what has been effective at combatting cancer. I am talking about the treatment methods that gave me a chance at life, that give millions of cancer fighters and survivors like me, like you, like our loved ones, a chance at life. The treatment methods that gave millions of our relatives and friends and idols who did not survive cancer a chance at a few more days, months, years of life. What if humans connected the treatment plans?
Saturate the body politic with the chemotherapy or immunotherapy of antiracist policies that shrink the tumors of racial inequities, that kill undetectable cancer cells. Remove any remaining racist policies, the way surgeons remove the tumors. Ensure there are clear margins, meaning no cancer cells of inequity left in the body politic, only the healthy cells of equity. Encourage the consumption of healthy foods for thought and the regular exercising of antiracist ideas, to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence. Monitor the body politic closely, especially where the tumors of racial inequity previously existed. Detect and treat a recurrence early, before it can grow and threaten the body politic.
But before we can treat, we must believe. Believe all is not lost for you and me and our society. Believe in the possibility that we can strive to be antiracist from this day forward. Believe in the possibility that we can transform our societies to be antiracist from this day forward. Racist power is not godly. Racist policies are not indestructible. Racial inequities are not inevitable. Racist ideas are not natural to the human mind.
Race and racism are power constructs of the modern world. For roughly two hundred thousand years, before race and racism were constructed in the fifteenth century, humans saw color but did not group the colors into continental races, did not commonly attach negative and positive characteristics to those colors and rank the races to justify racial inequity, to reinforce racist power and policy. Racism is not even six hundred years old. It’s a cancer that we’ve caught early.
But racism is one of the fastest-spreading and most fatal cancers humanity has ever known. It is hard to find a place where its cancer cells are not dividing and multiplying. There is nothing I see in our world today, in our history, giving me hope that one day antiracists will win the fight, that one day the flag of antiracism will fly over a world of equity. What gives me hope is a simple truism. Once we lose hope, we are guaranteed to lose. But if we ignore the odds and fight to create an antiracist world, then we give humanity a chance to one day survive, a chance to live in communion, a chance to be forever free.
It was the people who kept asking the question that framed this book. People in audiences, in private conversations, in emails, on phone calls, on social media—the people urged me to write this book by asking again and again how they could be antiracist. I would like to first acknowledge and thank the people—the many people I know, and more I do not know—who trusted in me to deliver an answer.
I want to thank Ayesha Pande, my literary agent and friend, for encouraging the book idea when I relayed it to you in 2016. I am forever appreciative of your indelible confidence, support, and stewardship through this process from idea to book.
I would like to acknowledge Chris Jackson, my book editor, for your editorial wisdom and constructive vision. This book was quite difficult to wrap my head around and write—the chronological personal narrative interspersed with a series of connected chapter themes that build on each other like a stepladder to antiracism. And so I am filled with gratitude for your patience and clear-eyed conceptual tools that helped in this book’s construction. And to the whole One World squad: thank you, especially you, Nicole. I must also acknowledge all the great folks in production, sales, marketing, and publicity at Random House, especially my fellow Eagle, Maria. I know how crucial you are in getting these pages into hands, and I can’t thank you enough.
I could not have produced this book without the memories of its characters, especially my father, who has an almost perfect memory, and of course Ma, and Sadiqa, Kaila, Yaba, Clarence, and Weckea, another person whose memory is flawless. And so thank you. I could not have produced this book without the tremendous amount of scholarship and reporting on racism and antiracism. And so thank you to all those researchers and theorists and journalists of racism and antiracism.
I could not have produced this book without my health. And so thank you to all the medical providers who armed me during my cancer fight.
A horde of people throughout my life, knowingly and unknowingly, with good intentions and bad intentions, put up mirrors that forced me to self-reflect. I must thank all these people, many of whom are in this book. I want to express my gratitude to all those who assisted me during my journey through academia, from my professors, like Drs. Jackson, Asante, and Mazama, to my colleagues and mentors at colleges and universities where I was employed. I especially want to thank my colleagues at American University for your incredible support. There are too many people to name, but I want to acknowledge Sylvia, Mary, Teresa, Courtney, Fanta, Cheryl, Nancy, Camille, Peter, Christine, Jim, Jeff, Vicky, Eric, Max, Eric, Edwina, Theresa, Rebecca, Lily, Lisa, Kyle, Derrick, Keith, Kristie, Kelly, Rachel, Elizabeth, Alan, Jonathan, Gautham, Dan, and all my other colleagues in the Department of History and the School of International Service. I most especially would like to thank my friends and colleagues at the Antiracist Research and Policy Center, especially Christine, Christopher, Rachel, Amanda, Jordanna, Jessica, Derek, Garrett, Malini, and Kareem.
Thank you to all my friends and relatives, especially my brother, Akil, and my brother-in-law, Macharia. As you know, this book would have been impossible without you and your love. You know who you are. Thank you. Much love and respect.
Finally, I want to thank faith, my daughter, Imani. One day, you will learn how critical you were to the life of this book. And excuse me while I give another shout out to my rock, partner, and best friend, who has given so much to me and meant so much to me and humanity, Sadiqa.
“Laziness is a trait in Blacks”
John R. O’Donnell,
Trumped!: The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump—His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991). O’Donnell is the former president of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. In his memoir, he quoted Trump’s criticism of a Black accountant. Here is the full quote. “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day….I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.” Trump at first denied he said this, but later told a
reporter, “The stuff O’Donnell wrote about me is probably true.” See Mark Bowden, “The Art of the Donald: The Trumpster Stages the Comeback of a Lifetime,”
as mostly criminals and rapists
“ ‘Drug Dealers, Criminals, Rapists’: What Trump Thinks of Mexicans,” BBC, August 31, 2016, available at
“a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”
This came from a Trump campaign statement released on December 7, 2015. For the statement in full, see “ ‘Preventing Muslim Immigration’ Statement Disappears from Trump’s Campaign Site,”
May 8, 2017, available at
he routinely called his Black critics “stupid”
For a collection of his statements, see “Trump’s Insults Toward Black Reporters, Candidates Echo ‘Historic Playbooks’ Used Against African Americans, Critics Say,”
The Washington Post,
November 9, 2018,
“all have AIDS”
See “Out of Chaos, Trump Reshapes Immigration,”
The New York Times,
December 24, 2017.
“very fine people”
See “Trump Defends White-Nationalist Protesters: ‘Some Very Fine People on Both Sides,’ ”
August 15, 2017, available at
“that you have ever interviewed”
See “Trump Says ‘I’m Not a Racist’ and Denies ‘Shithole Countries’ Remark,”
The Washington Post,
January 14, 2018, available at
“you’ve ever met”
See “Donald Trump: I’m ‘the Least Racist Person,’ ” CNN, September 15, 2016, available at
“you’ve ever encountered”
See “Donald Trump: ‘I Am the Least Racist Person,’ ”
The Washington Post,
June 10, 2016, available at
Denial is the heartbeat of racism
For more on this idea, see Ibram X. Kendi, “The Heartbeat of Racism Is Denial,”
The New York Times,
January 13, 2018, available at
“ ‘Racist’ isn’t a descriptive word”
For Richard Spencer’s full quote, see “Who Is Richard Spencer?,”
November 26, 2014, available at
“Our Constitution is color-blind”
For Justice Harlan’s full dissent, see “Separate but Equal,” in
Great Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court
(New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2003), 46–58. For the specific quotes in this book, see 53.
Skinner was growing famous
For explanatory pieces on Skinner’s life and influence and role in Urbana ’70, see “The Unrepeatable Tom Skinner,”
September 12, 1994, available at
; and “A Prophet Out of Harlem,”
September 16, 1996, available at
third and fourth books
How Black Is the Gospel?
(Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970); and Tom Skinner,
Words of Revolution: A Call to Involvement in the Real Revolution
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970).
“The Black Aesthetic”
For the lessons Addison Gayle shared in this course, see his landmark book,
The Black Aesthetic
(Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971).
The Fire Next Time
(New York: Dial, 1963); Richard Wright,
(New York: Harper, 1940); Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones),
Dutchman and the Slave: Two Plays
(New York: William Morrow, 1964); and Sam Greeley,
The Spook Who Sat by the Door
(New York: Baron, 1969).
Soul Liberation launched into their popular anthem
For a remembrance of this evening with Soul Liberation playing and Tom Skinner preaching that is consistent with my parents’ memories, see Edward Gilbreath,
Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 66–69.
When the music ended, it was time
: Tom Skinner:
For the audio and text of Tom Skinner’s sermon at Urbana ’70 entitled “Racism and World Evangelism,” see
saved into Black liberation theology
For a good book on the philosophy of Black theology, see James H. Cone,
Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968–1998
(Boston: Beacon Press, 2000).
churchless church of the Black Power movement
For a good overview of Black Power, see Peniel E. Joseph,
Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America
(New York: Henry Holt, 2007).
Black Theology & Black Power
James H. Cone,
Black Theology & Black Power
(New York: Seabury, 1969).
A Black Theology of Liberation
James H. Cone,
A Black Theology of Liberation
(Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970).
71 percent of White families lived in owner-occupied homes
These figures can be found in Matthew Desmond, “Housing,”
Pathways: A Magazine on Poverty, Inequality, and Social Policy,
Special Issue 2017, 16–17, available at
. This essay is part of the Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality’s State of the Union 2017.
“You do not take a person who”
For a full video of President Johnson’s speech at Howard, see “Commencement Speech at Howard University, 6/4/65,” The LBJ Library, available at
“In order to get beyond racism”
For his full dissent, see Harry Blackmun, Dissenting Opinion,
Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 1978,
C-SPAN Landmark Cases, available at
See Ibram X. Kendi,
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
(New York: Nation Books, 2016).
“The blacks, whether originally a distinct race”
Notes on the State of Virginia
(Boston: Lilly and Wait, 1832), 150.
For the best book on the Great Migration, see Isabel Wilkerson,
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
(New York: Vintage Books, 2011).
non-White global south is being victimized
See “Climate Change Will Hit Poor Countries Hardest, Study Shows,”
September 27, 2013, available at
higher lead poisoning rates than Flint, Michigan
See “Reuters Finds 3,810 U.S. Areas with Lead Poisoning Double Flint’s,” Reuters, November 14, 2017, available at
Alzheimer’s, a disease more prevalent among African Americans
For an excellent essay on African Americans and Alzheimer’s, see “African Americans Are More Likely Than Whites to Develop Alzheimer’s. Why?,”
The Washington Post Magazine,
June 1, 2017, available at
3.5 additional years over Black lives
For a summary of this data, see “Life Expectancy Improves for Blacks, and the Racial Gap Is Closing, CDC Reports,”
The Washington Post,
May 2, 2017, available at
Black infants die at twice the rate of White infants
“Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis,”
The New York Times Magazine,
April 11, 2018, available at
African Americans are 25 percent more likely to die of cancer
For this disparity and other disparities in this paragraph, see “Examples of Cancer Health Disparities,” National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, available at
Breast cancer disproportionately kills
“Breast Cancer Disparities: Black Women More Likely Than White Women to Die from Breast Cancer in the US,” ABC News, October 16, 2018, available at
Three million African Americans and four million Latinx secured health insurance
Namrata Uberoi, Kenneth Finegold, and Emily Gee, “Health Insurance Coverage and the Affordable Care Act, 2010–2016,” ASPE Issue Brief, Department of Health & Human Services, March 3, 2016, available at
28.5 million Americans remained uninsured
“Since Obamacare Became Law, 20 Million More Americans Have Gained Health Insurance,”
November 15, 2018, available at
Racist voting policy has evolved
For three recent studies on voter suppression, see Carol Anderson,
One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy
(New York: Bloomsbury, 2018); Allan J. Lichtman,
The Embattled Vote in America: From the Founding to the Present
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018); and Ari Berman,
Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America
(New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015).
“target African Americans with almost surgical precision”
“The ‘Smoking Gun’ Proving North Carolina Republicans Tried to Disenfranchise Black Voters,”
The Washington Post,
July 29, 2016, available at
Wisconsin’s strict voter-ID law suppressed
“Wisconsin’s Voter-ID Law Suppressed 200,000 Votes in 2016 (Trump Won by 22,748),”
May 9, 2017, available at
“We have all been programmed”
Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” in
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
(Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1984), 115.
“We must put drug abuse on the run”
Ronald Reagan, “Remarks on Signing Executive Order 12368, Concerning Federal Drug Abuse Policy Functions,” in
Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1982
(Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982), 813.
American prison population to quadruple
See “Study Finds Big Increase in Black Men as Inmates Since 1980,”
The New York Times,
August 28, 2002, available at
more people were incarcerated for drug crimes
Jonathan Rothwell, “Drug Offenders in American Prisons: The Critical Distinction Between Stock and Flow,” Brookings, November 25, 2015, available at
White people are more likely than Black and Latinx people to sell drugs
“Busted: The War on Drugs Remains as Racist as Ever, Statistics Show,”
March 14, 2017, available at
Nonviolent Black drug offenders remain in prisons
U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics,
Compendium of Federal Justice Statistics, 2003,
112 (Table 7.16) (2003), available at
Black and Latinx people were still grossly overrepresented
“The Gap Between the Number of Blacks and Whites in Prison Is Shrinking,” Pew Research Center, January 12, 2018, available at
historian Elizabeth Hinton recounts
From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).
“the hard won gains of the civil rights movement”
James Forman Jr.,
Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America
(New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017), 126–27.
“remedy…is not as simple”
Eleanor Holmes Norton, “Restoring the Traditional Black Family,”
The New York Times,
June 2, 1985.
which were chopping the ladder
See “What Reagan Has Done to America,”
December 23, 1982, available at
The Reagan Revolution was just that
For a good overview of the racial and economic effects of Reagan’s policies, see Manning Marable,
Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction and Beyond in Black America, 1945–2006
(Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2007).
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness”
W.E.B. Du Bois,
The Souls of Black Folk
(New York: Penguin Books, 2018), 7.
“relic of barbarism”
the low social level of the mass of the race”:
“Do Americans ever stop to reflect”
W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Talented Tenth,” in
The Negro Problem: A Series of Articles by Representative American Negroes of To-Day
(New York: James Pott & Company, 1903). Full text of article available at
Trump’s descriptor for Latinx immigrants
See “Trump Ramps Up Rhetoric on Undocumented Immigrations: ‘These Aren’t People. These Are Animals,’ ”
May 16, 2018, available at
“I am apt to suspect the negroes”
See Andrew Valls, “ ‘A Lousy Empirical Scientist,’ Reconsidering Hume’s Racism,” in
Race and Racism in Modern Philosophy,
ed. Andrew Valls (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 128–29.
“It would be hazardous to affirm that”
Thomas Jefferson to Marquis de Chastellux, June 7, 1785, in The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy, available at
“history of the American Negro is the history of this strife”
The Souls of Black Folk,
“by white men for white men”
Senator Jefferson Davis, April 12, 1860, 37th Cong., 1st Sess.,
“become assimilated into American culture”
An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy
(New York: Harper, 1944), 929.