How To Be An Antiracist Discussion Guide
Read & gather to talk about antiracism and Ibram X. Kendi's revelatory book.
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  • Check out your library copy of How to Be an Antiracist.  Bud has a large collection of the physical books, and unlimited digital and audio copies available on loan.
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Conversation Starter

As your One Book Steamboat discussion group convenes, introduce yourselves and acknowledge that Bud Werner Library and our community conversations stand on the traditional homeland of the Ute people. The Yampa Valley and its springs have been a site of trade, travel, hunting, gathering and healing for Ute peoples for millennia. We also acknowledge other indigenous nations native to Colorado, who are known to have traveled through this region, include the Apache, Comanche and  Shoshone.

In How to Be an Antiracist, we learn a lot about Ibram X. Kendi's family and his own positionality. Among other things, Kendi states he is "one generation removed from picking cotton for pocket change... outside Savannah." Introduce yourself and your own positionality; what are you "one generation removed from"?

Discuss How to Be an Antiracist*

Chapters 1 4: Definitions:  Dueling Consciousness, Power  & Biology

  1. What is the difference between someone who is "not racist" and someone who is "antiracist," according to Kendi's definitions?
  2. Kendi has already stated unequivocally in the book's Intro that pretending to be colorblind is actually "...a mask to hide racism." He expands on this in Chapter 3 (page 38), by saying it is  " ... the privilege of being inherently normal, standard, and legal" that allows some whites to not have to think about race, to dismiss or deny racism, etc.  Similarly, in Chapter 4 (page 54), Kendi says the "post-racial strategy" of insisting there is only one race (i.e., the human race) is misguided and "harmful." Without pushing back or fighting against these statements, explain what is meant by privilege and explain Kendi's perspective.  

Chapters 5 8: Ethnicity, Body, Culture & Behavior

  1. In Chapters 5 and 6, Kendi introduces the terms racialized ethnic groups and racialized bodies. Explain what is meant by these terms, as well as how these forms of racism manifest. Thinking beyond the examples Kendi offers, identify an  example of ethnic racism or bodily racism that you can think of from recent years. 
  2. In Chapter 7, Kendi explores how African American culture (cultural practices, fashion, language, music, and more) is seen by "culturally racist scholars," sociologists and apologists, and contrasts that with how he describes the experience of being a young Black male navigating "on the Ave." How can we explain these differences in perspective, using the lenses of power and cultural racism?
  3. Kendi connects in Chapter 8 the development of IQ tests and standardized tests with the 19th century eugenics movement, and states "... because we're talking about featureless, objective numbers, no one would ever think that racism could have played a role." Had you ever thought of standardized tests in this way before?  What is the difference between the achievement gap and the opportunity gap, as Kendi describes, and how might this impact how we interpret a student's performance on standardized tests?

Chapters 9 12: Color, White, Black & Class

  1. Chapter 9 addresses colorism, or racist ideas and policies that lead to inequities between light- and dark-skinned people. Kendi unpacks his own struggles with colorism, from his honey contact lenses to his pledge to date only dark-skinned women. In Chapter 11, he exposes racism from Blacks directed at other Blacks as a means of debunking the saying that "Black people can't be racist." Address one of the following: Explain Kendi's ultimate position on how to be an antiracist in regard to standards of beauty. Kendi gives numerous examples of Black on Black racism in Chapter 11. Which one of the scenarios surprised you the most, and why?
  2. In Chapter 10, Kendi states that "...ordinary white people benefit from racist policies, though not nearly as much as racist power, and not nearly as much as they could from an equitable society."  Identify a racist policy or racist power that "ordinary white people" like us benefit from. How might that policy or power be changed to be more equitable and more antiracist?
  3. As described in Chapter 12, what is the " intersection" of race and class, and how does this intersection disproportionately and negatively impact people of color?

Chapters 13 16: Space, Gender, Sexuality & Failure

  1. What is depicted in this mural called When Tillage Begins? In what ways does the artwork connect with the themes of Chapter 13?
  2. In his quick summary in Chapter 14 of Black women's movements, Black feminism,  and gendered racism, Kendi credits Philomena Essed as defining gendered racism, and briefly introduces Kimberlé Crenshaw's highly influential concept of intersectionality. In becoming an antiracist, why is it useful to recognize the various -isms that intersect with and compound the effects of racism? Why is the intersection with gender particularly important? Kendi mentions 20 women by name in the space of two short pages, plus refers to unnamed "Black queer activists" (whose names are also known: Marsha P. Johnson and Stormé DeLarverie, to name two, plus Sylvia Rivera, to name a Puerto Rican-Venezuelan), all on pages 187-188.  Of the women and achievements mentioned, whose works would you most like to read more about, and why? Do you think that Kendi has given "enough space" to the topics of gender and sexuality? Why or why not?
  3. Throughout the book, Kendi gives numerous teaching and learning examples. In Chapter 15, he credits queer Black feminists with challenging him to address and overcome his own homophobia. He writes: "It is best to challenge ourselves by dragging ourselves before people who intimidate us with their brilliance and constructive criticism. ...I wanted to run away. They did not let me run away, and I am grateful now because of it."  Earlier in the book, Kendi provides the example of meeting with the Ghanaian student to address racist misconceptions, drawing him in to conversation instead of pushing him away. In Chapter 16 Kendi states the "...failure of opening closed-minded consumers of racist ideas" should not be blamed on the closed-minded person but on "...our own foolish decision to waste time reviving closed minds from the dead."
  4. These are all teaching and learning examples. In what ways can we apply these examples to holding ourselves and others productively accountable for understanding, addressing, and overcoming biases and intersecting oppressions? Give examples.

Chapters 17 & 18: Success, Survival & Wrap-Up

  1. In Chapter 17, Kendi introduces the framework by Toure and Hamilton of overt racism and covert racism. Explain how these two are differentiated. Why are they both important, and why do you think Kendi focuses more on covert racism in both Chapters 17 and 18?
  2. We have now read the entire book. What were your own biggest take-aways from the book, and why?
  3. As you reflect on antiracism and what you learned from this book, do you feel moved to take action? Why or why not? If not, what support do you need to be able to take action? What concrete steps can you take to work with others within your organization to identify the antiracism needs of your organization and/or community?

All participants are encouraged to review the Ground Rules for Discussion as they embark on this conversation.

*These questions and conversation starters are adopted from the thoughtful librarians leading the Library Book Discussion Series at the Iowa State University Library.

One Book Steamboat

This guide is designed to enhance learning and discussion during the 2020 ONE BOOK STEAMBOAT cross-generational community reading of the antiracist works of Ibram X. Kendi, because change demands community-wide education, introspection & action.