An interview with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
The Children’s Book Review
In this episode, I talk with the incredible Dr. Ibram X. Kendi about his nonfiction book for caregivers, How to Raise an Antiracist.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University and the founding director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research. He is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News racial justice contributor. He is the host of the new action podcast Be Antiracist.
Dr. Kendi is the author of many highly acclaimed books, including Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, making him the youngest-ever winner of that award. He has also produced five straight #1 New York Times bestsellers, including How to Be an Antiracist, Antiracist Baby, and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, co-authored by Jason Reynolds.
In 2020, Time magazine named Dr. Kendi one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He was awarded a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship, popularly known as the Genius Grant.
Listen to the Interview
Read the Interview
Bianca Schulze: Welcome to The Growing Readers Podcast, Dr. Kendi. I am so honored to have you on the show today.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Oh, it’s a pleasure to be on the show. Thank you for having me.
Bianca Schulze: So, we could focus on any of your previously released books, your new releases, or your upcoming books for kids like Goodnight Racism or Magnolia Flower with that stunning artwork by Love is Wise or Antiracist Baby. But it felt to me that the best way to honor all of your books—and emphasize the importance of reading your children’s books to kids—is to focus on some of the themes from a book you wrote for caregivers, which is How to Raise an Antiracist.
So, I love to read books where I can walk away with some personal growth when I’m done with it. And How to Raise an Antiracist was 100% such a book for me. So, I thought maybe a great starting place would be to begin by establishing an understanding of the term antiracist. And I’m hoping you’ll speak to the difference between maybe proclaiming as being not racist or antiracist.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Sure. Well, I think to be antiracist is to recognize the racial groups as equals and to also recognize if there are racial disparities between these racialized groups in our communities, in our nation. Then it’s not because there’s something better or worse, superior or inferior about a particular racial group—the cause of those disparities are racist policies and practices. And to be antiracist is to contribute in our own small way to seeking to abolish those racist policies and practices and creating equitable policies and practices for us all.
And unfortunately, we are not necessarily raised to recognize the racial groups as equals, and we’re also raised to believe that we are not racist. So typically, when people say a racist idea or support a racist policy and someone else points it out, the typical response that we have is, no, no, I’m not racist, so I can’t be racist. But to be antiracist is actually to acknowledge the times in which we’re being racist, not necessarily thinking of the term racist or even antiracist as these fixed categories. These aren’t terms that describe who we are. They describe what we’re being in any given moment. They are almost like peelable name tags. And so, we have to acknowledge when we’re being racist so we can stop and be antiracist.
Bianca Schulze: Okay, I want to read a passage with a question that you posed in the introduction of how to raise an antiracist. To quote: “We imagine our kids can’t be racist, so why teach them about a problem they can’t possibly have? We worry that in any event, racist ideas are too sophisticated for kids to understand.”
And further along, you mentioned a parent’s tendency to want to shield their children. But there are surely plenty of parents who wish to have antiracist discussions with their children. But maybe the discomfort is holding them back or the fear of explaining it wrong and making mistakes. So, talk to us about why we should discuss racism without kids and why we shouldn’t shield them from difficult conversations.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Well, I think it is important to first acknowledge that it is difficult and it is uncomfortable. And there are certain things; if we just think about it more broadly, there are certain topics we are comfortable engaging with our children and other topics that we’re not. I can still remember the day when my parents came into my room and told me that my grandma had passed away. I can only imagine how unbelievably hard and uncomfortable it was for my parents to tell me that, to engage me in conversation. So, there are a whole host of things that is uncomfortable for us to do, but we also, as parents and teachers, recognize its vital importance
And I think as it relates to the issue of race and racism, it is vitally important. And it is vitally important because, unfortunately, we live in a dangerously racist society. And what that means is our kids, if they’re a child of color, chances are they’re being told that there’s something wrong with them because of their skin color or hair texture. And if they’re a white child, chances are there’s messages saying to them that there’s something right about them because of their skin color—and we have to protect them from that. We have to protect them, so they realize that there’s nothing right or wrong about them because of their skin color because of their racial group. They’re special because they’re nice, but they’re not special because they’re white. And I think unless we as caregivers teach them this, who else is going to teach it to them?
Bianca Schulze: Yes. So, what about the argument of colorblindness, as in the statement that many people use and say, I don’t see color.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: If you, as a caregiver, do not see color, I don’t have to even argue necessarily with whether you see color because studies show your child sees color, right? And studies show as early as three years old; our kids are making connection between skin color and behavior. Like, we have studies that show about three years old, our kids are imagining that people with darker skin are not as nice or not as clean as kids with other skin color. And so, our kids are seeing color and our kids are very clear in that viewpoint, and we have to ensure that when they see color, they don’t attach those skin colors to positive or negative qualities.
Bianca Schulze: So, something I loved while reading How to Raise an Antiracist was the many suggestions to read diverse books with kids as a way to work toward raising antiracist children and, even greater than that, an antiracist society. So, in some ways, your book felt like it was a love letter to so many beautiful children’s books because I’ve read, I think, almost every single book you suggested, and the recommendations were incredible. So, will you share your thoughts on the importance of reading books about people of color created by people of color?
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Well, first, I’m a book person, and I not only read, of course, adult books but being the father of a six-year-old girl, of course, I’m constantly reading books to her. So, I just have the beautiful opportunity to read a whole host of children’s books, particularly picture books, in the last two years.
I just think it is difficult for us as caregivers it’s difficult for me to have a conversation with my daughter about the challenges that a girl would face on her first day wearing a hijab. It’s difficult for me in the abstract to have a conversation with my daughter about what it feels like when people are constantly asking you where you’re from. It’s difficult for me to have a conversation with my daughter in the abstract about how kids who have differently shaped eyes are being told that there’s something wrong with them. But if I have a book that tells the story, it opens the door for that child to understand what that other person is experiencing and potentially ask questions. It just opens the door to learning.
And particularly learning about situations that I can’t necessarily simulate for my daughter. Because she’s a black girl, she’s not a girl who’s going to wear her hijab. She’s not an Asian girl. She’s not an immigrant girl. But she can read books on children like that and begin to understand their life story so that she doesn’t participate or even hold ideas about them that other Americans do. And I think it’s just important for us to learn about other people from those other people’s perspectives. And the way we do that is through reading books by authors of color.
Bianca Schulze: I feel like with everything that’s going on in the world, it would be impossible for me not to address the long-standing and severe issue of banning books in schools across the country. It seems completely insane to me that in a country founded on so many freedoms, for example, the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights provides several rights protections, including to express ideas through speech and press. And the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms and books, which are an expression of speech. And the people who write them are continually under attack. So, since you’re an author with and tell me if I’m wrong, I think you have five titles on banned book lists. Can you explain why you believe banning books is a significant problem?
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Where do we even begin? Because when you talk to teachers. When you talk to parents. When you talk to educators. When you talk to people who love children or love humanity. If you were to ask them: What is something that kids, that young people, that even older people need to be able to navigate the world? To be able to understand themselves. To be able to understand other people. Probably the first thing that people will say are books. They’re one of the treasures of our society that everyone has access to.
For me to imagine that of all the things in this country that there’s political campaigns to ban, we’re banning books. It just really goes to show where this nation has been dragged by people who are committed to building an authoritarian republic, nestles and injustice and violence and racism and sexism and homophobia. Because when you start banning books, anything is possible.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. So, what about the criticism in the sense of banning books? We often hear the criticism that talking about and reading books about slavery can make white kids feel bad. What do you say to that criticism?
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: So that criticism is based on this idea that if we were to teach white children about slavery, we would only teach about white people as enslavers. But last I checked, white people were abolitionists too. And so, a child would be like, those enslavers hopefully were wrong, and those abolitionists were right, and they will be able to see themselves in those white abolitionists. They won’t feel bad. If anything, they would feel bad about the lingering effects of slavery today. But they’re not going to feel bad because they’re white—because they’ll see that people like them are on both sides of that struggle.
Bianca Schulze: Before we move on from this topic, you wrote a passage in How to Raise an Antiracist—and I just loved it so much that— I have three kids. My oldest is in 11th grade. And we were sitting side by side reading different books, and I had to stop and I had to read her this quote. And what was really funny is I often will be like, oh, Maya, you have to hear me out here. Listen to this. And she’ll be like, yeah, mom. And I read this quote, and she was like, Wait, read that again. So, I felt like I wanted to share it here. You said:
“The smartest student is not the student who is the most literate or who knows the most. The smartest student has the greatest desire to know all the facts and perspectives of human life and of the world. As educator and philosopher PauloFreire states: Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other. The more our children know, the stronger their foundation to question injustice and unfairness and to protect their own minds from propagandistic lies. Few lies about human life are more dangerous than racist ideas.”
It certainly stopped me in my tracks. So, thank you for writing such a sort of thought-provoking. I can’t express how much I want every caregiver to read this. And when you say caregiver, who do you include in that caregiving role?
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Old African American proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. And to me, everyone who is in that village is a caregiver of the child from, not only the parent but also the neighbor. Not only the neighbor but the coach, the librarian, the teacher, the cousin, the aunt, the grandmother, even the person who’s walking by on the street. Our children, as people know, they’re like sponges. And so, the smallest interaction, the quickest interaction with a person one time, can have an impact on them. And so, all of us who work in any small or large way or who are engaging with children, we’re all caregivers.
Bianca Schulze: All right? So, since we’ve touched on the importance of reading a diverse selection of books with kids and sharing those moments between caregiver and child, what or who would you say beyond what you’ve already mentioned drives you and guides you in creating books for children?
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: I think that what guides me is trying to meet children sort of where they are, and the people who are reading the children’s books sort of where they are. I want the book to be the ideas in the book to be accessible and understandable. What sort of moves me—inspires me—is that, in many ways, our children are still clear. Our children still have a sense of right and wrong. And right is indeed right, and wrong is indeed wrong. Our children still have a sense of fairness and what’s fair and unfair. Our children still have a belief that the world can be transformed, radically transformed. And so, for me, being able to engage with people who have such a clear sense of justice and injustice, of the potential for transformation, is what sort of inspires me to write books for children.
Bianca Schulze: I’d also be curious in general because I imagine you’re a pretty busy guy; you’re heading up a lot of research. I see you on the news, and you’re writing a lot of books. I mean, you have a bunch more for kids coming out between now and even next year. So, what’s one thing you do in your day-to-day practices that you think would be the most surprising to listeners?
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: Let’s see. It would be most surprising. I watch sports: baseball or basketball, football in particular. I typically have to answer emails while I’m watching sports. But yeah, I mean, I’m a big sports person, and so I think that’s one thing that may be surprising to some people.
Bianca Schulze: Well, Dr. Kendi, before we go, what impact do you hope How to Raise an Antiracist has on readers?
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: I really do hope that for caregivers, particularly teachers and parents, whether their child is 17 years old or eight years old, or they’re thinking about having children one day, that this book will be useful to them and could lead to creating an antiracist sort of environment to nurture their children, which then could nurture a whole new generation of people who are being antiracist. And chances are, if the parent is nurturing the child to be antiracist and the child comes of age, chances are they’re going to do the same with their children. I think that’s what most excites me about the potential for How to Raise an Antiracist.
Because, in many ways, it was personal for me. I felt like I needed such a book in order to know how I should raise my child and not in a sort of anecdotal sense, but particularly based on research and scholarship and science and so being able to provide that to parents in an accessible way. I also try to make the book as a quick read as possible because if there’s anything, we are busy. I think that’s what really excites me the most.
Bianca Schulze: On that note, thank you so much for being on the show today. I am so honored. And more importantly, thank you for your work and dedication in encouraging us all to step up and raise the next generation of critical and antiracist thinkers. Thank you, Dr. Kendi.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi: You’re welcome. Thank you. I really appreciate it.
About the Book
Written by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
Adult NonFiction | 288 Pages
Publisher: One World | ISBN-13: 9780593242537
Publisher’s Book Summary: A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
The book that every parent, caregiver, and teacher needs to raise the next generation of antiracist thinkers, from the author of How to Be an Antiracist and recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Grant.
“Kendi’s latest . . . combines his personal experience as a parent with his scholarly expertise in showing how racism affects every step of a child’s life. . . . Like all his books, this one is accessible to everyone regardless of race or class.”—Los Angeles Times (Book Club Pick)
The tragedies and reckonings around racism that are rocking the country have created a specific crisis for parents, educators, and other caregivers: How do we talk to our children about racism? How do we teach children to be antiracist? How are kids at different ages experiencing race? How are racist structures impacting children? How can we inspire our children to avoid our mistakes, to be better, to make the world better?
These are the questions Ibram X. Kendi found himself avoiding as he anticipated the birth of his first child. Like most parents or parents-to-be, he felt the reflex to not talk to his child about racism, which he feared would stain her innocence and steal away her joy. But research and experience changed his mind, and he realized that raising his child to be antiracist would actually protect his child, and preserve her innocence and joy. He realized that teaching students about the reality of racism and the myth of race provides a protective education in our diverse and unequal world. He realized that building antiracist societies safeguards all children from the harms of racism.
Following the accessible genre of his internationally bestselling How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi combines a century of scientific research with a vulnerable and compelling personal narrative of his own journey as a parent and as a child in school. The chapters follow the stages of child development from pregnancy to toddler to schoolkid to teenager. It is never too early or late to start raising young people to be antiracist.
Buy the Book
You can visit Dr. Ibram X. Kendi at www.ibramxkendi.com.
- About How to Raise an Antiracist
- Establishing an understanding of the term antiracist
- Why we shouldn’t shield children from the difficult conversation of racism
- Thoughts on colorblindness
- The importance of reading books about people of color created by people of color
- Banned books and why banning books is a significant problem
- How children motivate and inspire Dr. Kendi to write books
Thank you for listening to the Growing Readers Podcast episode: Dr. Ibram X. Kendi Discusses How to Raise an Antiracist. For the latest episodes from The Growing Readers Podcast, Follow Now on Spotify. For similar books and articles, you can check out all of our content tagged with Diversity Ibram X. Kendi, and Non-Fiction.