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Washington, D.C. is no stranger to book talks and festivals. Based in nation’s capital, these events draw big crowds interested in broad themes. But now, a new festival debuts this weekend centered on antiracism.
As part of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, which holds the license for WAMU, the Antiracist Book Festival will focus on leading antiracist works and writers. We get a preview from the center’s director, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.
Produced by Ruth Tam
- Ibram X. Kendi Founding Director, Antiracist Research and Policy Center, American University; Author, "Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America"; @DrIbram
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast we look at how our region's gender policies when it comes to playing in local sports leagues and we'll ask transathletes and coaches how they navigate them.
KOJO NNAMDIBut first Washington D.C. is no stranger to book festivals and author interviews. These kinds of events tend to be pretty broad showcasing authors with recent titles. But this Saturday a new festival at American University, the first of its kind, will center specifically on the subject of antiracism. Joining us now for a preview is the National Antiracist Book Festival's Director, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. Dr. Kendi is also the Director of Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University and the author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Ibram X. Kendi, thank you so much for joining us.
IBRAM X. KENDIOh, thank you for having me on the show.
NNAMDIWe see a lot of writing on race and racism in America, but the word antiracist is less common. What distinguishes antiracist books and antiracist writing?
KENDISo I think first and foremost antiracist books recognize that there's nothing wrong or even inferior about people of color. So as a result that the disparities in our society, they typically examine and reveal racist policies or antiracists book show the sort of beautiful imperfections of people of color and they're not necessarily seeking to persuade away anyone's racist ideas. They're just trying to sort of show the stories of black people and other people as they are.
NNAMDISaturday's festival is focused specifically on anti-black racism. Why the focus on this particular manifestation of racism?
KENDIWell, I think when you think about the history of racism in the United States and even to a certain extent across the western world a lot of the racist ideas and policies that affected other groups of color were typically originated in anti-black racism. And so we felt as a foundation for this annual festival it would be good to focus on anti-black racism. But we're also focusing on the production of whiteness as well because, of course, those two played hand and hand.
NNAMDIBecause I've been seeing some comments recently from people who say, look, if you're referring to black people refer to black people. Do not refer to black people simply as people of color. We are a part of a larger group of people of color. But when you're referring to black people just say black people.
NNAMDIWho are some of the authors that will be at the festival on Saturday? Who are you looking forward to hearing from?
KENDISo, of course, I'm looking forward to hearing everyone, but, I mean, we're having, you know, two Pulitzer Prize winning authors in David Blight and Tyehimba Jess. We're having New York Times best sellers like Michael Eric Dyson and Jason Reynolds. We're having National Book Award finalists like Margaret Wilkerson Sexton. We're having DeRay is coming. Clint Smith is coming. I mean, we have just a towering lineup of best-selling and award winning authors, but not only that, authors who are as great speakers, you know, as they are writers.
NNAMDIThe festival is being hosted by American University's Antiracist Research and Policy Center. We should mention here that American University also holds the license to this station, WAMU. The center is in its second year. How did the center come about and what vision did you have for it when you first started?
KENDIWell, I think the vision was to first and foremost bring together teams of specialists that could reveal and really eradicate racist policies, but also figure out new and novel ways to engage people to sort of persuade and teach away their racist ideas that all of us have in many ways been fed. And so for this specific festival, this sort of bring together of some of the greatest writers of our time, who are really sort of trying to allow us to see the sort of equality of race, of racial groups, and even the problem of racism itself, we thought that that would be a great thing to do in terms of our mass education campaigns.
NNAMDIAnd how has it evolved since then in your view?
KENDISo I mean we, of course, like any sort of new center where we're building -- we're formulating our strategy, our vision, our mission. We are, you know, developing strategic partnerships in the D.C. area, you know, and abroad. And really sort of trying to figure out where we fit because there are many great organizations, who are tackling racial justice. And, of course, we want to be a partner with many of those organizations. And try to create an antiracist society.
NNAMDIOur guest is Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. He is Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University and author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. He is also the Director of this weekend's National Antiracist Book Festival. What books, articles, or writers do you recommend for a better understanding of racism and how to counter it? We asked listeners that question and Liberty tweeted, Invisible Man, The Color Purple, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Craig tweeted, The Souls of Black Folks, Invisible Man, Native Son. All well-known tomes.
NNAMDIThe night you presented the idea for the Antiracist and Policy Center, racist confederate flag posters were hung around campus with cotton attached to them. What kind of impact if any did that have on the opening of the center and on you?
KENDIWell, when you look at those forms of racist attacks sometimes they come about as a result of us making strides and us, you know, building things that actually could eradicate racism. And so I personally saw that as a marker of our success. And if anything it allowed me and others to recognize that, you know, as fast as we are running, we needed to run even faster in building this new Antiracist Research and Policy Center.
NNAMDIWhen confronted with a racist action or symbol, our first instinct -- those of us who are against it is to denounce it. How much of responding to racism has to do with denouncing the racist actions of others? Does that distract us? Does that sometimes tire us from the real work of antiracism?
KENDIWell, it depends on how we do it. And so if we denounce in a passing car and continue driving, we're sort of continuing sort of to drive towards and antiracist society. But if we denounce and stop and imagine that that is the struggle in it of itself, you know, then we'll never be able to dismantle racist power and policies. And so it really depends on the context of how we do it.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Maurine who says, first there's actually a podcast series that is how her perspective on racism has been affected. She says, First there's actually a podcast series, Thinking White, and the other is The History of White People by Nell Painter. I appreciate Painter's use of primary sources. Hard to argue America was not founded as an anti-black country when it's in the laws and in the founders' writings. And on now to Tony in Virginia who would like to recommend a book. Tony, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TONYYes, please. I forget the author's name, but the book I'm recommending is Honest Patriots and the reason I recommend it is the man takes sort of three nations as case studies as to how you might possibly approach the problem. Number one is Germany and their very honest soul-searching way of looking at how the Holocaust happened and how Nazism happened and teaching this to the next generation so that it doesn't happen in the future.
TONYThen the second part is South Africa with their Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Not quite as successful, but another thing that is something to think about. And the third test case is us, in the United States, and the fact that we've never really come to grips with our past against black people, against Native Americans. And sort of using these other two countries as an example or a template of how we might approach this problem in the future.
TONYSo I think it's one of the most important books I've ever read.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Ibram X. Kendi, South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, would that be an example of an antiracist activity?
KENDII think so. And I think it would certainly be more than what the United States has historically done. And when we think of -- even that book sort of Honest Patriots and what it sought to examine -- I mean, I think what's critical is we need policies that ensure the ideas and even the policies that have historically disenfranchised and disposed and impoverished black people and other racial groups are eradicated.
KENDIBut then also we need literature. We need literature that allows people to see other people as human. That allows people to understand the complicated nature of racism in this country, which is another reason why we were so excited to bring together these incredible authors, because that's precisely what they have done in their books and what they'll be seeking to do onstage on Saturday.
NNAMDIHere is Robin in Sussex County Delaware. Robin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBINHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I guess the first time that I became aware of -- an understanding of where my views on race were was the time when I had -- a grew up in a small town and there were very few people of color especially black folk in my town. And I had two friends that were African American and one was half black and half white. And unconsciously I had made jokes sort of at his expense and whether he laughed at them, took it in, or whether he genuinely thought they were funny, I'm not sure. And sort of everyone in our click had made these jokes. But then in another time, I made a joke with a different person of color and he obviously took it a different way.
ROBINAnd that's when I sort of came to realize that, while I didn't consider myself racist, there were obviously things that I wasn't quite aware of. And years later when I really came to reflect on the -- when I was in college, you know, I took lots of African American studies classes. And I got a degree in American studies. It's like, wow, like, why was I doing this? And really it was good reflection on myself.
NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you were able to share that story with us, because what Ibram X. Kendi and this weekend's Antiracist Book Festival are doing are trying to take views like yours one step farther. And that is just one thing to acknowledge being racist and acknowledge that racism exists and being opposed to it. But what you're talking about is extending this into policy, are you not?
KENDIPrecisely. And I think some of the writers who are coming to speak have really been able to sort of diagram precisely how we've gotten to this place. So to give an example, we have a panel on incarceration. And Elizabeth Hinton, Harvard Professor, is going to be speaking about the making of mass incarceration during the Johnson Administration and how that extended into the Nixon Administration showing precisely what policies led to the this epidemic
KENDIAnd she's going to be speaking with Jane Bauer who wrote a book called An American Prison in which he is as a journalist literally went undercover as a prison guard for a few months to document what he saw at a private prison in Louisiana and interspersed his story with the history of private prisons. And so, you know, -- and throughout that he, of course, not only talks about his own personal experience, but even the policies that led to the development of private prisons particularly with the current administration, the redevelopment of it.
KENDIAnd so, you know, these policies, we have to understand what policies are driving racial inequity in order to be able to transform them. But we also have to be able to understand how and why black people are just as human as other people. You know, in all their imperfections and beauty and ugliness too to quote Langston Hughes -- and so some of our other writers have also been doing that with their literature.
NNAMDIThe National Antiracist Book Festival will take place Saturday April 27 at American University's Washington School of Law. You can find a link to that event where you can still purchase tickets to individual author talks at our website kojoshow.org. Ibram X. Kendi, thank you so much for joining us.
KENDIOh, thank you so much, Kojo.
NNAMDIDr. Ibram X. Kendi is the Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. He is author of the book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll look at how our region's gender policies affect local sports leagues. And we'll ask transathletes and coaches how they navigate those leagues. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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