Ibram X. Kendi Interview

WASHINGTON, US – SEPTEMBER 26: American University professor Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, stands for a portrait at the School of International Service following a panel discussion on his new book How to Be an Antiracist in Washington, DC. Kendis discussion spoke on strategies to identify and overcome racism on September 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Michael A. McCoy/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Ibram Xolani Kendi is the New York Times best-selling author of How to Be an Antiracist, How to Be a (Young) Antiracist and Antiracist Baby, as well as a professor, antiracist activist, and historian of race and discriminatory policy in America. In July 2020, he founded the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, where he serves as its director. Dr. Kendi was included in Time‘s 100 Most Influential People of 2020. Dr. Kendi met with IndyKids reporters during our recent Summer Camp to discuss the antiracist undertones of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech and how we can all work to become truly antiracist.

Esteban: Our school curriculum is becoming more censored. Do you think kids should be taught the truth about slavery in school?

Dr. Kendi: Yes, [because] it’s hard to understand American history without understanding slavery. And, of course, MLK’s speech was one of the most pivotal speeches in American history. And so, of course, it’s something that we should all learn and understand.

Alya: If MLK was alive today, do you think he would be up for antiracist education?

Dr. Kendi: I think so. He actually spoke about the importance of everyone learning about antiracist history. I remember a speech he gave in 1967 in which he complained about how, when people read books, or when people look in the media, they are taught to associate negativity with everything Black. He talked about how racist that was, and talked about how we should receive an education where we’re taught that we shouldn’t be associating negativity or positivity to any racial group, because we’re all equals. And so I think he would be saying that today.

Gibran: Why do you think schools are becoming more segregated?

Dr. Kendi: I think schools are becoming more segregated because adults want them to be more segregated. And I think adults want them to be more segregated because, unfortunately, many adults hold racist ideas and think that a school that is integrated is somehow less of a school. That is not [true]. And so I think that’s why I spend so much time trying to encourage adults to understand that when our kids are going to schools where they are able to learn from and befriend people of different skin colors and backgrounds, that it’s better for them, and it’s better for their experience. And the data and the studies and the research show that.

Luca: How do you feel about the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action within prestigious colleges? And how does this go against MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech?

Dr. Kendi: Well, MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech spoke quite a bit about racism and about racist rules and about how they were providing certain advantages or disadvantages for different people based on their skin color. And unfortunately, there are many admissions factors that still exist that give preferential treatment to wealthier students, or even white students. And those admissions factors, like legacy — which means if your parent went to a college, it’s easier for you to get in — and others are still on the books. And so, I think King would have a serious problem with that. Either we’re going to create a truly fair admissions process, or we’re not. We shouldn’t just be doing away with the admissions factors that help people of color; we should be ensuring that our emissions factors are fair.

Hudson (Youth Mentor): You’ve written books about antiracism, and actually coined the term “antiracist.” Could you talk a little bit about what that means in terms of day-to-day lives of young people?

Dr. Kendi: I think that there are two ways we can understand it in terms of our everyday lives. To be antiracist is to not judge another person based on their skin color, [meaning] you don’t know anything about them just by looking at them. [Still there are] kids who think that someone who’s darker is meaner. And so, to be antiracist is for kids not to do that, but for a kid to get to know a person as opposed to thinking that they know them because of their skin color. 

I think to be an antiracist kid is to also recognize, when [they] look at our society, [the] inequality [that exists]. So, if in your particular neighborhood people who are poor are more likely to be darker, that doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with those darker people. That means there’s something wrong with the rules in the community that’s impoverishing them. And so it’s just this constant, like, not thinking there’s anything wrong with people, and constantly looking for the rules that are actually what’s bad.

IndyKids: As young reporters, is there anything else that you would like to share with them as well about the importance of their role?

Dr. Kendi: I think it is important. I actually started out studying journalism in college, and I think the beauty of being a reporter is being almost like a microphone for everyday people. [You are] allowing other people to speak through your work and through your journalism, particularly people whose voices are not always heard. I think that’s one of the things that’s most powerful about journalism, as well as finding out those bad rules as opposed to people continuing to look down upon certain groups of people.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *