By Carley Crain
What does it truly mean to be an antiracist?
Why should the phrase “I am not a racist” be eliminated from individual’s vocabularies?
On Thursday evening, over 1,000 members of the Springfield College community gathered virtually on Zoom to learn answers to these questions and others from #1 New York bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi.
Kendi is best known for his book “How to be an Antiracist,” which pushes readers to engage in active advocacy instead of just saying the phrase “I am not a racist.”
He emphasizes how there is a huge difference between saying “I am not a racist” and “I am an antiracist.” As he mentioned in his lecture, many people are not willing to put in the work because they believe racism ended hundreds of years ago, the problems we face in society today are not related to race, or they do want to be seen as a bad person when their actions are called racist when they are not explicitly showing hate.
“To do nothing in the face of any status quo is to allow that status quo to persist, which is why I urge people to actively be antiracist because if we are not being actively antiracist then we are being racist,” said Kendi.
Kendi was the keynote speaker for the annual Arts and Humanities Speaker Series, as well as being a part of the first “Day to Confront Racism.”
The lecture was a moderated conversation between Kendi and President Mary Beth Cooper. James O’Brien, the School of Arts and Sciences Interim Dean, and Student Trustee-Elect Sabrina Williams introduced Kendi at the beginning of his 45-minute lecture.
Kendi’s presentation was then followed by a question and answer session that was limited to a small group of students.
“We were honored to have Professor Kendi as our featured speaker for this year’s Arts & Humanities Speaker Series,” said Cooper. “Springfield College is committed to social justice for all, and Professor Kendi has shaped and changed the conversation around actively fighting racism.”
“I really enjoyed Ibram Kendi’s lecture. I definitely learned a lot about what it truly means to be an antiracist. His experiences as a Black man in America really opened my eyes to what the world is really like. I think it is great that the college keeps putting events like this on and I am happy that the school is putting a lot of effort towards creating a more inclusive and diverse campus environment,” said Springfield student Kenna Delong.
President Cooper and Kendi dove into several topics, ranging from Kendi’s childhood experiences to how the recent shootings in Boulder and Atlanta relate to white supremacy.
A central theme of his presentation was speaking about how race plays a role in current events that are happening in society today, as well as how people’s actions can make a change.
The way individuals are socialized from a young age shapes their opinions and views about race, which contributes to implicit bias. Kendi spoke about how many people are unaware or unwilling to learn about their implicit biases, which makes the conversations surrounding race rather difficult.
“In many ways, the American people are taught to fear the wrong things and to fear the wrong people,” said Kendi.
Kendi additionally took a deep dive into the systematic racism that is engrained and normalized in American society today. He spoke about his own personal experiences in the education system and the effects this had on his own mental health.
The pressure that he had to deal with, as do many BIPOC to be “extraordinary” and to never make any mistakes took a toll on his mental wellbeing from a very young age.
Intersectionality was another topic that Kendi was asked about and he expressed to the audience why the term is so important to understand.
He connected intersectionality to implicit bases that forms in early years, as well as how each and every person has privilege in some kind of way. Being able to connect different peoples struggles and understand how this affects their life chances is crucial when paving the path to equality.
“The more I was able to confront different types of ideas, the more I felt I was becoming fully human,” said Kendi. “I felt a connection to human beings because what happened is the more I saw myself in others as equal to me, the more I wanted to listen to them and hear their stories.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected each and every person in some type of way, but disproportionately BIPOC are catching the virus more and dying from it at higher rates compared to their white counterparts.
Kendi spoke about how the environments BIPOC live in often face more environmental problems that contribute to pre-existing conditions, which makes COVID-19 more of a threat for BIPOC.
Even the areas that BIPOC live in are targeted, and Kendi emphasizes how we have a say in how these disparities can change by becoming an active antiracist.
“Rather you are talking about health disparities, justice disparities, or educational disparities, there are racial disparities in our society today, ” said Kendi. “The question for us is actually quite similar to the question that every generation of every Americans has which is why do these disparities exist?”
Having Ibram X Kendi speak at Springfield once again showed the school’s commitment to sparking conversations about race, but the real question is how will these conversations lead to activism and community members becoming true antiracists?
Conversations and lectures are a step in the right direction, but there is much more work to be done, as the hope is Kendi’s presentation will soon spark some campus wide action.
Photo Courtesy of Springfield College