An Evening with Ibram X. Kendi and Imani Perry

The Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania hosted 2019 Guggenheim Fellow and New York Times Best Selling Author Ibram X. Kendi with Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. Moderated by historian and writer, Keisha N. Blain, Ph.D., the two authors elaborate on what it means to be anti-racist & parenting black children in an unjust society.

Ibram X. Kendi is the author of the acclaimed How to be an Anti-Racist in which he drives home the concept of antiracism; it is not enough to not be racist. Ibram points to racist policy, not just people, as the vehicle by which racist beliefs about intellect, equity, work ethic, and relationships spread.

As he read from his book, he asks, "How may of us would agree with this statement: racist isn't a descriptive term; it's a pejorative word. It's the equivalent of saying, I don't like you.... What's the problem of being not racist? It is a claim the signifies neutrality. I am not a racist, neither am I aggressively against racism. But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of racist isn't not racist, it is anti-racist. What's the difference? One endorses either the idea of racial hierarchy as a racist or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people as a racist or locates the roots of problems in power and policy as an anti-racist."

Imani Perry is the author of Breathe: A Letter to My Sons. Breath is her sixth book, one she describes as her most intimate. As she read from it to a captive audience, Imani laments on how black boys are not seen as people. As she read further, she describes a mother's love, using as an example Sojourner Truth's legal victory that resulted in the return of her her son who was illegally sold to a slave holder in Alabama.

After both authors read excerpts from their books, the moderator-lead event guided the discussion into the circumstances and events that lead Ibram and Imani to write their books. Both also addressed the topic of "double consciousness" - what it means to be African and American. The discussion also included the authors thoughts on how education influences ideas about race, identity, and upward mobility.

Ibram drew parallels to addressing racism with his testimony about his cancer diagnosis, acceptance, and treatment. It was a powerful example of local and systemic surgery to racism with of anti-racist policies. As a mother of a teenage son, Imani's quote from her mother was one I could identify with: "You raise black children as though the world were free, but also to know that it's not."

The evening with Ibram X. Kendi and Imani Perry was charged with forward-thinking progressive ideas apply towards eradicating racism and teaching our children how to live and love in spite of racism. If you ever have the opportunity to hear them speak, I encourage you to attend.

Both, How to be an Anti-racist and Breathe: A Letter to My Sons can be purchased here.


You can hear the full discussion by clicking the video below.

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