This is a must read! You think you know about racism, you think yourself intelligent, you think yourself on the "correct" side of social justice issues. But there is so much to untangle. I first heard of this book when the murder of George Floyd started the 2020 version of Black Lives Matter protests. Kendi was inerviewed on Brene' Brown's podcast. When they talked about either being a racist or antiracist, I was provoked. I am not a racist, but am I an antiracist? No, not at the time. If you don't do anything to fight racism, you are perpetuating racism. So if you really want to end racism, you have to actively take on the cause of antiracism. I appreciate what Kendi did because this book is not Just explanatory, it is a memoir, taking us through his journey, and how he dealt with racist beliefs that he held. For example, he writes about how he won a speech contest perpetuating racist ideas about the problems with Black youth. This is just one of many self-realizations he made. He weaves in personal stories with history and clear direction for policy. He makes you uncomfortable as he forced himself to face uncomfortable things about himself. One of the ideas that really struck me was in the chapter titled Failure, he writes about different tactics for change. "Suasion" purports to change minds as a presursor to changing policy, whereas changing policy puts all the effort into actual, tangible change. "An activist produces power and policy change, not mental change." This made me pause because I think of myself as doing my part, as a writer, and calling myself an activist. I will keep trying to do my part. I want to be an antiracist. This will be by my bedside for a long time, until I "get it" and breathe it in and out.
This book was a challenge - but in a good way. Novels can exercise your brain in ways that non-fiction books can't. They can take you unapologetically to realms away from reality, but then again make you wonder, could it be possible? In this case, you are taken on this journey with the main character, Hiram, through his story of how he became part of the Underground. Through his story, you see the cruelty of those who deemed it was okay to own other humans, but you also see how those who were owned (Tasked) can become superhuman in their resilience. Coates did so much in the telling of the story to make you go "huh?" (me anyways) so the reading becomes mental exercise. Why did he use terms like Tasked for slaves and Quality for the slaveowners.? It is so ironic that it's uncomfortable. There's still things I didn't get, like why was Hiram's heroic feat of "conduction" at the end, an act of resistance to the Underground station he was associated with? But, I appreciate the overall effect this book had on me - an experience of otherworldliness. I loved how, through his relationships with several strong women characters, (including Harriet Tubman), he became wiser and stronger.