“How to be an antiracist” author gives virtual talk

Kendi’s talk was scheduled for last spring, but postponed

More than 750 students tuned in for Kendi’s talk. Many gathered to watch with their home group.

Elizabeth Bell and

Ibram X. Kendi spoke virtually about the importance of being anti-racist to more than 750 members of the Washington and Lee University community on Aug. 30.

“It’s going to require every single one of us to challenge racist ideas that are all around us,” he said. “It’s not enough to be not racist. We have to be to be anti-racist because there’s really no sideline to this struggle.”

Kendi is a National Book Award-winning and New York Times best-selling author, a historian and scholar of race and discriminatory policy in America, and the founder of the Center for Anti-Racist Research at Boston University. 

The community-wide discussion held on Zoom was presented by the Office of Inclusion and Engagement, the Division of Student Affairs and the Rupert H. Johnson Jr. Program in Leadership and Integrity.


During orientation week, first-year students read and discussed a selection of articles by Kendi. 

During his talk, Kendi urged audience members to rethink their use of the term “racist” as a fixed category that defines who a person is.

“Whenever we’re supporting a policy that is leading to racial inequity, we’re being racist. It doesn’t matter who we are related to. It doesn’t matter who our friends are. It doesn’t matter what political party we are. It doesn’t matter even the color of our skin,” he said. “And so that’s why racists and anti-racist are essentially descriptive terms. They describe what we’re being, I should say, what we’re doing, what we’re saying, even what we’re not doing.”

During the Q&A session, one student asked about the challenges of being a Black student at a predominantly white institution and the feeling that it’s their job to bring awareness to the inequalities people of color face. 

“I don’t think that it is the responsibility of a Black students to bring awareness to the normality of black death in this country. It is the responsibility of all students. It’s the responsibility of faculty. It’s the responsibility of administrators,” he said. “You should not view it as your burden or your job alone. And you should encourage people to do the same thing if they’re striving to be anti-racist.”

To be anti-racist, a university should track racial data of its student body, faculty and administration, would not have racist admission policies, would have a curriculum that isn’t Eurocentric, and would “be a force for good” not just for research. 

Kendi also addressed recent calls for police reform during the Q&A session.  

Some activists are pushing for the police to be abolished, because of the American police’s history of being disproportionately violent towards Black people, dating back to the slave patrols. 

“In their mind, the only way to eliminate police violence is to eliminate the police because for them, they can’t disconnect police from violent police and from brutality,” Kendi said. “I think the way that people should be opposing it is it should be explaining a time in American history where indeed police were non-violent because that never really existed.”

Other activists argue that the police should be defunded and resources should be reallocated to bring down levels of unemployment and poverty, which could in turn reduce crime levels. 

“What is it going to look like? Well, it’s going to look like most of suburban America, where you have investments in the actual people, as opposed to investing in a militarized state to, quote, protect the people,” he said. 

Kendi urged students to realize that they have the power to demonstrate and speak out against racism. 

“You have the power to organize and join organizations that are challenging racist policies in your community, in your state and in your nation, he said. “We need to make sure we are active.”