I grew up in the almost entirely white suburbs of 1980’s Bethesda, Maryland thinking of myself and my world as 100% not racist. It’s hard to notice what’s missing: for example pretty much any black or brown people anywhere I went except on vacation, in spite of the fact that we were right next to Washington DC. At some point in middle school I learned that my Jewish dad had been unwelcome at the most popular local country club, and so chosen another, less popular one that admitted Jews at the time. But this seemed like a weird anomaly, and boo hoo about not getting your first choice of country club anyway, right?
Then, at 16, I had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Anacostia, DC and was astonished to find it wasn’t the “war zone” I’d been told it was throughout the Reagan years. To see people walking calmly to the grocery store or chatting on the corner. No guns. No open air drug markets, whatever those were. Racism, gender bias, economic elitism—they’re not anomalies. They’re cultural, economic, political, psychological. But as Paul Simon—a favorite songwriter of mine who some see as the poster boy for cultural appropriation once wrote: “well, breakdowns come and breakdowns go, so, what are you gonna do about it? That’s what I’d like to know.”
My guest today is Ibram X Kendi. he’s been working on these problems for a long time, and he’s developed some powerful ideas and methods for solving them. Ibram won the National Book award, he’s the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in Washington DC, and he’s the author of the important new book How to be an Anti-Racist.
Surprise conversation starters in this episode:
A read excerpt from MINDF*CK: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America, by Christopher Wylie