Ibram X. Kendi and Nic Stone in conversation with Damon Tweedy
| Rofhiwa Book Café in partnership with Quail Ridge Books | Feb. 1, 7 p.m. | Jones Auditorium, Raleigh
A little over a year after its release, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi became an international sensation. In the summer of 2020, protests broke out across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and Kendi became a household name in some wildly different circles. How to Be an Antiracist was Kendi’s third book, and it has since been adapted into a children’s book, a journal, and a parent’s guide to raising an antiracist.
For the newest version, Kendi handed the reins to Nic Stone, the New York Times best-selling author of several young adult novels, including Dear Martin. Stone took the structure of the original Antiracist and turned it around to tell Kendi his own stories. How to Be a Young Antiracist is written with an inviting second-person narration that follows Kendi through many of the early experiences he recounts in the original.
Stone also shares some of her experiences as a Black, queer woman, adding intersections to a young reader’s understanding of discrimination. Rofhiwa Book Café and Quail Ridge Books will host both Kendi and Stone on the fourth of 10 stops of their book launch tour for How to Be a Young Antiracist, which comes out on January 31 alongside the paperback edition of How to Be an Antiracist.
The event will be held at Meredith College’s Jones Auditorium, and the ticket price will include a copy of the book. Ahead of the event, INDY Week spoke to Kendi about the work and collaboration with.
INDY Week: I think the most obvious question, but one that people are going to need to know, is why are you versioning this book?
IBRAM X. KENDI: Well, I think, first and foremost, because even kids 12 and up are unfortunately being told that there’s something better or worse about them or wrong or right about them because of the color of their skin. Even young people are facing things like police violence, or houselessness, or disproportionate amounts of poverty. Teenagers can see and oftentimes experience racism, and so for them to have clarity about what racism is, and more importantly what they can do to challenge it, I think is important. I also think a large portion of the personal narrative is actually in some of the most critical moments was when I was a teenager. And I think that that’s going to be quite enchanting, particularly for teenagers.
Tell me about working with Nic Stone. The choice to put it in the second person was really interesting to me.
I’m just so excited to be able to work with Nic Stone, and what I was really excited to see was the way in which Nic Stone, I think through her own creativity and brilliance, was literally able to create an entirely new book. Like this is a completely different experience from it being in first person. The organization of the chapters is pretty radically different, [and] the voice, obviously.
Certainly this technically is an adaptation, but in many ways it’s a completely new book that’s rightly geared to teenagers.
I have to admit that I didn’t read the first version until after it had become so infamous in some circles, and I was shocked by how gentle it is. I love, especially in this young-adult version, how inclusive it is of everyone who’s trying to do any kind of this work. Were you surprised by how much attention the first version got?
We certainly wanted many people to be reading the book and reflecting on themselves and society, but I would have never imagined it would have become, like, a global best-seller and that people around the world would learn about what it means to be antiracist. It wasn’t even something I could necessarily dream of.
I have not spent a lot of time responding to the misrepresentations and misinformation surrounding How to Be an Antiracist. And part of the reason is because I feel that whoever takes the time to read the book, they’re going to see for themselves that that misinformation was false.
What have you heard from parents about how the earlier versions have helped them? What do you hope to hear about this version?
I think what I’ve heard from parents and even teachers is that it allowed them to become much more self-reflective. It allowed them to really begin to think about their own life, their own journey, how they came to believe what they do believe about different racial groups.
And similarly, I’m hoping the same thing happens for young people. Our young people, they are deeply introspective. And they obviously, in many cases, aren’t as sensitive as we are to being self-critical. So, I actually think in certain types of ways, our young people are much more open to understanding their world and understanding themselves, and that’s why I’m excited to get this book before them.
Are you heartened by the conversations we’re having now for high schoolers, middle schoolers, whoever, to be following along with these really serious conversations?
I am heartened that there are. For instance, Nic Stone is part of, really, a generation of YA authors of different backgrounds who are writing all different types of novels that are relevant to the experiences of so many of our young people. I think I am just excited about just this outpouring of literature in this moment by these incredible authors. We just did not have that when I was a kid, and certainly when I was in middle school, in high school.
Of course, the genesis of so many of these conversations is tragedy.
It is. And it is tragic, for instance, to know that there are kids like Adam Toledo, 12 years old in Chicago, and even Tamir Rice in Cleveland, who were killed as a result of the violence of racism. So, I think for us as caregivers, as people who love our children—whether it’s children who are being harmed by police violence or even our young, white, male young people who are being recruited online by white supremacists on multiplayer video games or through direct messages on social media—it’s critically important for us to expose them to this literature. So that they know that they’re not the problem.
I read in some older interviews that your daughter was six. Is she in first grade now?
She’s six, in first grade.
What do your conversations about race look like with her?
Mostly, when we are talking about race and racism, typically it happens in one or two areas. Either we’re reading a book on it, which allows us to have conversations, or something is happening in my life, or her mother’s life, or in society somewhere. And we see the effects of racism, and we show it to her, and we explain it to her, and we talk to her about it.
Sometimes she has questions. Sometimes she doesn’t. Or in other cases, my partner and I, we’re talking about something, and she’s actually more willing to ask questions because we didn’t initiate it. We always are trying to figure out ways to put her in a position that she becomes curious, because typically, there’ll be much more robust conversations.
How are you hoping her schools approach this going forward?
I’m hoping that her schools, and really the schools of all our children, realize that one of the most important things we must do for our children is to raise them to be antiracist and put literature in front of them that helps facilitate that goal. And what it means to be antiracist for a child is for them to be able to see all the different-looking people in their community and not see certain people as better or worse.
What it means for a young person is for them to begin to understand that there are bad rules in our society, not bad people. And what it means for our children is for them to understand the history of those rules and the history of this country and also for them to begin to understand that their culture is different than the cultures of other peoples. But that doesn’t make it better or worse. It’s just different and sort of generates a curiosity for the multiplicity of humanity.
We briefly talked about people who intentionally have misused your work. What about parents who mean well? Are there any concerns you have about how, especially, white parents could possibly misuse a book with the best of intentions here?
I do think we should not hand How to be a Young Antiracist to a child, to a young person, and then say to them, “This is all you need to read on the subject.” That’s one of the reasons why we pair How to Be a Young Antiracist with Stamped—if one is the backstory, one is the action plan. So, I think it’s better for parents to introduce the book as more of an introduction, and then students or young people will continue their reading on other subjects.
I’m excited about the fact that the paperback edition of How to Be an Antiracist is coming out on the same day. Because it gives parents and students and teachers the ability to reread, or read for the first time, the adult book when their child or their student is reading the younger book.
So when that student has questions, or when they want to have conversations, older people are more equipped to be able to do so. I think this is the type of book that is just going to spark conversations. And obviously, I think one of the things we tried to convey to young people through the book is that the most important thing, obviously, is asking the question.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Comment on this story at firstname.lastname@example.org.