October 8, 2020
Author, professor, and historian Ibram X Kendi joins Jameela this week to discuss what it currently feels like to be a black man in America, his journey of discovering his own racism, why it is so important to vote, his continual growth in better supporting black women and black trans people, and why he still has hope. Be Antiracist, a workbook for readers as they continue their ongoing work to be antiracist is available now.
27 — Ibram X Kendi
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of “I Weigh” with the Jameela Jamil. Are you okay? Are you all right? I don’t know if I am because this is getting nuts and there’s so much going on in the news cycle and so many terrifying things are being snuck in. We’re seeing more stuff about pro-life. I think Donald Trump this week tweeted like “Pro-life, vote”! If you are pro-life, then you will vote for the people that want to help the lives of those already living. And so I feel very strongly about the fact that we accept that pro-life doesn’t just apply to fetuses, it applies to immigrants. It applies to those who need health care. It applies to trans people. It applies to black people, people of color. That is what pro life actually means. I feel like a lot of what we hear is pro-birth. And, you know, we covered this a lot last week on Gloria Steinem’s episode, which was so remarkable. And thank you so much for the ways in which you’ve reached out. I really love the fact that you guys enjoyed it. And you also enjoyed hearing two very outspoken and firm feminists disagree with each other very kindly and respectfully, but still, you know, never necessarily backing down. I think we need more of that discourse and more of proof that women are capable of disagreement without it being like a bitchy catfight or anyone crying or ending up in a 15 year grudge. Big love to Gloria Steinem for everything that she told us last week. But I just, having just gone through with that episode and then seeing what’s happening in the news cycle this week is just bananas to me. Anyway. So that’s fucked. Be very careful about not listening to people who were saying that you shouldn’t vote, you should vote. I understand that the previous system is so far from perfect, but at least it’s a system. If we don’t vote now, there will be potentially no system as of November 3rd. I’m not supposed to be political, but I think we have to be political. We cannot stay out of these things. And even though I cannot vote in America, I, I beg of you to vote for me. Please just go out and vote. Even if we don’t share the same political beliefs, just please go out and vote and make sure that you are voting for the lives of the living people who are here. And remember that the first things that will be attacked is trans rights, or the rights of those who have disabilities or people who are vulnerable when it comes to their health. Women, reproductive rights and, and all people of color. So just really think about it. And don’t listen to the online chit chat that’s become much trendier lately of the people who quote Karl Marx and they say, you know, there’s no point, like we shouldn’t have to pick between the lesser of two evils. We do have to pick. This time, we really have to pick between the lesser of two evils. So I’m just urging you to participate and make the most of what potentially could be our last right to vote and make a decision. I, myself, had a, had a bit of a wild week. I got to speak at Congress. That was really, honestly, one of the more exceptional moments of my entire life. And I was campaigning against weight stigma in schools. So for kids to not have to grow up and end up with all of the toxic messaging that we have ended up with and a bit more kind of social media literacy in schools, that was, was a really big deal for me, and I can’t stress enough that I wouldn’t be able to do something like that without all of you. So a massive thank you to those of you who support me and who support “I Weigh”, because without all of the noise that you make behind or with or alongside me or over me, I wouldn’t be able to push the buttons that I’m able to push and be involved in the change that I’m able to be involved in. And so, again, I just want to remind you of your tremendous power. The power of your involvement, your engagement, your voting, the power of you really throwing your whole weight behind something that you care about. You’re so effective and magical. And look how far “I Weigh” has been able to come in the last two years. It’s, it’s bananas how, how lucky we have been to be able to have such an extraordinary community of such, of such fierce followers and listeners and fellow fighters. So big love to you. We also got nominated for a People’s Choice Award, which is really sweet for this podcast. So if you like it, you can vote for us. But obviously, that’s not the most important thing I want you to vote for this month. So if you got time after you vote for the other thing, you could maybe vote for the People’s Choice Award. Anyway, I know that that’s a somber start to the day. But there’s a lot of shit going on and I don’t want to gloss over it as if it doesn’t matter because nothing has ever mattered more than some of these things this week. And I just can’t help but want to consistently thank you and remind you of how powerful you are. And even if sometimes you feel like one small individual, you’re not. You’re part of a massive army of tremendous change. And so few things that are good would happen without all of you. So with all of this going on in my mind and going on in the world, I wanted someone smarter and better than me to come on and talk to me about this and, and plenty of other things that I just simply don’t know enough about yet. I asked Professor Ibram Kendi, who is a wonderful speaker and writer and, and organizer, to come onto the show to talk to me about voter suppression, about the importance of voting, about why young people have been disenfranchised or they’ve been demotivated from, from actually participating in a system that that could potentially protect their, their democracy. And we talk about what it’s like to be a black man in America. And also, one of the things that I find the most interesting about his work is his approach, which is unlike one I’ve seen that has reached the mainstream the way it has, because this man is just a ultimate New York Times bestseller. His book, “How to Be an Antiracist”, just keeps rising up and down, up and down, all the way up to the top and has become a very, like, massive part of our, our nationwide discussion. But he talks about racism as a transient thing. He talks about it as something that you are diagnosed with, that you have to cure. He believes you can cure racism. He believes that because he considers himself to be a reformed racist. He, he talks about his own past as an anti-black, young, black man. And because he himself has gone through the journey of reform and registered actually that you can educate yourself, you can change and you can fight on the right side. He now believes that anyone is capable of that shift and of that change. And the reason I think that is so important is because we have become more afraid of being called racist than of racism itself. Because our ego is hurt or because we are terrified that it is a tattoo, it’s an identity forever, like we’re this terrible monster forever. We, we shut down any kind of conversation around it. And we also interrupt our own ability to be self reflective. And that is so dangerous. We, all, all human beings are capable of some sort of bias. All human beings are just a product of their environment, and ignorance and evil are not always the same thing. We all are capable of progress and change. And I think his way of looking at bias as something that is transient, something that is a disease to be cured, that then you can be free from and in remission from forever is actually hopeful. It’s actually progressive. It says that there is value in doing the work and that you can genuinely change on the inside and become a good person. So I hope you enjoy what he has to say. I really think you should read his work. I am also excited to share that he’s publishing a journal called “Be Antiracist”, which is on sale this week that’ll help serve as a workbook for readers as they continue the ongoing everyday work of striving to be Antiracist. I really like this man. I really support the way in which he speaks. I see the way that he has to take on so much criticism, and he does it with such grace and thoughtfulness and understanding. We also talk about that a little bit in this episode, but I’m dying to hear what you think. And if ever there was a time where we have to lean into this conversation, it’s now. So please enjoy the excellent, Professor Ibram Kendi. Dr. Ibram Kendi, thank you so much for taking the time out of maybe one of the busiest years of your entire life to speak to me today. How are you?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:08:54] Oh, well, thank you for having me. It has been intense, to say the least.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:08:59] Yeah, I, I truly can’t imagine. I want to briefly, but not in a gross, crass way, just congratulate you on the immense success of your book, “How to Be an Antiracist” and how prevalent it has become this year and within our culture and how much your rhetoric and just generally your work have, has kind of penetrated our generation. And so thank you for that. But also a mild congratulations. And yet at the same time, a complete horror that it’s necessary in 2020. I can’t imagine the mixed feelings of that.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:09:37] That’s precisely what it is. It’s certainly mixed. I mean, you do of course, you, I write books for people to read them and take them seriously and they’ll also hopefully transform themselves. But at the same time, knowing that, that some people and not many people have been ushered towards my books and other books, you know, because of the sort of murders of people this year, you know, certainly that, that makes it sort of bitter.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:10:10] Mmhmm. I am. Before I get into talking about your tremendous work and all the things that you have coming up next year that kind of continues it. I just wanted to ask you, what it feels like right now to be a black man in America. What does that feel like? I’ve heard all of the kind of, I’ve heard so many intellectual things said on Twitter by every-, by so many different people. But I think that the thing that we forget once we get into kind of critical race theory, etc., and, you know, all these things that I’ve heard you speak about so eloquently is how the fuck do you feel right now?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:10:52] I think to be black, to be a black man in America. And just like a black woman and conscious of anti-, of racism, is to know that you can be murdered at any point. Is to be, is to know that you can be blamed for your, for someone else murdering you. You know, is to know that you won’t be, or in many cases you won’t be protected by the state. You know, that even policymakers and powerful people will stomp on your grave and use you to, to advance their political careers. You know, it’s to know that really, you live in a country that, that, and you live among many people who, who can care less about you.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:11:42] And you and I have spoken before. And you were telling me that, you know, there’s a, there’s, you grow up with the stigma of watching people make a presumption of you just by looking at your face and you see, you know, women or people cross the road when you are behind them at night. And I, I cannot imagine how that feels. But I am very, very, I’m very sorry to know that’s a part of an existence that you’ve lived in. And I’m excited for your children to not grow up in a similar world.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:12:15] And that’s the hope. I mean, because, you know, I know that from many racist Americans when they see me, they see danger. And, and, you know, and so, you know, how does it feel to be in danger embodied when you certainly are not dangerous? It is certainly difficult. And so I think some black men go out of their way to make sure that people don’t feel scared sort of around them. You know, I don’t. I just try to go about my day and be who I’m going to be. And if I’m walking down the street or even running down the street and then someone gets scared, then that’s their problem, not mine.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:13:05] Yeah. Can you just explain what it is to be an Antiracist? What is an Antiracist?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:13:13] To be Antiracist is to believe there’s nothing wrong with any of the racial groups. There’s nothing wrong with black people. There’s nothing wrong with, with LatinX people. There’s nothing wrong with Native or Asian. There’s really nothing wrong with these groups of people, just like there’s nothing right about white people. And, and to be Antiracist is to then look out at our society of all these racial disparities. You know, black people are more likely to be in prison or they are more likely to be impoverished or LatinX people are more likely to be infected with with COVID-19 than white people. And since the cause of it is not because there is something wrong with these people. You know, that the cause is, is, is racist policy. There’s something about our conditions, our society, you know, our governing structure that is leading to these injustices, and to be Antiracist to be aware of that and to fight that, to create, you know, equality and justice for all.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:14:22] When you and I were first gonna sit down and have this conversation, it was like April and the world was not at all aware of the concept of anti-racism, whereas I feel like now, thank God, it has become a much more mainstream part of our conversation to the point where I mean, you now have very powerful idiots saying that it should not be a part of our, you know, kind of, I don’t know, social curriculum to talk about anti-racism. But one of the things that I find so interesting about your work is, is that you introduce your work and the journey of becoming an Antiracist via talking about your own previous history of racism, of anti blackness. And while I know you’ve probably spoken about it a thousand times, I do think it’s a very interesting thing for people to hear about, because the way in which you have discussed this subject and the way in which you have described racism as a diagnosis rather than a tattoo and described it as something that you can rid from yourself, you can remove from who you are rather then, then be kind of like forever doomed to be this terrible, awful, disgusting thing. You can, you can treat the disease of racism. I think, I think you having been someone yourself who went through that journey, is, is incredibly helpful. And so would you tell me a bit about that, about being a young man who, who was anti-black?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:16:00] Yeah, I came of age in the 1980s and especially the 1990s. And if there was ever a decade in American history where black youth were considered “the problem”, the American problem, it was the 1990s. That’s when black youths were called a menace to society. That’s why we had a, you know, there was a famous movie called “Menace to Society”. That’s when black youth were considered super predators. That’s when black youth were, were told, particularly black girls, that they were having too many babies because they wanted to get more welfare. That’s when, you know, black youth were told, we were told our hip hop was making us hypersexual and violent. That’s when black youth were told we didn’t value education. And, and essentially all of these ideas were essentially creating this extremely toxic environment for any black young person to grow up in. And, and, and not only toxic, you know, as far as, you know, a sort of specificity of refusing to recognize all of the policy that we’re ensnaring black youth, instead people were blaming the sort of victims of those policies. But even the toxicity in which, you know, in many ways, some of us, namely me, ended up believing some of those ideas, that there was something wrong with black youth. In other words, you waded us in a toxic environment, we’re going to get sick too.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:17:34] Yeah. And you mentioned that your parents as well were worried that you would be the kind of, the wrong kind of black youth.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:17:41] Well yeah, I mean, my, you know, I think my parents, like other people who moved from working class or even poverty into the black middle class in the 1980s. Some of those black middle income people imagine that they had moved into the black middle class because they worked so hard and they were so brilliant and those other, you know, still writhing black people in poverty, it’s because they hadn’t worked as hard. And so that they would, again, something wrong with black poor people. And so, you know, and so, you know, I needed to sort of, so, you know, by the time I graduated high school, I had consumed all the idea of anti-blackness. And I, you know, expressed many of them in a senior, in a speech I gave as a senior in high school at a MLK competition. That really, and that’s where the book really began, “How to Be An Antiracist”, with that speech. And it really begins there and ends up really tracking my journey to really heal myself, you know, of these, this form of anti-blackness. But again, I wasn’t born that way. I was raised in a toxic environment, an environment of anti-blackness. And, and I ended up sort of becoming diseased, and I had to spend the rest of my life really seeking to, to heal myself from that. You know, at the same time that the nation and the environment stayed toxic. And I think that’s what made it hard. That’s why it’s hard to be Antiracist. That’s why it’s easy to be racist in this racist society.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:19:20] How did you begin the journey? What was your wakeup call for recognizing that you had been polluted by false, just lies about your people? As if they are a monolith even, and as if they are this dangerous thing that they’ve been demonized as.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:19:40] What’s striking is really it started 20 years ago, almost to the day. 20 years ago, almost to the day, I was a, I was a freshman in college and I was in Tallahassee, Florida. And for those who may, may re-, may not remember, that, of course, that was during a presidential election. And many people knew that the election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was going to come down to who won Florida. And, you know, after, and I should say on Election Day and certainly days after, again, I was thinking there was something wrong with, with, with black people. But, but I was struck by all these stories that I heard from other students at Florida A&M, and certainly what was happening to their parents back home, because many of those students were from Florida, from Florida, you know, communities, about how their votes were being spoiled, about how their votes were being suppressed. And, and so for me, it became undeniable, voter suppression and how widespread it was in the 2000 election. And it became undeniable that racism was a problem. And so I think for me, you know, experiencing the 2000 election and the, you know, incredible number of black people whose votes were suppressed and of course, ultimately George W. Bush winning the state by a few hundred votes. And ultimately, the presidency was really the beginning of my journey.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:21:17] Christ, I can’t believe we’re still here. Oh, fuck. That’s so terr-, like, just the parallels are so terrifying. So what was your first step?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:21:31] I think my first step was seeing, at least for me, it was seeing that, that racism, but I think ultimately, it, that my sort of steps were really coming to grips with what racism truly is.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:21:49] What it is?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:21:49] And I think. When I, what I mean by that is how we’re defining it. Right? And so I ended up, you know, I didn’t really know that I was defining it then, but, but ultimately, the way we can define racism is, is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequities and are substantiated by, by racist ideas. And I think in order for us to become aware of racism, we have to know what racism is. Right? In order for us to become aware of anything, we have to know what it is first. Right? And so really, for many of us, that’s why the book was anchored in so many definitions. Clear definition so people can understand, you know, what different aspects of racism truly is.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:22:37] And I suppose, I imagine like having seen it leave your body and leave your psyche made you more hopeful that other people, including people who are not black, would be capable of also distancing themselves from those nonsenses that you yourself once held.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:22:56] Yeah. And I think that’s another reason, I think, why people have gravitated to, to, to my book, you know, and others like it is, is that it’s one thing for us, for people to try to get them themselves to believe that, I need to stop believing that there is something wrong with black people.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:23:21] Yeah.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:23:21] It, you know, it’s another thing for us to teach people the affirmative of what they should be believed. So, you know, as opposed to being like, you know, stop believing in racial hierarchy. We should be encouraging people to start believing that the racial groups are equals. And, because what that, that is going to literally, it’s a completely different perspective that not only do you drive in the, drive out the previous idea, but you bring in a new perspective that then can guard against the toxicity that we talked about.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:24:04] I see so many people engaging in frustrating discourse with you lately. Am I? Is it fair for me to say that? I find you so reasonable. I find you so highly thoughtful and reasonable, and I’m sure no human on this earth is perfect or appeals to absolutely everyone. But, you know, I follow you closely on Twitter and I’ve seen you sort of just lately to sort of stop responding as much because people have been in a way that I have very much so relate to myself. But interestingly, even people from within your own community, I’ve noticed, have taken issue with your work. And I don’t understand why. What, what would you say is behind this? Because I’ve just found it so con-, just confusing and exhausting to watch, because, from where I am standing as an outsider, it just seems to me that you are doing such good and progressive and helpful work. Where do you think this negativity has been coming from?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:25:08] Well, I mean, when you talk about sort of the far right and particularly far right white Americans who are, and even, you, you have their approach to anti-racism, historically, has been to discredit and destroy those who are articulating, you know, an Antiracist perspective and to figure out ways to, to do so typically by completely misrepresenting what the person is saying and then sort of parroting that out and then challenging that. So, you know, that’s to be expected. You certainly have many black conservatives who have really tried, let me say, black conservatives who for decades have been saying these are all the things that are inferior about black people. These are all the things that are wrong with black people.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:26:11] Yeah, they like to bring up the statistic that, like most black men, are killed by other black men in America, etc. And then they never, they always, this is the thing that frustrates me. I’m not, I’m not denying whatever statistics they may perhaps bring forward, but with statistics to, to not use context is so wholly irresponsible and just feels quite unacademic to not bring up the systemic inequity, the living conditions, the ways in which people are being pushed into corners by white supremacists and by the government and by social structures to not acknowledge that when, when discussing these statistics, because, you know, it will confirm that there is a racial bias in this country, just feel so irresponsible.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:27:00] Well, I mean, I think for, for folks on the right. I mean, you know, they’re going to use statistics to substantiate their idea that there’s something wrong with black people as opposed to the policies that they’re supporting. Right? And, you know, and so continuing, I mean, you know, like I said, when you have, you know, black conservatives who for years have been trafficking an anti-blackness. When I stand up and say, well, actually, you’re being racist too. When other people are saying they can’t be racist because they’re black. They’re not going to like me. They actually prefer the perspective that they can’t be racist because they know white supremacists, in particular, view them as having more credibility within that type of intellectual environment where apparently black people can’t be racist and all black people are experts on racism.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:27:59] Yeah.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:27:59] But when you discredit that, it undermines their positionality. And so they’re very upset at me. Then you also have many people who haven’t read my book, but they’ve heard, you know, someone else say something about it. And so they, you know, if you don’t really read the book, I can see how people can think all types of things, you know, about it. And I’ve actually, so for some, I’m not going to respond to somebody who’s critical, you know, of my book that they haven’t read. I’m just not going to, you know, I’m just not going to do that. And so I think those have been the three biggest sort of groups that have been the most sort of angry. And, and obviously, I think among those who have actually taken the time to really, you know, read the book or open, been open, you know, I suspect they may not think that my work is perfect. No one, no one’s is, but they know, or they can see how it can be certainly helpful.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:29:07] Yeah. You said on Twitter recently, we should take it as a compliment when people attack us personally or when they misrepresent what we say because, or our work, because that means that they can’t challenge what we are actually saying or writing or meaning or doing. And you advise people to take the compliment with grace and move on. And that, that tweet went really viral because I think it resonated with a lot of people, especially those of us who are out here in this space risking our careers and our reputation and not sleeping, and not spending time with our families and consistently fighting for equality and then just being sort of like nitpicked to death by people who are deliberately misunderstanding everything that we say. And it is something that I, it’s something that I frequently, I frequently deal with. Nowhere near as much as I have support, and I also like, I, I hate it when people do this. So please know that while I’m talking about some backlash that Professor Kendi is receiving, it’s, it’s nothing compared to the mass support and like growth and progress of his work. It’s just something that I would like to bring up. Same thing with me. I have mass support and progress, but these things are frustrating to sometimes have to waste your time with. And it’s not to say that people can’t criticize because they, they should. And they must. And they can. And they will. But lately, and I’d love to know how you feel about this, attacking me when you’re on the same side as me and deliberately taking me out of context or, or deliberately insinuating you understand my intention when I’m writing and therefore you cannot infer my tone, feels like low hanging fruit rather than actually organizing against the Proud boys or against people who are taking away reproductive rights or who are actively trying to harm people from different ethnic backgrounds. For me, I sometimes, I sometimes feel confused by people taking the energy to pile on to, to quote, retweet, to signal boost something that they have projected a meaning on to that necessary, didn’t necessarily exist rather than attack those who are explicitly and defiantly trying to take the rights away of others. Do you know what I mean?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:31:24] I really do. The other day I saw that, you know, Ava DuVernay tweeted, after Trump was diagnosed with COVID that she, she, she, she, she said, you know, she, she wished him to get well. But then she also spoke about all of the atrocities that he’s brought to sort of the world. And, and so someone sort of attacked her by saying, are you insane? How could you wish the person well, who was, you know, behind, you know, what happened to the, to the Central Park Five? And, and, you know, and, you know, of course, Ava with responded with grace and said that, you know, she’s not going to wish death on anyone, you know, that’s how she’s been taught. And I mentioned that, you know, because, you know, for somebody to, I could see right, there, there have been people who, you know, simply would just wish the president well. Right? And then that’s it. But for somebody who, to wish them well, human being to human being, and then to critique him and say, but these are all the horrible things that you’ve done.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:32:51] Yeah.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:32:52] And I want to make mention to that. And for, for a person to decide to attack her as opposed to the people just wishing him well.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:32:59] Yeah.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:32:59] I think is a perfect sort of example of where people are sort of standing and, and I think also that, you know, to your point. In academia, there’s this sort of term called “the armchair intellectual”.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:33:20] OK.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:33:20] Which is, which is essentially like, you know, someone who critiques everybody, critiques movement, critiques organizers, critiques everyone from their chairs, doesn’t ever go out into the street and organize or challenge power in any sort of direct way. And they are able to imagine themselves as deeply progressive and radical. Why? Because they’re actually not doing anything that can be critiqued in their mind. Right? And I mention this because, you know, fundamental, it’s just like, you know, it’s one thing, a critic who’s written a book, to critic someone else’s book. It’s another thing for somebody to just sit back, refuse to produce anything, and then critique all the folks who are producing. And so that’s why for me, I, I want people, and I want to encourage people to be on the side of organizing. To be on the side of producing, to be on the side of creating, to be on the side of directly challenging power and not really just sitting in their homes on their Twitter feed and critiquing those folks who are actually organizing and producing and creating, and who are challenging power. We need you with us.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:34:45] Yeah. Share that energy for those, share the energy for those who we are all in opposition of, right?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:34:50] Precisely.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:34:51] Yeah, it’s, Ava’s been in a lot of hot water in the last week. She said last week that if we, I don’t, I’m paraphrasing horribly. But she said that, you know, if we don’t vote, then in some respect we will deserve the kind of fascist country that we live with. And people were very upset. I’ve noticed like a huge uprising of young people talking about the fact that we shouldn’t have to, and by the way, I, please know that I understand the emotion behind this, that we shouldn’t be stuck with a bipartisan system and we shouldn’t have to choose between the lesser of two evils, etc. But I really think that this is a vital time to not allow this to be the moment that you give up on the hope of democracy. And I wonder what you think about that. And I understand where Ava was coming from. She just wants someone who will not even denounce white supremacy in a presidential debate out, at any cost, regardless of who the alternative is. She received a lot of heat over that by people who just feel like they’ve lost faith in the system whatsoever. And they, they think the system was broken beforehand and indeed, it was. But anything surely has to be better than this, right? I mean, what do you think?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:35:59] So-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:36:01] As a Brit who isn’t from here, it’s not my place to say. It’s just what I think. And so I’m asking you.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:36:07] Yeah. So I think part of the, I think one of the things I think we need to recognize, you know, people would say something like, well, I just, you know, that system is broken, and so therefore, you know, I’m not going to participate in that broken system. And, you know, how dare you encourage me to participate in that broken system? The problem is that, that is, the premise of that is fundamentally flawed. Everyone needs to realize that you are actually participating in the system, so there’s no leaving the system. There’s no stepping outside of the system, meaning-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:37:05] You’re suppressing your own vote.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:37:07] Well, I mean, I was going to say that, whether you vote or don’t vote, that’s going to have an impact. And so it’s not as if, for instance, if you say, you know what? You know, those two teams are playing this game. And, you know, I’m not going to contribute or participate, you know, in the game. And so I’m going to go home. That’s actually not the way it actually works. What happens is you’re still going to be in the game. Even if you choose not to dribble the ball, you’re still on the court. Meaning whether you vote or don’t vote, it’s going to have an impact on the outcome. And that’s one of the things I think it’s important for people to realize, so I could see is a person was like, you know what? I recognize that by not voting if I was, you now, let’s say if I was to vote, I would vote for a particular candidate. And I recognized by not voting that the other candidate is more likely to win and, and there, and so I am choosing and I’m OK with that. And then you give your reasons sort of why, you know, that, that’s a demonstration of you have a consciousness that, that what you’re actually doing is going to actually have an impact. But when you create this scenario in which no, I’m just not participating in this broken system, that’s actually, you’re actually participating by not participating.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:38:40] Mmhmm.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:38:40] Right? And so it’s, I just want people to have a clear understanding of that. And have a clear understanding of how power sort of operates, you know, in this country. And I think oftentimes, you know, people do not.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:38:57] I also think that he is deliberately created so much doubt as to the fact that whether or not you vote, will it even matter. Will he even take it into account? Will he even leave if voted out? And I think he’s done that deliberately to further kind of allow people to think, well, there’s no point. And he’s done that on purpose. That’s, the exact thing he wants you to think is there’s no point. And so by buying into that, you’re, you’re playing the game. You are very much so participating in the system because you’re doing, you’re following their exact hope for a guideline.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:39:32] And let me just say, I think for many people who imagine themselves as radical and I say that, who imagine themselves as radical. I think what Ava spoke to is, in fact, they’re deeply conservative. In other words, what they actually do or don’t do conserve fascism. And so I think, you know, we need to really, you know, I think one of the things that I’ve been trying to encourage people to think about, particularly in the realm of being racist or Antiracist, is, is for them to think about what they’re saying and what they’re doing and what the impact of that is. That’s not, not how I identify. Not what I sort of, you know, who I feel I’m connected to. Fundamentally, what is the impact of this decision? Is it going to lead to inequity or equity? Is it going to me to justice or injustice? And I think that if people would have that perspective and this isn’t really, you know, necessarily about voting, this is, you know, in general, because to me, you also have folks who vote but don’t do anything else. Right? They, you know, they, they only vote. But then they despise those young people who don’t vote, but who demonstrate. Like when demonstrations are part of the political process. And so they imagine that they’re superior to that young person who doesn’t vote who, but who does, you know, engage in political activism. When that’s a, you know, it’s a different form of political engagement. I wish that people would be both. Right?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:10] Yeah.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:41:11] And not sort of look down or disregard others because there are many different forms of political engagement that we need to be focused on. And certainly just voting and just leaving, and then leaving your power in the voting booth is certainly not something that we should be advocating for.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:29] There’ll be no civil rights whatsoever in this country had people only chosen that. And so you’re right. I think you’re right in that it’s important to do both and not look down on one or the other because both are vital. We need to kind of set the system for justice up and then secure it with the vote. So use the protesting and use the demonstrations to set it up and then secure it. I think that’s the fairest way of looking at this. And I think you’re right that no one should really be judging anyone. We should all just be scrapping in together and helping to make sure that we don’t. I mean, it’s just, it’s unimaginable what’s gonna happen. You know?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:42:06] Yeah, but, but one thing I would say is, that is absolutely sort of critical. I wrote an essay earlier this year on the ways in which young people, in particular, are facing all sorts of voter suppression policies.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:42:26] Will you break that down for me as an English person?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:42:29] Oh, so you know, for instance, so young people, in particular, are facing all sorts of voter suppression policies. To give an example, because the United States does not have a uniform voter registration system that’s nationwide. If you are a person who, you know, let’s say every two years you move, then you have to get reregistered in a new state, who has a different registration process. And, and young people are more likely to move than older people. So therefore, they’re more likely to have to, you know, register in new states. If, if you are a young person who does most of your business online and you can’t vote online, then yet again, because the United States refused to allow people to, to vote online. To me, that’s another way in which the youth vote is being suppressed. So for me, I’m not, I think it’s important to encourage, you know, people to be politically active in many different ways. But I think it’s even more important to ensure that it’s easy for people to vote. And I think that we can spend much more effective time making it easier for, for, for every single American, particularly young people and particularly young people of color who are really the primary victims of voter suppression, you know, to be able to vote.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:44:03] 100 percent. Woo. It’s gonna be a wild, wild ride, isn’t it? I wanted to also say that, I, not on behalf of anyone, obviously, that would be insane. But I also have been really glad to see that within your work around anti-racism and calling out the injustices of the, I mean, the legal system of this country, the justice system, as it’s called, I quote unquote, “justice”. But also the way that police officers treat black people in America is very rare. It’s unfortunately still not common enough that we see a cis straight man come out and also keep reminding people of the fact that black women are still not receiving justice and trans women. I haven’t seen as many people as I would love to come out and make sure that we are reminded of the violence against not just black men. And I, I appreciate you for that work. Have you always been mindful to include those two groups within your work when speaking out?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:45:14] Oh, no. I mean, I, in many ways, I had to learn that. I, I, I remember entering into graduate school in African-American studies and in many ways, my graduate student community. Two of those sort of more influential sort of voices were these, these two students, Yaba Blay and Kaila Story, who went on to become incredible intellectuals and they were simply not going to allow black women to be demonized or to be removed from the center. And certainly the same thing about, you know, queer, queer black people and certainly transgender folks. And so, you know, for me and if anyone, you know, came to an event or during a, you know, you know, a lecture or during our conference. You know, whenever a sort of, a form of patriarchy or homophobia showed up, they showed up to challenge.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:46:27] Mmhmm.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:46:27] And in many ways it was really, you know, their challenge to my sexism and homophobia, was, was just critical in me beginning that sort of process and certainly I voraciously read many of the black feminist and queer writers that they cited when they would, you know, and, and I’ve been sort of continuing to sort of read and try to over, try to, trying to sort of overcome this ingrained patriarchy and transphobia and, and certainly homophobia. And I think it’s going to be a process and it remains a process for me.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:47:09] I am, no, I respect you for like for admitting to that. But then again, it was kind of consistent with your body of work, of just calling out your own, like diagnosing your own things that you need to unlearn because of our society. Do you get pushback when you are supporting black trans people who are being also murdered by the police or, you know, being disenfranchised and marginalized?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:47:31] Oh, yeah. I mean, there’s, I, and I, I, you know, I’ve certainly gotten pushback from, from black men who think I spend too much time speaking out against racism that’s affecting, you know, black women or black transgender-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:47:50] Wow.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:47:51] Women and, and so, you know, I’m, I’m really getting it from all sides.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:47:59] You all right? You got someone to hug at home? This is so stressful.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:48:03] Yeah. But, I mean, it is what it is. I mean, you know, there certainly, there is, there are men who, who imagined to be, to be human is to be man. And so when they think of human rights, they’re thinking about rights for men, just like there, there are women who, when they think of women’s rights, they really think of white women’s rights. And so they’re really not fighting for the rights of, of women of color, just like there, there, there are black men who think black men are black people. Who think black cis gender, heterosexual men are, are black people. And so we should be fighting for those specific black people and that their lives matter. That black transgender women lives, you know, don’t matter. And so they’re certainly going to resist me or anyone like me who has, you know, indeed saying that all, all black sort of lives matter. Just as, you know, those white women who are saying, no, we should be fighting just for white women are going to push back against those black feminists who are saying no, like there are, there are other women that are not just white and we shouldn’t be standardizing white women. And so, you know, this is certainly part of, part of the job.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:49:24] 100 percent. I also despair of what we do next. I guess that’s kind of the question before I lose you to your very busy schedule of, of arguing and lecturing and writing. What do we do? How do we move forward?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:49:46] I think we have to support and join organizations, centers and other entity and institutions and institute, that literally are organized to challenge racism. Because they’re going to carry it forward. We can’t do it on our own. And so at least in this moment, we can make those organizations and those, those spaces and those institutions stronger so that they can carry on this fight when the attention of the nation shifts to something else.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:50:21] I think it is also helpful for us to remember that there is strength in numbers and to try to leave black women out of this fight and to try to leave trans people out of this fight doesn’t serve anyone. It leaves all of us just divided and so much easier to conquer. I think it’s so important to make sure that everyone is united. I mean, I say this also speaking as an analogy for the entire left or for liberals or for anyone who just doesn’t support white supremacy, that we need to make sure that we have some, like, semblance of organization and unity in order to take on what’s such a mammoth fight. And so I think inclusion and, and being very aware of where we direct all of our energy, I believe some of our energy needs to be spent in editing each other. Without editing, I would be such a useless fuck of a person. And I would be so ignorant and making so many dangerous mistakes. And so I’m am glad for editing, but I definitely hope that we move forward in an organized fashion where we’re actually going after a target, where we have an end goal in sight. Sometimes I wonder if we have an end goal when we’re attacking. Like, do we actually have a plan? Do we know what we’re doing it, what we’re doing? Why we’re doing it? Why are we saying this thing? Why are we getting this certain thing to trend?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:51:38] Well, and that’s the question. You have individuals who are building themselves. You have individuals who are building institutions and organizations.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:51:51] Yeah.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:51:52] And I think that oftentimes the individuals who are building themselves are going after those who are building organizations and institutions and, but those who are building institutions and organizations and centers to carry on, to literally bring, you know, create organized power that can challenge the organized power racism. We need, that’s where we need to focus. You know, we can’t, you know, we can’t focus on destructive criticism.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:31] How can we support your Antiracist work? I know you have an Antiracist center which is now officially hiring and is all set up and funding is, is coming in. And it feels as though you’re really taking leaps forward. Will you tell me as quickly as you can before I lose you, what the center is actually doing and how people can actually tangibly support it?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:52:57] Well, I mean, our center, our BU Center for Antiracist Research, is, it’s literally, we’re really building ourselves to track very closely racial disparities, to access the policies leading to those disparities, to propose corrective Antiracist policies, to sort of narrate those solutions and the research they’re based on to the world and work very closely with advocacy groups to get those policies instituted. So really we’re building these pillars of research, policy, narrative and advocacy. And you can certainly, you know, donate and support, donate to our Center for Antiracist Research. Google it. You can find us. And, and certainly you can apply to work with us now. And, you know, you should sort of do that, support us, support other racial justice organizations in your own community, because we need your support.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:53:54] Yeah. And we have, you know, powerful people saying that actually this kind of, this talk of antiracism is in itself racist and dangerous. And it isn’t, it’s vital to our humanity. It’s vital to our growth. It’s vital to our understanding of each other. And it’s vital to equality.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:54:11] Exactly. I mean, you know, it, it is those who can claim that somehow our Antiracist fight for equity and justice is somehow racist. They clearly define racist as anyone who is challenging racism.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:54:31] Do you have hope? Do you have hope that in your lifetime you will see significant change after this monumental year?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:54:39] I do, and I believe in order to bring about change, we have to believe it’s possible.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:54:46] 100 percent. I can hear your baby is making herself known.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:54:51] Yeah. I have to go put her down.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:54:54] 100 percent. Before you go, Professor Ibram Kendi, would you tell me what do you weigh?
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:54:57] So I weigh what I’m doing for everyday people who are struggling, you know, under the knee, you know, of racism. You know, what am I doing for them and how am I working to change policy to, to, to, to give them a better and freer and more just and more equitable life. That’s what really this is all about.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:55:18] Thank you very much. I will let you get back to your baby now and, and to just helping to save the world. Thank you for making this time. It was a pleasure to chat to you and come back anytime.
- IBRAM X KENDI [00:55:30] Definitely. Thank you so much for having me.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:55:33] Thank you so much for listening to this week’s “I Weigh”. I would also like to thank the team, which helps me make this podcast. My producers, Sophia Jennings and Kimmie Lucas. My editor, Andy Carson. My boyfriend, James Blake, who made the beautiful music you are hearing now. And me, for my work. At “I Weigh”, we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at 1-818-660-5543. Or e-mail us what you weigh at IWeighPodcast@gmail.com. And remember, it’s not in pounds and kilos, it’s your social contributions to society or just how you define yourself in life. Here’s a little message from one of our “I Weigh” listeners. “I weigh being a cat parent and a caretaker. I weigh the mistakes I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned. I weigh taking care of myself even when it’s hard. I weigh being a visibly proud, queer, trans and nonbinary person. And I weigh being a kind, empathetic, passionate, compassionate and resilient human being”.
February 3, 2023
Actress, LGBTQ+ advocate, and legend Laverne Cox joins Jameela this week to discuss her journey to who she is now, how spending time with trans women changed her mind on who she herself could be, the birth of #transisbeautiful, the problem with trans politics today, reaching across the aisle, the real problems facing Americans today, and more.