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Racism is one of the most morally charged words in the English language. It is typically understood as a form of deep inner prejudice — something that people actively feel and consciously express. My guest today, Ibram X. Kendi, wants to redefine racism. He defines the idea simply: support for policies that widen racial inequality.

Kendi is a professor of African-American Studies and director of the Antiracist Policy Center at American University. His National Book Award-winning Stamped From the Beginning argued that racist policies beget racist ideas, not the other way around. His new book, How to Be an Antiracist, is a continuation of that project. It focuses on racism as a structural ecosystem that black people face, not a prejudice that white people feel.

The implications of this redefinition are far-reaching. Are you a racist if you loathe people who aren’t of your race but don’t want to pass policy on it? Are you a racist if you tried to narrow racial inequality but your program backfired?

In this conversation, we map the boundaries of Kendi’s definition and its implications. We discuss his admission that he “used to be racist most of the time,” his argument against racial integration, whether it’s giving too much power to policy to blame it for all racial inequality, whether the word “racist” is too charged for the more nuanced conversations we need to have, the meta-philosophy behind African-American studies, and much more.

Book recommendations:

Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley)

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois

Fatal Invention by Dorothy Roberts

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