3 takeaways from Ibram X. Kendi’s Globe Summit session on building an antiracist society

“A year ago we were imagining we would be in a different place at this point.”

Ibram X. Kendi. Steven Senne / AP

Acclaimed author and antiracist scholar Ibram X. Kendi was among the slate of speakers Thursday at Day 2 of the Globe Summit conference.

The founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research and co-founder of The Emancipator, spoke with Amber Payne, co-editor in chief of The Emancipator, about what must be done to build an antiracist society. During their conversation, the author of “How To Be An Antiracist” and “Stamped From The Beginning” reflected on the racial justice protests of the last year, the impact of COVID-19 on education, Critical Race Theory, and Boston’s connections to the abolitionist movement. 


Below, three takeaways from the panel. 

1. In the year since George Floyd’s murder and the racial justice protests, society hasn’t taken the step from “awareness to action”

Asked by Payne to reflect on the “reckoning” that followed the killing of George Floyd and the resulting pushes for police accountability and reform, Kendi said that he knew last year that there’s a “pretty massive step from awareness into action” when it comes to deconstructing the structures of racism. 

“I think that we haven’t as a society taken that step from awareness to action, and indeed, over the last year, many people who are looking for a way out of that step have found that way out through the attacks on Critical Race Theory and antiracism and the 1619 Project and those of us who are engaged in this work,” he said. “And that has been unfortunate, but we also know from history that these backlashes, these reactions are typically, oftentimes what happens as a result … A year ago we were imagining we would be in a different place at this point.”

Kendi later elaborated on how he views this moment, and the push for racial justice, in history. In writing his book “Stamped From the Beginning,” he said he wanted to understand if progress really was one step forward, two steps back. 


What he found instead was that there’s two forces dueling in history. 

“There’s the force of racial progress,” he said. “For instance, over the last five years, there’s states that have literally made it easier for people to vote. There are states currently who over the last year, despite what’s been happening with the whole CRT created controversy, are ensuring that students, all students, are learning the truth about this nation’s history. But then there are other states who are simultaneously at the same time making it harder for people to vote and ensuring that our kids are not taught the truth about this nation’s history. 

“And that’s reflective of American history,” he continued. “You’ve had a sophistication of racist policies and ideas over time at the same time you’ve had racial progress.”

2. When it comes to education, children should receive instruction reflective of the community

In breaking down the origins of Critical Race Theory for attendees, Kendi stressed that it was developed in the late ’70s by legal scholars as a way of assessing why inequitable racial outcomes continue to occur in society even after “so-called race neutral policies” were put into place. The scholars wanted the theory to be universally used in law schools, which it isn’t. 


Setting aside CRT specifically, Kendi spoke to what needs to be remembered when it comes to education and the potential impacts of curriculum on kids. 

“As parents and as educators, we have to recognize that we live in a multiracial society, and we also have to recognize that our kids see racial inequality …  It’s still something our kids are seeing and trying to understand — why is that the case,” he said. “So if we have a curriculum that is predominantly white and then our kids are simultaneously seeing not being taught about racism and they’re seeing racial inequality, what are our kids learning from that predominantly white curriculum?”

At the same time, kids are looking out at society and seeing that white people generally have more, both in society and in the curriculum being taught in schools, he said. 

“I’m saying this to say, that’s why it’s so important for all of our kids to receive an education that is reflective of our community,” he said. “Have a multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural offering of authors for them to learn that people don’t have less because they are less.”

3. If Boston is ‘serious’ about being a diverse community, leaders must address people being priced out of the city

Payne asked Kendi what he made of recent census data that showed Boston is losing its Black population, asking the scholar to also reflect on how the city still has a reputation for being a racist even with its history serving as the cradle of the abolitionist movement


Kendi said cities across the country, including Boston, are seeing the cost of living rise, with historically Black, working class, and Latinx neighborhoods being gentrified. 

People are being priced out, he said. 

“At the same time, Black people, due to a host of racist policies and practices, are disproportionately working class, disproportionately poor,” he said. “And so it’s becoming harder and harder for people to live in an expensive city like Boston. And it just calls for the critical importance of affordable housing, of rent control, of other mechanisms that ensure that neighborhoods have mixed-income residents. 

“I’m hoping that this is something this city will focus on if it truly is serious about having a diverse community — diverse racially, ethnically, class-wise,” he continued. “Because that’s the type of community that I want to live in. That’s the type of community I want to raise my daughter in.”

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