Best-selling author Ibram X. Kendi spoke in the Student Union Theatre on Thursday about defining what being racist and antiracist means in America today.
Kendi’s speech was based on his upcoming book, “How to Be an Antiracist.” In his speech, he discussed how Americans have been trained to self identify as “not racist.” This idea, however, cannot work because the definition of racism throughout history has been defined in a way that exonerates racist ideals.
“The heartbeat of racism itself is denial,” Kendi said.
The renowned historian went on to explain the contrast to a racist idea is not a “not racist idea” but rather an antiracist idea. He reinforced this by saying there is no such thing as race neutrality and the inaction against racist ideas is in itself racist.
“It’s just like what we teach kids today,” Kendi said. “When they see bullies and they see people being bullied and they do nothing, they are just as much the problem as the bully themselves.”
This event was organized by Shaila Mehra, the director of the Center for Africana Studies at OSU. She said Kendi’s speech and research is valuable for students because it teaches them the background and history of what racism is and how to overcome it. Mehra also said that she hopes to organize more events like this to foster more conversation about this topic and give students the opportunity to learn more about racism in America.
“We don't teach African American history as much as we need to,” Mehra said. “So there’s a critical gap in peoples understanding of how racism functions in the United States, and that makes it difficult for people to know how to resist it. And I think people want to resist it.”
The speech was attended by roughly 80 to 100 students and faculty. Many of the students were engaged in the speech, often clapping and verbally agreeing after Kendi made his statements. This included Anthony Grogan, who said the speech was inspiring and eye opening for him.
“Before hearing him speak, I thought of myself as not being racist,” Grogan said. “However, after he defined it I realized that by not being racist you are kind of allowing racism to exist. So now I would definitely say I’m going to strive to be antiracist.”