On Monday, Albion College hosted a conversation with Ibram X. Kendi, racial justice advocate and author of five consecutive New York Times bestsellers. The conversation served as the 2021 Coy James Lecture in American History and the culminating lecture for this year’s Richard M. Smith Common Reading Experience.
Kendi currently serves as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities at Boston University (BU), and is the founding director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research. He is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News racial justice spokesman. In 2020, Kendi was included in the Times Magazine list of the 100 most influential people in the world. He is also the host of the new action podcast, “Be Antiracist.”
Kendi appeared as a part of the 2021 Common Reading Experience (CRE). His book, “How to Be an Antiracist” was chosen to be the CRE book for this year.
Each year, all incoming freshmen participate in CRE by reading the same book in their First-Year Experience (FYE) class. The CRE is designed to create common ground for new students, help them build relationships during their first semester, and encourage them to ask and answer difficult questions. Upon completion of the text, the author of the CRE text is invited to give a brief presentation, typically in video format, about their work and what it means to them.
For Kendi, the experience was a little more personal. Rather than provide a video presentation, Kendi visited the Albion community for a public conversation with Akaiia Ridley, Albion senior, and Mathew Johnson, president of Albion College. Attendees listened to how Kendi’s work in anti-racism evolved and learned Kendi’s philosophy about intentional anti-racist action.
“We have to recognize disparities in our community and not ignore them,” said Kendi. “The only way to end racism is to identify it and call it out.”
During the course of the talk, Kendi proposed the idea that being racist and anti-racist does not comprise identity, but describes action, like standing or sitting. According to Kendi, a person and their actions can be racist at one time and antiracist at another, but never in the middle- there is no neutral ground.
The event had a considerable turnout with many students, faculty, staff and community members in attendance.
Lauren Farley, Dallas sophomore, said that she was initially drawn to the talk as a FYE Mentor, but thinks the topic was one that needed to be addressed.
“It’s important that students monitor what other people are doing and call out racism when they see it,” said Farley. “We need to keep raising discussion about inequality to make people aware of it and better life on campus for everyone.”
Kendi’s visit comes as the latest discussion about racism and inequality on Albion’s campus. According to Kendi, racism is a problem that has solutions.
“We have to believe the impossible is possible to end racism,” Kendi said. “Impossible things have happened in the past, even back to the American Revolution. If we don’t believe we can do the impossible, we’ll never achieve it.”