The concept of anti-racism, as many are starting to learn, is not a noun, but a verb. Racism will take consistent effort to arrest, and the fight against systemic racism is a big one. Author, journalist and editor Kenrya Rankin tackles the topic in her newest book, “Anti-Racism (Words of Change Series): Powerful Voices, Inspiring Ideas,” (Spruce Brooks) wherein she doesn’t historically analyze anti-racism but instead provides more than 100 quotes from who have practiced it. The words of these anti-racist activists and social justice soldiers— both historical and contemporary—provide a clear throughline of resistance to anti-Blackness and racial inequality and the hope for a liberated and just future.
From Ta-Nehisi Coates and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Megan Rapinoe and Malcolm X; Laverne Cox and Rosa Clemente to Robin DiAngelo to Lizzo, each contributor in “Anti-Racism” drops profound knowledge in just a few words. No matter where you are on the social justice journey, the compact bios of the quoted will be a revelation. With brightly colored pages and a modern layout, “Anti-Racism” may be seen as a primer, or targeted to teens and young people, but be clear—the depth and breadth of the words will inspire all.
Colorlines caught up with Rankin recently, to discuss her new book, the biggest misconceptions around anti-racism and why the fight for our liberation is just getting started.
What was the impetus or spark that brought this book together?
“Anti-Racism: Powerful Voices, Inspiring Ideas“ actually flowed directly out of the book I released in March 2019, “How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance”. My publisher was starting a new imprint that focuses on personal integrity and emotional intelligence, and she dreamed up this book as a reference of sorts for people who value anti-racism. She’d read How We Fight and thought I’d be perfect to make it happen. I thought she was dope and loved the idea, and the rest is history.
What’s the most important thing people misunderstand about anti-racism?
I think there are a lot of people who think being anti-racist stops with reading a few books and being able to use a bit of lingo. But the real challenge is finding ways to actively fight racism each and every day. There is also a contingent of White folks who like to use language like, “I don’t see race” and think that is doing the work of anti-racism. But the reality is that saying they are colorblind—and by extension teaching their children to ignore the realities of race—is not only dishonest but the opposite of being anti-racist. When someone says they are colorblind, they are literally saying that they do not see me, a person of color. How can you dismantle a system that kills me if they can’t even admit that they see me?
Will the practice of anti-racism set us free? Is it just for white folks?
We know that racism is a deadly mess created by white people and that ultimately they have to fix it. But I do think that we all have a role to play in anti-racism, which looks like using the privilege and position we have to actively fight anti-Blackness. It’s no different from fighting white supremacy, which is the premise that informs the book I released in March 2019, How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance. In that book, my co-author Akiba Solomon and I encourage readers to find their own way to resist. For Black folks, that can look like hiring Black people at work and surrounding them with the resources they need to thrive, running for your local school board to be sure that the district’s policies benefit our kids, campaigning for candidates who champion legislation that will save our lives or—sometimes, on the hardest days—just getting out of bed in the morning.
Why was it important to include diverse voices when talking about anti-racism?
This book highlights the words and wisdom of not just the folks who did this work in decades past, but that it lifts up people who are doing this work right now. That was important for me, because we typically hear the same names repeated when we talk about the work of liberation (and only in February, of course). I want to situate this work in the present so that folks can see that the fight is far from over, and there are people all around them doing the work of securing our liberation. Beyond making sure I had a good mix of historical and contemporary quotes, I wanted to center Black people in the conversation, and they represent the bulk of the advocates quoted.
What’s the thread that runs through all these quotes? How did you choose them?
Each of the quotes in this book is a piece of the puzzle for young people who are looking for a 101-level entry into anti-racism. Some of them came from my past reading, some are pulled from my past work, and others came through me researching activists and looking for words from them that I thought would resonate with readers.
In the intro to “Anti-Racism”, you say that racism is metaphorically both a ladder and fog. Why make it more than just a ladder or just smog?
Thanks! I think that metaphor emerged last year while promoting How We Fight White Supremacy. I think that, for people who genuinely want to understand how white supremacy permeates the world we live in, it provides a vivid visual image and helps to understand the concept of privilege. The ladder and the fog go hand in hand. The ladder shows hierarchy, and the fog helps us to understand that white supremacy is pervasive and impacts us all, no matter where we are slotted on the ladder. It also helps to explain the ways that people who are not at the top of the ladder can be seduced into thinking that we are somehow not deserving of the same dignity and joy that others enjoy by virtue of being human. That shit is toxic, and we all breathe it in.
In these particular times, especially after a summer of racial uprisings and the short-lived racial reckoning the country experienced, what do you hope people take away from your book?
Ultimately, my hope is that in reading the words collected here, readers will either see themselves on the page or see the person they want to be and find their own ways to be actively anti-racist every single day. It’s a young adult title, and I think there are two audiences. One is folks who want a primer that pulls them into the concept of white supremacy and the ways some people are fighting it. The other way is people who want a beautiful, handy reference. My daughter was doing a virtual play in class last week and the star was Cesar Chavez. She asked me about him, and I was able to hand her the book, show her his picture and a poignant quote from him, and then point her to the short biography about him that sits in the back of the book.
Kenrya Rankin is an award-winning author and anti-racism advocate whose work amplifies the lived experiences, advocacy and work of people of color and shifts the narrative around who deserves liberation, justice, joy and dignity in America. She is also the former senior editorial director of Colorlines. Learn more about her books, “Anti-Racism: Powerful Voices, Inspiring Ideas” and “How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance” at Kenrya.com. Follow her @Kenrya on Instagram and Twitter.