Dr. Kendi Inspires Class of 2024 During Virtual Common Read

October 15, 2020 Caitlin Burns

Book cover of How to Be an Anti-Racist by Dr. Kendi

At the Arcadia University Common Read event on Oct. 12, held virtually this year, first-year students and members of the campus community heard from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Anti-Racist

Dr. Kendi, a New York Times best-selling author and Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and the Founding Director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, encouraged attendees to embrace the intersectionality of cultures, ethnicities, class, gender, sexuality, and more on their own path to an anti-racist mindset.

“What we often do in different communities is we standardized a particular group and I think that’s the problem because we don’t have an intersectional analysis,” said Dr. Kendi, using the example of fighting for Latinx rights means to fight for all intersectionalities: cis, trans, queer, poor, elite, biracial, and more. “To truly be anti-racist is to be fighting for every single one of those racial groups.”

The program was moderated by Barbara St Fleur ’21, a Global Media major, and Ma’ayan Meder ’21, an Art History major. Each addressed personal topics that related to Dr. Kendi’s research, including conflict between differing Black cultures and inclusion of LGBTQ+ rights in anti-racist actions. 

During the event, the death of Criminal Justice student Robert Wood III, who was shot and killed in June on his walk home, was raised as an example of how the community could enact change. Meder shared a petition by Wood’s family to pressure police for further investigation into his death.

“Professor Kendi, you point out that we believe that Black bodies are dangerous—and that we do this to defend and condone discrimination, to minimize murder,” said Meder. “Student murders have, and continue to, escape media attention when they are from urban centers, when victims are young people from the Black community.”

Dr. Kendi encouraged community members to enact change where they can, such as incorporating social justice and community impact into curriculum and organizations. He noted that while police departments are heavily funded and resourced institutions, they still have a low clear rate for Black crimes because the majority of cases don’t go to trial, even when a shooter is identified.

“People are losing their lives to gun violence,” said Dr. Kendi. “I think it’s important for faculty, for universities, to lean on these incredibly heavily resourced police departments to do their jobs—to investigate as opposed to harass.”

While writing much of this book, How to Be an Anti-Racist, Dr. Kendi was battling stage 4 metastatic colon cancer. He observed many parallels between receiving treatment and finding an anti-racist life.

“The heartbeat of racism is denial,” Dr. Kendi noted during the webinar. He explained that in cancer treatment the longer you’re in denial, the more harm you do to your own body. With racism, the longer someone is in denial, the more harm they do to others and society. In writing this book, he had to examine the hardest and most shameful moments of his life and find his moment of truth in self-awareness. He needed to develop an anti-racist approach of confession.

In concluding the event, Arcadia President Ajay Nair reiterated the need to stay vigilant about our efforts today to imagine a more just world. 

“Our efforts at Arcadia to combat anti-black racism and infusing justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion within the fabric of our work also will never stop,” said President Nair. “We are going to actively work on this every day at Arcadia, it’s the only way we can truly make our community better and stronger. If our community isn’t built upon these pillars, we cannot be a reflection of the world we want to live in.” 

Class of 2024first-year seminars