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Boston University professor Ibram X. Kendi on racism in America

In this week’s episode of “The Takeout” podcast, CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett talked with Boston University professor Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to be an Anti-Racist” and “Stamped from the Beginning,” about racism and its legacy in America.

Kendi observes a tendency in people who support racist policies to say that they personally are not racist; he argues that racism should not be defined “in a way that exonerates us,” but instead “based on the evidence and the material reality.” 

“[A] racist is someone who is expressing an idea of racial hierarchy or supporting a policy that’s leading to racial inequity. An anti-racist is the very opposite: someone who is expressing an idea of racial equality, or supporting a policy that’s leading to racial equity,” Kendi told Garrett. By that definition, anyone who supports a policy that results in racial inequity is being racist.

“We have been taught throughout this nation’s history that the reason why certain racial groups have more is because they’ve worked harder, is because they’re smarter, and other groups have less because they haven’t worked as hard, they aren’t as smart. And so therefore, we haven’t, as a people, commonly recognized that actually the racial groups are equals, and the reason why certain groups have more or less is because of bad policy,” Kendi said.

Kendi also briefly addressed the recent controversy around “critical race theory,” an academic framework that posits that racism is a social construct that is embedded in the country’s legal, economic and political systems. Several states have considered banning critical race theory from being taught in schools, with some conservatives worrying that it teaches that white people are inherently racist.

“It’s really unfortunate, because anyone who has studied critical race theory — what we know is that if it’s going to teach anybody to not like something, it’s going to teach them to not like racism,” Kendi said.

He talked about how white supremacy has historically been detrimental to White Americans, as well as Black Americans. Kendi discussed the poor whites of the antebellum South “whose poverty was directly related to a few thousand slaveholding families,” and the many working class poor whites also harmed by Jim Crow laws because they could not pass literacy tests. He tied this to the slew of recent laws under consideration or passed in Republican-led states that would restrict voting rights.

“In the next election you’re going to have White people who struggle to vote, because of a series of voter suppression policies,” Kendi said. “I think that it’s important for White Americans, for people of color, to realize that as we create more equitable policies for the community, we’re going to benefit because we’re members of the community.”

One of the searing moments in our culture took place last year, when the cell phone video of George Floyd being pinned to the ground as a White police officer kneeled on his neck for over nine minutes sparked months of protests against police brutality and racial violence.

“I think for many people, watching George Floyd’s murder, his slow murder, they just no longer could deny it. They could no longer deny that there was a huge problem that a police officer could literally kill someone like that in broad daylight and then even later claim he was not guilty,” Kendi said. Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, was found guilty of murder by a jury in April.

Kendi also touched on Juneteenth, which was officially made a federal holiday on Thursday when President Biden signed the bill into law. Kendi said companies that have recently sought to celebrate the day and emphasize its importance must do more to truly change systemic issues of race in the country.

“There’s no easy way out of racism,” Kendi said.

For more of Major’s conversation with Kendi, download “The Takeout” podcast on Art19, iTunesSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, and Stitcher. New episodes are available every Friday morning. Also, you can watch “The Takeout” on CBSN Friday at 5pm, 9pm, and 12am ET and Saturday at 1pm, 9pm, and 12am ET. For a full archive of “The Takeout” episodes, visit www.takeoutpodcast.com. And you can listen to “The Takeout” on select CBS News Radio affiliates (check your local listings).    

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