“How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi

Discussions of racism often get bogged down in disputes over definitions and intent. Ibram X. Kendi’s recent book How to be an Antiracist helps clear some of the fog around racism and antiracism by providing clear definitions as well as clear steps to take to combat racism.

Race, as Kendi defines it, is “a power construct of collected or merged difference that lives socially” (35) and racists are those who support racist policies while those who are antiracist support antiracist policies. Kendi’s definitions, as noted elsewhere, are expansive: any idea that there are things better or worse about a racial group is an example of racism, and we can act in either racist or antiracist ways–there is not neutral ground in the in-between.

Kendi then surveys numerous ways that racism and antiracism play out in public and private spheres. These chapters are extremely important because they show the simplicity with which we can identify racism when we cut through the attempts to dance around the topic. Biological racism, for example, is something someone does when they are “expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully different in their biology and that these differences create a hierarchy of value” (44). Ideas about bodies can also lead to racism, and someone who is bodily racist is “One who is perceiving certain racialized bodies as more animal-like and violent than others” (69). Kendi’s note of what it means to be antiracist in specific ways is uniquely helpful as it helps readers to instantly identify ways to counteract racist ideas. Regarding bodily racism, for example, the bodily antiracist is “One who is humanizing, deracializing, and individualizing nonviolent and violent behavior” (ibid). Thus, if someone refers to the behavior of a black man as exemplifying how young black men are “thugs” or attributes behavior to someone who is “acting white,” they are acting in ways that are bodily racist (and possibly biologically racist as well).

Racism goes beyond identifying bodily differences and also extends into cultural beliefs: cultural racism is the act of making one culture the standard and then imposing a hierarchy of value based on cultural backgrounds (81). Kendi notes the intense importance of attributing behavior to individuals rather than groups. Making an individual’s behavior determinate that of a group or making individuals responsible for whole racial groups is an example of behavioral racism (92). Kendi notes how color has been used to create inequities between light people and dark people, supported by racist ideas (107ff). Charges that Kendi is operating with some new or recent definition of racism and innovating in ways that are not found historically are dispelled when one looks at his use of sources, reaching back to scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois who already noted the ways in which colorism and similar ideas were deeply integrated into racial discrimination and pushing inequity based on race.

Kendi also does not fall into the trap of ignoring how racism can be based upon any color or perceived difference. Thus, he acknowledges that there is such a thing as Anti-white racism (122-135) and that it is a mistake to say that it is mistaken to claim that a group cannot be racist because they lack power (136ff). Kendi’s consistency on this point immediately undercuts many of the objections people make when discussing racism on a critical level.

Economics itself can be pressed into the service of racist ideas when one racializes the classes or supports policies that they justify by racist ideas based upon class (151). Additionally, racializing spaces and encouraging racial inequity based upon what spaces people are allowed to inhabit or visit continues to be a serious problem. Sexuality and gender can each play into racism as well, and Kendi surveys how they can be used together to create inequalities.

The book is filled with anecdotes, citations of studies, and citations of major historical voices to back up each claim. It’s a fascinating look at how we might work together to combat racism in all of its shifting forms. Perhaps most vitally, though, it also serves as a wake up call to how to identify many of these different forms of racism. How to Be an Antiracist is an incredibly valuable resource that I recommend to readers.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Presidential Biographies: Grover Cleveland #22 and #24

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with Grover Cleveland, the twenty-second and (!!) twenty-fourth President of the United States. The biography I chose with my selectio n process (reading reviews online and utilizing and this website- My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies) is The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland by Richard E. Welch, Jr.

Here, I’ll offer my thoughts on that biography, and proceed to present my official ranking for the DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES!!!!!! The full list of the rankings with all the Presidents as well as comments on their careers, updated as I read through this list, may be found here.

The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland by Richard E. Welch, Jr.

The Presidenceis of Grover Cleveland is a dry, condensed look specifically at Cleveland’s presidencies. It doesn’t give a fuller account of his life beyond a few details of his early life, so, like the biography, we’ll focus here on his actual presidencies.

Cleveland was essentially an example of political conservatism of his time writ large. How this was applied, however, can appear somewhat inconsistent and even callous from the outside. Perhaps the most extreme example of the latter is his veto of a bill to provide starving Texas farmers with free seed to replant after a severe drought. Welch, Jr. notes that the reason for this was Cleveland consistently held to blocking any use of the government and its money for private gains. He was worried about the possibility of the government becoming something for individuals to rely on rather than pulling themselves up by their bootstrings (80-81, see also 14). So whether it was big lumber barons trying to get tax subsidies or private farmers trying to avoid starvation or bankruptcy, Cleveland blocked all assistance. It is difficult to see how this is a decent or laudable policy, though some today would hold it is, but it is one of the consistencies of Cleveland throughout his career.

There is no question Cleveland was a racist when it came to his feelings and dealings with both the newly freed African Americans and the Native Americans. Regarding the former, he made numerous racist comments in which he reveals his (common at the time) belief that Afircan Americans would not be efficient or effective. He did appoint a few black Americans to public offices, but did so in a condescending and inconsistent fashion, and even held the belief that it was the former enslavers who would “take care of” the freed black Americans rather than having the government intervene to do so. He did the bare minimum to defend African Americans in voting rights or getting appointments, and no more. Regarding Native Americans, Cleveland heavily favored an assimilation which would force Native peoples to give up their rights and practices in favor of conforming to the cultural standards of the white Americans. Though this was a more moderate approach than direct, active genocide, nonetheless it was an attempt to continue cultural genocide and forced assimilation–a policy that would continue well beyond Cleveland.

Cleveland also demonstrated the tendency of virtually everyone who claims to affirm “state’s rights” to do so inconsistently. Though he gave lip service to state’s rights, he also ignored state governments when it came to strike breaking, unsurprisingly sending federal troops in to force strikes to end, taking the side of the corporations and train industries over the workers and even over the protests of state governors (147).  This and other examples (such as his fight over the silver/gold standard) demonstrate Cleveland’s strange legacy of disavowing the power of the government while actively expanding it beyond what it had been.

Regarding foreign policy, Cleveland approached it with the same attitude he felt in other areas, essentially seeing the United States as morally superior to other countries, which then meant that he distrusted the representatives of other, less ethically superior countries (199). This led to any number of poor policy decisions in foreign policy as well as alienating people in South America and beyond (see, eg, 67).

Cleveland’s legacy is somewhat difficult to evaluate due to the radical divergence in historical analysis of his Presidencies. Welch, Jr. manages to sort through some of the fog surrounding his legacy in his The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland, which I would rate as a fair, but not excellent biography.

Grover Cleveland’s Original Ranking in THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES (Full and Updated List Here)

Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th President – Original Ranking #12)- Grover Cleveland was an ambitious politician who largely stuck to his conservatism, despite his apparent inconsistency looking in from the outside. His apparent callousness might be seen by some as consistency of conservative principles. His attempts to continue reform of the public offices stirred up vicious opposition to his presidencies. Ever a friend of the status quo, it is difficult to see how this may have harmed or benefited the United States even more than a hundred years later. His legacy is uneven, but also largely free of the worst of all moral failings, despite some examples. His intense belief in the superiority of America and Americanism is another part of his legacy, whether that includes the attempts to forcibly assimilate Native Americans (seen by many at the time as a reform–and it was, compared to actively genocidal policies) or his relations with other countries, Cleveland was an example of a President who truly tried to put America First, for better or ill, and to do so in a way that left each person to themselves. Additionally, Cleveland essentially expanded government authority despite his disavowal of the same.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 5: “Fulgrim”

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

Fulgrim

Boom. Boom. Boom! This book was awesome. It has some serious tones of dark fantasy and horror melded into the relentless metal action I have come to expect from the setting.

The plot is a story of the fall of Fulgrim, along with his Remembrancers, into the hands of Slaanesh, the Chaos god of extravagance, lust, and various evils. Fulgrim has tried to make his legions pursue perfection over all other things, and in the novel he comes to a turning point in which, while fighting some Xenos (aliens), he turns to the aliens’ means of self-perfection through genetic modification. In doing so, he corrupts the plans of the Emperor and begins a path from which he seemingly cannot turn, believing the whole time that he is perfecting his Legion.

There are some pretty gross scenes here, though, so fair warning. The violence is really over the top in parts, including sexual violence and the like. Pretty gruesome. A lot of it centers around the fall of the Remembrancers as they experience the corruption of Daemons as well. The elements of horror are really woven into the foreboding sense that I got as a reader observing how the artists and historians included in the party also fell into the clutches of the daemonic. This is a dark sci-fi novel through and through.

What makes Fulgrim great is that it demonstrates how easy a fall from moral and ethical heights is–justified by a pursuit, a dream, a vision, those who should remain most loyal to the Emperor instead continue to fall away and into the worst of corruptions. It’s an excellent entry in the series.

Links

Reading the Horus Heresy– Read along with me in the Horus Heresy and see all my reviews of the books.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.