On Wednesday, Feb. 1, Ibram X. Kendi and Nic Stone visited Meredith College for a launch event of their new book, “How to be a (Young) Anti Racist.” The event was hosted by Meredith College Friends of the Library, Quail Ridge Books and Rofhiwa Book Cafe. Dr. Damon Tweedy and Tia Hilber, a junior at Orange High School, moderated the discussion of what inspired the book and why its message is important for the times.
The book is a young adult adaptation of Kendi’s most popular work, How to Be an Antiracist. Stone and Kendi first met at an event hosted by their publisher, Penguin Random House. Stone wanted to meet Kendi because of his work but also mentioned that she would be willing to adapt the book if Kendi was open to it.
Kendi wanted the book to be adapted but didn’t have experience in young adult literature. One of his other books, “Stamped from the Beginning,” was adapted by young adult author Jayson Reynolds in 2020. Kendi discussed how the deaths of Trayvon Martin, who was 17 years old, meant that students saw themselves in the issues but not in the solutions. “Clearly our younger people are experiencing the plunder of racism,” he said. “But who’s talking to them?”
In addition to content, Stone adapted Kendi’s work into a fictional book. She struggled with parts of the process, including not being able to kill the bad guy. Stone could usually “kill the bad guy” to resolve the problems in the story. In this case, she had to give up this idea in order to “tell the truth” about racism. Stone found that young adult readers often connected to characters and wanted to know what more they could do.
The discussion also touched on broader issues, including the motivation behind banning books. Kendi believed that it was an attack on public education because the organizations pushing for it often go hand in hand. He also believed that there was anxiety from white Americans who had fallen victim to white supremacy talking points.
Kendi thought that many viewed antiracism as anti-white. “They believe that as people of color gain, white people will lose,” he said. Stone viewed it as a power issue that was caused by the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic. “They can’t control anything but the people they made,” she said.
Kendi and Stone spoke candidly of the impact that these issues have had on North Carolina. Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson has previously expressed opposition to Kendi’s work. Stone’s book “Dear Martin” was banned from Haywood County Schools because of profanity. Though these can lead to an increase in book sales, Stone didn’t believe those incidents were worth celebrating.
The panel also discussed the issue of colorblindness. Kendi pointed out being “race neutral” ignored issues and still allowed for racist policies to be created. He used North Carolina’s voter ID law as an example, citing the federal appeals court’s comment on its “almost surgical precision” to hinder Black voters’ rights. “Our formulation and conception of [race] consciousness versus neutrality is built on focusing on intent rather than action,” Kendi explained.
Both authors attributed some of this misunderstanding to a lack of historical knowledge. With the ban of classes like AP African American Studies in Florida, Kendi expressed just how important those classes are. “When you learn about Black history, you’re also learning about the history of the United States,” he stated.
Hilber asked several questions about youth involvement in antiracist causes. She explained how many teens were upset about the death of Tyre Nichols and wanted to know how they could advocate for and be part of change. Kendi and Stone agreed that taking in information and defining terms was a key part of progress.
Stone emphasized the importance of holding space for one’s personal emotions. “The world wants you to feel less human,” she said. “Those emotions [of anger and fear] are there for a reason.”
By Aminah Jenkins, Editor in Chief