Ibram X. Kendi says reading anti-racism books to children is a good start, but parents could be doing more

Ibram X. Kendi spoke with Insider about his new children's book, "Antiracist Baby."Michael Loccisano / Staff / Getty Images / Penguin Random House
  • Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, the author of "How to Be an Antiracist," wrote a children's book that became a best seller before it was even available for purchase.
  • "Antiracist Baby" acts as a how-to guide for children, talking about race and racism in a way even the youngest minds can understand.
  • "We can't sit on the sidelines and expect racism to die off by itself. We have to be actively anti-racist," Kendi told Insider.
  • "Antiracist Baby" is being turned into a picture book that will feature questions and discussion starters written by Kendi, helping parents facilitate conversations about racism.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is best known for his groundbreaking memoir "How to Be an Antiracist," and he recently founded Boston University's Center for Antiracist Research.

But the racism scholar has made headlines in recent weeks for a new project: "Antiracist Baby," a children's book written by Kendi and illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky.

Ibram X. Kendi's own experience as a parent inspired him to create 'Antiracist Baby'

"After writing 'How to Be an Antiracist' obviously for adults, I had a young child, and I wanted to figure out a way to write a similar book for her," Kendi told Insider. "I wanted to have a tool so that I could begin teaching her how to be anti-racist."Advertisement

He said he was also inspired by his own development as an anti-racist, which he details in his memoir, and from research about how children understand race.

"I knew from data that most parents think their kids are colorblind when, in fact, their kids are anything but," he said.

"Kids as young as two years old are internalizing racist ideas," Kendi added, pointing to research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Antiracist Baby" works to help children dismantle those ideas, serving as both an explanation of what racism is for young minds and a how-to guide for engaging with the world as an anti-racist.

"Antiracist Baby" is a how-to guide for children on anti-racism.Penguin Random House
The board book features nine steps for children to use to be anti-racist, addressing everything from pointing out systems and policies that enforce racism to acknowledging when they are being racist themselves. Advertisement

Constantly learning about race and racism is the focus of the book, driving home the message to kids that it's good to admit when they do something discriminatory, as it will help them be anti-racist going forward.

Kendi told Insider that he thinks the success of his books highlights the new ways Americans are engaging with anti-racism

"Antiracist Baby" was released on June 16, as activists held demonstrations across the country to protest police brutality and racism. The board book was a best seller before it was even released, and it was so popular that it's being turned into a picture book.

The new version, which is set to be released on July 14, will include questions and discussion starters written by Dr. Kendi to help encourage conversations between parents and children about racism, according to a press release from Penguin Random House provided to Insider. Advertisement

"Antiracist Baby" addresses the concept of colorblindness as it relates to racism.Penguin Random House

"Many Americans are realizing the whole conception of being not racist or colorblind has led to this current moment," Kendi told Insider. "In other words, we can't sit on the sidelines and expect racism to die off by itself. We have to be actively anti-racist."

"I also think Americans are realizing — for themselves and their children — that they have been raised and nurtured to be racist. And that's not something you just turn off," he said. Advertisement

"You literally have to unlearn," Kendi added. "You have to reprogram yourself in a very deliberate and systematic way. And I think people are turning to my books and others to do so, because I think they want to reprogram and transform society."

But Kendi also wants parents to remember it's not enough just to read books about anti-racism to their kids

Kendi told Insider that being anti-racist requires a constant process of unlearning, and raising anti-racist children requires parents to consistently engage in conversations with themselves and their children about racism.

Parents also have to intentionally put their children in situations that force them to confront racism and inequality, whether that be through media or interactions with disenfranchised communities, according to Dr. Kendi. Advertisement

Kendi told Insider that being anti-racist is a constant learning process.Michael Loccisano / Staff / Getty Images

"I'm hoping parents read 'How to Be an Antiracist' as they're continuously reading 'Antiracist Baby' with their children," Kendi said. "And most importantly, [I hope] they are sharing with their child their struggles, their journeys, their vulnerabilities, and the ideas that they're uncovering." "They're sharing with their child how they're criticizing themselves," he continued. "And by sharing that with the child, you're teaching the child how to be anti-racist. You're teaching the child that to be anti-racist is to be willing to admit when you did something wrong, is to be willing to reflect on yourself, is to be willing to challenge yourself and read and understand."Advertisement

"You should, as a parent, be really trying to learn and understand racism itself," Kendi said. "The more you understand it, the better you can teach it, like with anything else. The more we understand it, the more we clarify it in our minds, the more we can break it down to the youngest people."

"We can lecture to our children all day, but what's more powerful is modeling the type of person we want our child to be," he told Insider.

Kendi also encouraged parents to think of anti-racist education as an act of love for their children.Advertisement

"When you teach your kid to be anti-racist, you are protecting them," he said. "That parent who is teaching a kid to be anti-racist, I'm less worried about them trying to guard that child against media exposures, because what anti-racist ideas do is protect the child from consuming or believing the messages that are racist coming from anywhere, whether it's a parent, a TV show, a book, or a cousin."

You can find out more about "Antiracist Baby" and Dr. Kendi's work here.