On November 16, 2016, I stood on a stage in downtown Manhattan, New York. I was shocked to be holding a National Book Award, facing a crowd still shocked about the result of the presidential election days prior. The audacity to hope for a better world that was one of the greatest gifts of Barack Obama, the fearlessness of those three Black women who organized #BlackLivesMatter, the commitment of a new wave of policymakers, scholars, writers, activists, and philanthropists driving for equitable societies, the courage of everyday people shining a light on the racism lying in the shadows of history-it was all overwhelmed by the election of Donald Trump.
The sense of dread that followed the election only seems to be increasing as the lethal weapons of climate change, nuclear war, and inequality increasingly threaten the very existence of humanity. At the same time, the resistance only seems to be increasing. The fight against racism-and the fatal inequities it produces-is the fight for humanity.
On that dreary night at the National Book Awards, and at the end of my history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning, I offered not merely words of hope, but a message of faith for the resistance. After spending years dissecting the ugly body of racism, I never lost faith in the beauty of human potential, and the possibilities of a world where equity and opportunity are inalienable human rights. But we must believe change is possible in order to make it. We must have faith in change.
Kendi speaks at the 2016 National Book Awards
But we need more than faith. We must adjust our approach to racial change. In the past, we incorrectly theorized that ignorance and hate fashioned racist ideas, and people with racist ideas instituted racist policies. Therefore, our solutions to the racial problem were focused on undermining ignorance and hate. But new research shows powerful people produce racist ideas to justify the racist policies of their era, and redirect the blame for their era's racial inequities away from policy and onto people of color.
By discovering a new and more precise ecology of the racial problem, we can now discover new and more effective solutions. Racial change comes—and has come historically—through unearthing and removing the racist policies at the very root of racial inequities, while clearing away those racist ideas that hide those roots and normalize those inequities.
But we need more than this historical accounting of how we have created racial change. And I learned this from the people. It was not enough for me to travel around the United States speaking on Stamped from the Beginning and sharing that our focus should be on changing policy instead of people. It was not enough for me to proclaim that our human and/or financial resources should go to spaces working on eliminating inequity and discriminatory policy. After my talks in 2016 and 2017, the people kept asking the same two questions: Was there something grounded in this theory of racial change that they could support? What are you doing to change policy?
I fumbled over these answers, as I came to see researching and writing and speaking was not enough, as I came to stare in the face of my own hypocrisy. Their questions led to self-reflection. Why am I not doing something to end racist policies? How I can rightfully urge others to focus on changing policy if I am not focused on changing policy myself?
I realized I had to do something more, to found something that could be an engine of change, and that something became the world's first Antiracist Research and Policy Center. Its innovative vision and organizational model are not solely my ideas. They are the product of a series of conversations I had with so many brilliant individuals over the course of the 2017.
On September 26, 2017, I presented our vision for The Antiracist Research and Policy Center before a packed audience in the Abramson Founders Room in the School of International Service. The exciting event officially kicked off Year Zero. Later that night, someone came onto campus and posted several Confederate flags with cotton balls in an attempt to scare away the development of the center. But this racist attack only stiffened our resolve—and the resolve of the AU community—to roll up our sleeves and build a world-class research and policy center, to build an unstoppable engine of racial change. And that is what we are doing. Relentlessly building.
Help us build. Your ideas and contributions will ensure that The Antiracism Center has a strong foundation—that it becomes in the policy capital of the world one of the foundations for humanity's efforts at building an antiracist world.