July 5, 2022 - 11:00am

Ibram X. Kendi is an anxious parent.

In his latest book, How to Raise an Antiracist, the antiracist activist describes wearing a gas mask, hazmat suit and gloves just to change his baby’s diapers. On one occasion, he beats himself up for putting on the diaper too tightly, with his body ‘stiffening’ any time the baby is in his arms.

But at an Intelligence Squared talk last night in London, he admitted that he has gone even further, including teaching his daughter about antiracism at the tender age of one. He described an incident where she only had white dolls to play with, which he feared would implicitly teach her to devalue blackness. So Kendi and his wife began instructing his child about the importance of antiracism:

The doll incident woke us up as parents. For children at this age, the conversation is going to be more non-verbal and so we became more deliberate about getting picture books that would allow her to connect her skin colour to beauty; that would allow her to appreciate the human rainbow in all of its beauty. This would allow her to recognise that there’s nothing wrong with her hair…We were constantly teaching her ‘no dark is not bad’, ‘no, white is not good’, ‘no they’re both equals’.
- Ibram X. Kendi

In his book, Kendi expands on this programme in more detail. ‘Childproofing is certifying our babies’ personal libraries have books that reflect the full range of humanity and inspire antiracist action,’ he writes. The library to which Kendi refers stretches all the way from Innosanto Nagara’s ‘A is for Activist’ to Meghan Markle’s ‘The Bench’ as well as a sprinkling of bell hooks.

But books are just the easy part, Kendi explains. In order to prepare children for a racist world, ‘caretakers’ must prime youngsters for ‘all sorts of trying, uncomfortable, and menacing aspects of our world’. As he explained last night, racist ideas come at children like cars on the street:

Parents are very deliberate in teaching their children to look both ways before crossing the road because those cars can harm you. So it’s critically important to look both ways…The street is dangerous. And the racial street that our children are walking in is dangerous. They can be hit by cars, but these cars are messages that there’s something wrong with them because of the colour of their skin or if they’re white because there’s something special about them. 
- Ibram X. Kendi

It seems even a world-famous antiracist activist such as Kendi struggles to live according to his own worldview. For example, he confessed to failing to choose a neighbourhood that is not racially diverse enough for his child to grow up in, so he relocated to D.C. On another occasion, he could not find a dark-skinned doll at his child’s nursery, so he took her out of the school entirely. Being a good antiracist parent is evidently a tough job.

is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.