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How do you define a racist idea? Here’s what the Office for Diversity and Inclusion's latest lecturer says

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi African American Heritage Month Lecture
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi gives a lecture at the Stone Center on the history of anti-Black ideas and how it connects to racism today on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the lecture as a Stone Center lecture. The lecture was hosted by the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion. The story has been updated with the correction host of the lecture. They Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

In honor of Black History month, UNC’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion hosted award-winning historian and New York Times best-selling author Ibram X. Kendi to deliver a lecture on racist ideas in America on Thursday.

Kendi, a professor of history and international relations at American University, writes and delivers lectures on race issues. Kendi is a 2016 National Book Award winner – his book "Stamped from the Beginning" sheds light on the racist issues that have circulated throughout society. 

In his book, Kendi wrote that racism is not only still present, but is more sophisticated and insidious than ever before. Kendi also contrasts the belief that racism was born out of ignorance or hatred, saying instead they were constructed by the most brilliant minds of each era. 

In his lecture at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center, Kendi discussed the difficulty he found in his research of defining a racist idea, due to the inherent denial that people have when it comes to racism, which he labels as the heartbeat of racism. 

“I ended up defining a racist idea very simply as any idea that suggests a racial group is superior or inferior to another racial group in any way," Kendi said.

Kendi discussed how people often say they are not racist, and said being a “non-racist” was a denial of racism. 

“There’s this contrast between racist and not racist and I, as somebody who studies ideas and history, I have been looking for quite some time to understand the history of ‘not racist,'" Kendi said. "When people say to me they are not racist I say, 'Okay, what does it mean to not be racist?'"

For Kendi, the answer to combatting comparisons of different groups is to approach the issue as an anti-racist and equate the differences of racial groups, rather than labeling them for better or worse. 

“I wanted to chronicle why – why have these racist ideas been produced and reproduced over time, why do they still remain so pervasive in our society? Who produced these ideas but more importantly why did they produce them?" Kendi said. 

Kendi’s research found that racist policies led to racist ideas, born out of self interest. 

Kendi concluded his event by explaining that in order to create an anti-racist university or country, there needs to be belief that change is possible. He said change is only possible when others believe it is. 

At the end of his lecture, Kendi was presented with a plaque for his commitment to exposing history and providing hope for the future.

Vickie Suggs-Jones, an undergraduate admissions application evaluator at UNC, was excited to attend Kendi’s lecture so she could learn more about his fascinating ideas.

“I do research on Black college history, so any topic, even though this is related to slavery, there’s still African-American history, so I brought my notebook so I can be as informative as possible,” Suggs-Jones said.  

Harrison Jacobs, a sophomore at UNC, was compelled to attend Kendi’s lecture because of a class he is taking this semester. 

“I heard about it from my professor who is the welcome speaker tonight, Dr. Lisa Lindsay, in my trans-Atlantic slave trade course," Jacobs said. "It seemed as if a lot of what Dr. Kendi was going to discuss are current day issues, and I wanted to see how what I am learning about has affected contemporary culture."

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