There is only one part of Ibram X. Kendi's name he's had all his life. Born in 1982 as Ibram H. Rogers in Queens, New York City, to parents inspired by black liberation theology, he changed his last name to Kendi, which means "the loved one" in the language of the Mem people of Kenya, when he and his wife, Sadiqa, were married in 2013. He also took the new middle name Xolani, which means "peace" in Zulu.
By this time, Kendi was already a noted historian, having written a 2012 book about black campus activism. He catapulted to much greater recognition with his 2016 book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won that year's National Book Award for Nonfiction. The book, at nearly 600 pages, packs a wallop in its unsparing dissection of the nations long and deep commitment to racism, even, at times, in the hearts of people who considered themselves defenders of equal rights.
Kendi, thirty-six, teaches history and international relations at American University in Washington, D.C., where he is also the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center. He writes regularly for The Atlantic, The New York Times, and other publications, and is a sought-after speaker, with more than a half-dozen scheduled talks around the country in January alone.
"Despite spending year's dissecting the ugly face of racism," he's written, "I never lost faith in the beauty of human potential. I still believe we can build a world where equity and opportunity are inalienable human rights."
Kendi recently spoke to The Progressive by phone from San Francisco, where he had traveled for a joint appearance with Angela Davis.
Q: Your website bio says you are "hoping and pressing for the day the New York Knicks will win an NBA championship and for the day this nation and world will be ruled by the best of humanity." Which do you think is more likely?
Ibram X. Kendi: [Laughs.] I would probably say the Knicks winning an NBA championship is more likely if I'm being straightforward. It only takes them being able to get Kevin Durant next year, maybe add another piece, and then they could be a contender, while the world being ruled by the best of humanity is gonna take a lot more than that.
Q: One of the things that astonished me about Stamped from the Beginning, beyond the depth of your research, was how uniformly it exposed the nation's racist underbelly, even in the words and deeds of people like Abraham Lincoln, William...