“The better I understood racism, the better I was able to navigate it,” said New York Times bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi to the packed bleachers of Kaiser Permanente Arena. 

“I think it is critically important for Black students to understand racism,” continued Kendi. “And more importantly, know that there’s nothing wrong with them.” 

Santa Cruz was the eighth stop for Kendi and fellow author Nic Stone on their nationwide 10-day book tour. Over 1,000 people attended the panel on Feb. 5, hosted by Bookshop Santa Cruz in partnership with NAACP Santa Cruz County and the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. The authors were joined by Santa Cruz author, artist, and founder of Everyone’s Music School, Thomas Sage Pedersen, to discuss their new book, ‘How to Be a (Young) Antiracist.’

The new release remodels Kendi’s 2019 book ‘How to Be an Antiracist’ by centering younger audiences, putting their experiences front and center. The book provides insight into identifying and dismantling racism for people of any age, but was created for youth 12 and up. 

“It’s important that we don’t shut kids down,” Stone said. “It’s important for them to understand that those different skin colors align with different experiences, different types of treatment in society […] Kids can handle it, y’all. They can handle our conversations about race.” 

Kendi explained that when people “don’t see color” or refuse to acknowledge race, they neglect the inequities many face in their daily lives. 

Kendi also questioned the act of claiming not to be racist, positing that it is an insistent denial of subconscious racism without understanding what constitutes racism. 

“A racist idea is any concept that suggests a racial group is superior or inferior to another racial group,” Kendi said. “We want people to understand that, so they can unpack how they think about different racial groups […] That’s why we spend so much time on definitions, so people can see themselves and transform.” 

For the last portion of the event, Kendi and Stone responded to questions submitted by students from local schools. 

The last question came from a 12-year old in the audience: “How can you stay hopeful when there are so many acts of violence […] Also what do you do with the anger that lives inside when you see so much injustice?” 

The speakers sat with the audience for a moment. 

“It’s [through] interacting with the young people that we see that there is hope,” responded Stone to the middle schooler. “You are thinking about things that when I was 12, I wasn’t allowed to think.”