Ibram X. Kendi on the difference between "antiracist" and "not racist"

Ibram X. Kendi on being an antiracist

Ibram X. Kendi is on a mission to cure America of what he calls its "metastatic cancer" of racism. Kendi, the founding director of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center at American University, told "CBS This Morning" that what we need to do first is re-examine what it means to be "not racist" and strive instead to be "antiracist."

But what's the difference?

According to Kendi, whose new book "How To Be an Antiracist" comes out Tuesday, when we're thinking about the history of the term "not racist," we're really thinking about eugenicists and Jim Crow segregationists and even white supremacists today who deny they are racist. 

"That's really the only real meaning this term has held," Kendi said. "But antiracist in contrast has a meaning of somebody who views the racial groups as equals, someone who is pressing for policies that creates racial equity."

A recent Pew Research Center poll finds more than half of American adults think race relations are bad, and getting worse.

One of the other fundamental ideas of Kendi's new book is that being a racist is not an identity, not a permanent condition of an individual, but rather a temporary condition based on actions.

"I think with my earlier work chronicling the history of racist ideas, I found that you had some people, who in the same speech, even in the same paragraph of the same speech, would say things that were both racist and anti-racist," Kendi said. "So then how would we identify that person as being a racist when they also said antiracist things? They also spoke about racial equality. And so what's actually happening is I define racist and even antiracist as based on what a person is saying or doing in the moment. And we constantly change. Human beings are deeply complex, and I think that's a more accurate way to explain this."

Kendi's book release coincides with the two-year anniversary of the Charlottesville riots where two violent clashes between white supremacists and counter-protesters left one person dead and dozens injured. "CBS This Morning" brought together a diverse group of people who were in Charlottesville that weekend to have an open and honest conversation about race and asked Kendi to lead the discussion.

"We still have to wrap our heads around the fact that August 12 happened in Charlottesville for a reason," said social activist Don Gathers during the discussion. "That underbelly of racism that was running here before that fateful weekend still very much exists here today."

You can watch more of their conversation in the below video:

Charlottesville residents talk candidly about racism 2 years after deadly riots