Video: Confronting racism in America, from Major Taylor to Ibram X. Kendi, at Morristown book fest

Major Taylor, America's first black champion.
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Race was the focus of two of the weekend’s more gripping talks at the sixth annual Morristown Festival of Books.

You can watch video of both sessions below.

Award-winning Washington Post political reporter Michael Kranish shared the story of Major Taylor, an African American who at the turn of the 20th century became a superstar in bicycle racing–a sport so dangerous that Jack Johnson would turn to boxing instead.

Taylor made $10,000 a year–huge money in those days–but success came at a dear price, according to Kranish, author of The World’s Fastest ManTaylor had to move from his native Indianapolis to the more racially tolerant Worcester, MA, for the chance to compete.

Racism was so virulent that Taylor attempted to lighten his skin with a toxic commercial potion that inflicted hellish pain. He suffered an apparent nervous breakdown, and eventually did most of his racing in Europe, where he (sometimes) received a more cordial welcome.

Major Taylor said he wanted his life to be remembered for fighting for “simple justice, equal rights and a square deal for the posterity of my down-trodden but brave people, not only in athletic games and sports, but in every honorable game of human endeavor.”

Fast-forward to 2019.  Race continues to be a flashpoint in American life.

“What would Donald Trump do if he didn’t traffic in racist ideas? He wouldn’t even have words to speak,” said Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist.

Kendi, founder of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, told a big audience at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church that there is no middle ground when it comes to racist policies.

“If we’re doing nothing in the face of racism, we’re being racist,” he said in response to a question from moderator Kali Gross, a Rutgers history professor.

Comparing racism to cancer–both subjects he knows intimately–Kendi said racism must be removed surgically, and treated with antiracist policies to prevent its recurrence.

Kendi discussed the role of black and white elites in perpetuating racism–and whether blacks can be considered racist–and said Americans need to re-calibrate their mindset.

“People are so worried about what they’re going to lose, instead of what they’re going to gain” from equitable policies, he said.

“We have to imagine a different kind of country. The single governing ideology that distinguishes America from others is fear.”

 

Festival Photo Slideshows, by Kevin Coughlin. Click/hover on images for captions:

Preet Bharara keynote.

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