Monday, February 1, 2021

Who Is Ibram X. Kendi?

By now you have probably heard about one Ibram X. Kendi. He has written a number of wildly popular books about anti-racism. He even holds a chair at Boston University.

Being as I have not read his works, I cannot offer an extended commentary. Though you might say that if I had the least suspicion that they were worth any attention, I would have read them.

Now, John McWhorter, a black man and a professor himself, a man who has been called out by Kendi for not being sufficiently anti-racist, returns the disfavor. In a Substack column he explains that Kendi’s career is the product of reverse bigotry:

The people who sit drinking all of this in and calling it deep wouldn’t let it pass for a minute if he were white.

There is, in short, a degree of bigotry in how this man is received by people of power and influence.

Ah, ha. Different standards for different people. Some might call it reverse racism.

On the off chance that you have read Kendi, here is McWhorter’s evaluation:

Kendi, though, reads for isolated words and single sentences rather than argument, for flavor rather than content. It is one more demonstration among many of his lack of familiarity with what people with doctorates, as well as people who write for the public and present themselves as thinkers, are expected to do.

It is of a piece with the fact that his “scholarship” is not based on sustained, original research utilizing close reasoning and being tempered through rigorous evaluation by peers over years’ time. Too, I am unaware of a single instance of Kendi actually taking a deep breath and defending one of his ideas, as opposed to batting away criticism as somehow inappropriate.

So, Kendi is gaming the system. He is using accusations of racism to cover up his feeble scholarship. And white liberals rejoice, thinking that if they do not agree, they must be racists. Didn’t Jack Dorsey, of Twitter fame, contribute to Kendi’s anti-racism group?

This does not, contrary to popular belief, mean that he is a megalomaniac or a huckster. However, it does mean that he is in way over his head. He strikes me as a deer caught in the headlights, and I don’t blame him for trying to make the best of that regardless. There is a certain mystique in his name, upon which we might consider that he was born Henry Rogers. Henry had no idea this fame was coming, and he’s doing his best.

Kendi has become famous for pretending that fairness does not matter, that a level playing field does not matter, but that outcomes are all that matter. If blacks lag in performance, it must mean that the country is racist, and that you, if you are non-black, must be racist too. Thus, we will dumb down your children in order to eliminate the performance gap.

Ibram Kendi is someone who, in the role of social scientist, proposes a “Department of Antiracism,” in neglect of a little something called the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Kendi’s insight on education, untethered to any engagement with pedagogical or psychometric theory, is that we should evaluate students on the basis of their “desire to know” rather than anything they actually do. This is a person whose most ready counsel to the public about interracial adoption is that white adopters might still be racists even if they don’t think they are.

“Desire to know…” Whatever does that mean? And how do we evaluate anyone’s desire to know?

Kendi is a professor who, in the guise of being trained in intellectual inquiry, bristles at real questions. He dismisses them as either racism or as frustrated responses to envy, as if he bears not proposal but truth. His ideas are couched in simple oppositions mired somewhere between catechism and fable, of a sort alien to what intellectual engagement in the modern world consists of, utterly foreign to exchange among conference academics or even Zooming literati. And on that, let us remember that he is also someone who, into the twenty-first century, was walking around thinking of whites as “devils” à la Minister Farrakhan.

Perhaps not a Farrakhan disciple, but a Farrakhan sympathizer. Well, at least he wasn’t a white supremacist.

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