Boston University professor Ibram X. Kendi suggested that black communities are primarily considered high crime because “what is criminalized has historically been based on race and power.”
In a podcast interview with Vox co-founder Ezra Klein about criminal justice, Kendi cast doubt on Klein’s assertion that increasing the number of police officers is among the most effective ways to decrease violent crime. In response, Klein theorized that systemic injustice has led to crime issues in black communities:
Going back to an argument you made earlier, I think everything in our history should lead you to believe that we created what the sociologists call or the criminologists call criminogenic conditions in Black communities. We redlined them and we kept people out of education and out of good jobs and subjected them also to a lot of police violence, among other things. And then you get a lot of crime, and then police do have both an effect on crime and also an oppressive effect as they, in different contexts, try to police that crime.
Kendi disagreed with Klein’s argument that systemic injustice caused criminogenic conditions. Instead, he argued that the definition of criminality is itself subject to racial bias:
I don’t know if I necessarily agree with scholars who make the case that Black communities have criminogenic conditions. And the reason I’m saying this is because what is criminalized has historically been based on race and power and even how certain criminalized or decriminalized acts have also been racialized… So when people hear about that person who was drinking and driving or that person who killed somebody because they were drinking and driving, it doesn’t cause them to think — they don’t perceive that as them thereby living in a dangerous neighborhood. So I’m just emphasizing this, Ezra, because even what we consider to be violence, even what we consider to be crime is highly racialized. And therefore, what neighborhoods we consider to be criminal-like and dangerous becomes highly racialized.
Klein sought to find common ground:
I think you do believe, if I’m not wrong, that a community that is pushed into poverty, that is denied health care, that is denied mental health care, that’s denied good jobs is a community where you’re going to see more crime and more acts of desperation. And that part of how we rectify some of the society’s imbalances is to ease those underlying conditions. Am I wrongly attributing a view to you here?
No, you’re not. And I guess one of the things that’s happened — and I write about this in my work. One of the things that some people would say is, they wouldn’t say, let’s say, Black people are inferior genetically. They wouldn’t say that Black people are inferior culturally. But they would say, what I sort of call in my work, the oppression inferiority thesis, which is that Black people are subjected to oppression, and that then results in behaviors that are deficient. And those behaviors include, let’s say, violent behaviors or other types of behaviors.
Moving one step further, Kendi stressed the importance of not linking crime rates to ethnic identity, but instead searching for other explanatory factors apart from race:
And it’s a very thin line between saying that there’s no such thing as a dangerous unemployed neighborhood and there’s a dangerous Black neighborhood because of unemployment. Those are two different things, and I think I wanted to really push to ensure we’re understanding these as dangerous unemployed neighborhoods. That the race of the people really don’t matter in this sense in the way that the poverty does.
Although he laid aside such categories of thought during his interview with Klein, Kendi typically argues that people’s actions — especially those carried out by white people — are fundamentally attributable to race.
For instance, Kendi implied during a recent interview with The Guardian that parents’ opposition to critical race theory is driven by their own prejudice:
I do think there’s a concerted backlash from people who recognize that this time last year a growing number of Americans were either speaking out against racism or growing an awareness of the problem of racism. That growing awareness has put a spotlight on certain policies and certain ideas and even certain people who have been facilitating systemic racism and so those very people are like, ‘How do we turn off the spotlight? How do we make the problem the people identifying us and our racism as the actual problem as opposed to racism itself?’
Samuel Sey — a blogger at Slow to Write — notes that Kendi’s work does not have much to do with a consistent opposition to racism:
Instead, his opposition to Martin Luther King Jr.’s colour-blindness has everything to do with his own love for racism. Ibram X. Kendi’s antiracism isn’t a commitment to love people, it’s a commitment to love power. He’s anointed himself as an antiracist prophet, but he’s actually an antichrist, a false prophet.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.