On the heels of his 2019 best-selling book, “How To Be An Antiracist,” the meteoric rise in popularity of Ibram X. Kendi has still not reached its apex, particularly in the current, racially charged political climate. Kendi seems everywhere at the moment, appearing with Oprah, on The Late Show, as well as in a slew of interviews and profile pieces in various publications. Kendi is also a CBS correspondent and, most recently, the director and founder of Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research.
Beneath his telegenic appeal and articulate evangelizing of “antiracism,” however, a form of zealotry emerges that is not only untenable, it is also dividing our nation into even further extremes.
Kendi’s overarching point in “How To Be An Antiracist” is an insistence that one must be proactive against racism. Passivity, according to Kendi, is to be fundamentally complicit in racism, as an elaborate piece on the thought leader for GQ details:
“How to Be an Antiracist is a concise pair of antonyms that lay the foundation for the book’s argument.
- Racist: one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.
- Antiracist: one who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.
His point is clear: There can be no in-between. You can’t be passive in this conversation.”
Implicit in Kendi’s proposition is that if white men and women are not actively denouncing any and all forms of perceived racism — including alleged “systemic racism” — they are, by default, racist.
This is exceedingly evident in the recent nationwide “I Take Responsibility” campaign endorsed by Black Lives Matters and the NAACP. It not only reifies Kendi’s “antiracist” mantra, it explicitly demands a kind of obeisance from white men and women:
“Enough is enough.
This begins with white men and women taking responsibility for their personal role in eradicating racism in America — taking a stand and committing to change.
It is not enough to not be racist.
We must be anti-racist.
In effect, Kendi’s “antiracism” is, fundamentally, racist. His teachings are premised on the terrible assumption inherent in all prejudice that people can be lumped into monolithic categories based exclusively on superficialities and cursory suppositions. He predicts that charge in his aforementioned book and attempts to counter it with the following bit of sophistry:
“The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist. Someone reproducing inequity through permanently assisting an overrepresented racial group into wealth and power is entirely different than someone challenging that inequity by temporarily assisting an underrepresented racial group into relative wealth and power until equity is reached.”
In other words, one can uphold and even pursue racial discrimination, according to Kendi, as long as it works toward his definition of a more “egalitarian” society. The group that can be targeted most freely in this flawed philosophy, of course, is white men and women.
Such specious arguments are inherently rooted in Critical Race Theory that is, in turn, built upon postmodern notions of systemic racism and power.
“[C]ritical race Theory,” according to New Discourses, “begins with a cynical view that race is the predominant structural element of American (and other) societies, and that all analyses of race must incorporate systemic power, which is to say systemic racism. This, it insists, is everywhere, ordinary, permanent, and mostly (and badly) hidden, a kind of racism that is just beneath the surface. … One duty of the critical race Theorist is to expose this hidden racism wherever it can be found.”
More to the point, what Kendi is advocating for ultimately is a form of racial totalitarianism. In his review of “How To Be An Antiracist” for City Journal, Coleman Hughes spells this out in no uncertain terms:
“Kendi’s goals are openly totalitarian. The DOA would be tasked with ‘investigating’ private businesses and ‘monitoring’ the speech of public officials; it would have the power to reject any local, state, or federal policy before it’s implemented; it would be made up of ‘experts’ who could not be fired, even by the president; and it would wield ‘disciplinary tools’ over public officials who did not ‘voluntarily’ change their ‘racist ideas’—as defined, presumably, by people like Kendi. What could possibly go wrong?”
Hughes’ exacting critique of Kendi’s highly influential work was written in 2019, well before the current and seemingly endless waves of BLM protests and riots that have gripped the nation. No one could predict the seismic paradigm shift that’s occurring right now when Hughes wrote:
“The odds of Kendi’s proposal entering the political mainstream may seem miniscule and therefore not worth worrying about.”
Unfortunately, Kendi’s work is fast becoming mainstream and it does not bode well for any of us — black, white, brown, or otherwise. More violence and subsequent backlashes seem inevitable. “Antiracism” will not draw us together as a nation; it will only foster further enmity and divisions rooted in exhausting superficialities and postmodern tropes.