44 Comments

Oh, emergency: https://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory/bu-finds-ibram-kendis-antiracist-research-center-managed-104693852

What's this mean? Hard to believe. Too much money went in to admit it got flushed down the porcelain throne?

Expand full comment

I do love this essay, it brings a lot of different strands of thought together. As such there are a lot of different arguments that can be made for and against the authors point of view. The bit at the end about the Roman Empire is interesting. There are a lot of reasons it took a 1000 years to reestablish a reason based society in the West and of course other civilizations carried on such as Islamic, Chinese and even the Mongols (who's history is often overlooked). It should be noted that influences from these civilizations allowed the West to reestablish a rationalist tradition. It should also be noted that rationality never disappears even in the darkest dark age as superstition is also present in the most modern secular society. Superstition, violence, and chaos are always choices a individual or a society can make.

Expand full comment

--> I have my thoughts about him

So do I. He's a clown who should be ignored.

Expand full comment

Has Kendi, his Center or anyone of his ilk ever started a school either here or elsewhere in the world that teaches children using their theories of education and anti-racism? If so, how successful are the graduates in the "real" world or even their world?

Expand full comment

Excellent critique. Long overdue.

His books deserve a careful proof reading and fact checking, not awards.

I add a small point. On page 42 of How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi quotes a statistic on the proportion of black people killed by police 40 years ago. I could not find the source but suspect it to be overstated. If true it would mean police have dramatically reduced the proportion of black victims of police shootings.

Expand full comment

Extremely useful article. Has even had the effect of making me buy Finkelstein's book... a feat, as I avoid reading him or Chomsky both for fear of getting an embolism. But I will never refuse to hear a good argument because I dislike the speaker.

Still, don't you get tired of all these people who are not historians, spewing history assessments right and left? (Kendi as well. He has a degree in African American Studies, in which universe does this makes him a historian, as his biography repeats?) Not directed to Kaiser, History of Science is a respectable branch.

But just a couple small points.

"Like the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—which has become practically the alternate national anthem of Japan"... uh, nice to know. It also happens to be the actual anthem of the European Union. It means a lot. To a lot of us from across the pond.

"The last time that such ideas fell off the radar—at the end of the Roman Empire—it took about one thousand years for their renaissance to begin" ... fine effect statement, but about a completely not comparable historical, social and cultural context.

You mean the Western Roman Empire of course, as the Eastern one continued for approximately the same thousand years you mentioned after the end of the Western. The Western Roman Empire was not particularly keen on the Greek-Roman culture of reason (which itself was extremely different in principles and practice from the Enlightenment, even though it is one of its roots), as Christianity had dealt it a fatal blow since the time of Constantine, well before it was entrenched by the Edict of Thessalonica -- and that was it for the cultural part of the fall; which yet could have been less serious, and develop rational antibodies earlier, if it were not for the socio-political part: the great migrations of Germanic peoples that happened in the last 300 years of the Empire. Enter what old historians called the Dark Ages.

Bear with me, I am a Medievalist. It is a fascinating aphorism for today's problems, but it does not stand actual comparison.

And last. The situation is dire in the USA, I can see it. It is somewhat stupid in Canada too, Australia and New Zealand. Much less so in Europe, aside from some fields, because this is a fever mostly of the English speaking world. Postmodernism is rampant in academia and the elite institutions almost everywhere (efficient corporations do, by the way, pay lip service to it while continuing their unspeakably evil merit-based practices, because, look, there's that to say about capitalism, that inefficiency is punished by bankruptcy. Just try to run modern technology with "other ways of knowing"). I sincerely doubt that the Sciences will fall very low, for they are based on results. The Humanities might for a while, and especially those disciplines in the middle, Social Sciences. But scholars are already setting up alternative institutions, and there is pushback in the existing ones, not just as a reaction of the pendulum in the direction of censorship of an opposite political brand.

Reason, once unleashed, is more resilient than many would think. What we need is to adapt to the wave of technological innovation that has blurred our perception of reality, allowing each of us to live (and even make a living) in a virtual world; great freedom, great danger. From that there is no turning away. And of course these ideas will stay... ideas have persistency, even without the echo chambers of media, especially those that hit some subconscious spot in our minds. But stay does not mean that they will be, or remain, hegemonic.

(And if I may: use Foucault. He was a clever chap, whom the 'woke' camp misuses at its peril. Take these new grand narratives and look where they build power, and for whom. The grievance industry is huge. Its power and its revenue, though, can be deconstructed. Case in point it seems, this last debacle.)

Expand full comment
Oct 16·edited Oct 16

Oddly, I am reading this piece experiencing an unusual amount of sympathy for Kendi and his ideas. Not because he is not wrong on many points; he is. But am trying to put myself in his shoes. Anyone would feel uncomfortable if it were their race or demographic group that seemed to be the manifestly unsuccessful one, and he is trying to find reasons that relieve that discomfort. Some are not terribly valid and perhaps some are better than we think.

Regarding his statement "What if the intellect of a low-testing Black child in a poor Black school is different from—and not inferior to—the intellectual of a high-testing White child in a rich White school?", I understand the impulse behind it. Though I think the real drivers of the low-test scores are poverty, legacy of Jim Crow, breakdown of family, culture that doesn't value academics, etc.

I guess what I am saying though is that, while we have to read Kendi critically and notice his many errors, it's important to understand what creates his point of view, mistaken though it may be.

And I'd add that letting his critique of America "interrogate" some of our fixed notions is ok by me, whether that critique has value or not.

Expand full comment

I've never read any of KI's work, but if this summary is reasonably accurate, it should take an only minimally trained critical thinker twenty minutes to understand how contradictory it is, and how clueless KI is of human nature.

So I simply do not understand how his religion has taken hold, other than pathological altruism.

Expand full comment

Kendi sounds like Hamas of America.

Expand full comment

Why should racism be given the status of "original sin"? I know you get in trouble for arguing that there is nothing that special about the sin of racism compared to a host of other human sins.

Racism is not "original sin", and unquestioningly accepting that title has created the horribly flawed idea that if we fix racism all our other problems will be solved. It also, undeservedly, elevates racism above all other human shortcomings.

But using the word "original" in front of "racism" is BRILLIANT marketing. I would argue that single decision has resulted in all his success.

Expand full comment

Thanks for this warts-and-all exposé of the intellectually bankrupt notions of Ibram X. Kendi. Will people ever laugh at themselves for thinking he was some sort of prophet?

Expand full comment

It's a tough one though . . . the Enlightenment makes a claim to universality, but it cannot be denied that it arose within a somewhat culturally-specific context. For a good couple of hundred years plus, nobody operating within it had much of a problem with declaring not only the ideas but the culture that produced it superior to all others. Nobody had much hesitation about essentially spreading the principles of the enlightment via European culture "at the point of the sword". Nobody had any hesitation forcing Stanford undergraduates to survey "Western Civilization" as the foundation of their career in higher education.

No more obviously. While some may make the case that Enlightenment principles are universal and superior, hardly anyone is ready to make that case for the culture from which it arose. Basically nobody is arguing that that culture should be spread and/or maintained even in Europe itself by force of arms, much less anywhere else. Realistically, I don't see it happening any other way.

Expand full comment
founding

I now see how places like San Francisco arrive at delaying algebra until the 9th grade. It isn't that some cultures need to catch up, it's that they must be treated equally, including preventing the dominant culture from enjoying the benefit of their abilities, unless and until their advantage ceases to exist. As if they didn't earn their advantage by they or their ancestors doing the hard work that they eventually passed down to their families.

Expand full comment

for the longest time i was trying to think of ways to describe politics outside of the traditional left right paradigm. enlightenment verse anti-enlightenment is quite accurate

Expand full comment

Two quick, additional points about David Kaiser's thoughtful analysis:

1. When I first read Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning, pretentiously subtitled, "The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America," I was immediately reminded of an older book I had read as an undergraduate, Winthrop Jordan's 1969 classic, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro 1550-1812. Incidentally Jordan won the the 1969 National Book Award for that SCHOLARSHIP. Indeed, Kendi footnotes Jordan at one point. However, if one reads Kendi's stories and vignettes about 18th and early 19th century American racism, one finds barely amended versions of Jordan's painstaking research. It's instructive, for example, to compare Kendi's discussion of Benjamin Banneker's correspondence with Thomas Jefferson to Jordan's discussion of the same correspondence. The language and sequence of the the two narratives are disturbingly similar. If I had seen this from a doctoral student, I'd have been torn between having a serious private conversation and turning the case over to an academic integrity office. Since this work derived from Kendi's dissertation, I can only assume that he was ill-served by his department. This confirms John McWhorter's argument that Kendi is not an academic in the traditional sense, but rather an activist/polemicist who happens to have an advanced degree. The real blame, however, falls on the institutions like the National Book Foundation that bestowed its highest award on Kendi's book.

2. It always struck me a more than a bit bizarre that Kendi (and other social justice warriors) decry the Enlightenment, science, and the western scholarly tradition as bastions of racism, while deploying unsophisticated and frankly sophomoric applications of that tradition. Kendi's tortured concept of equity is, as David Kaiser implies, low grade social science; just count up differences based on race and compare, with no meaningful statistical controls. Similarly, Kendi's outlandish proposal for a national Department of Anti-Racism staffed by credentialed experts is a bastardization of classic Progressive Era programs, which Daniel Rogers in his study, Atlantic Crossings, brilliantly traces back to the Verein für Socialpolitik, Humbolt University, and the German scholars (e.g. Gustav Schmoller and Adolph Wagner, etc.) with whom many American Progressives studied.

Sadly, I suspect Kaiser is correct that we are not going back to an Enlightenment hegemony any time soon...too much money and too many careers, especially administrative ones, are tied up in the Social Justice Industrial Complex.

Expand full comment

This essay shows how kind and complementary Glenn's "empty suit" description of Kendi is.

Expand full comment