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Ibram X Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist

[1]5,116 words

Ibram X. Kendi
How to Be an Antiracist
New York: One World, 2019

I recently ran across a copy of How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, neé Rogers. I figured it would be a good opportunity to get rid of some of that unearned white privilege. Heck, who needs all that extra baggage, right?

The opening, “My Racist Introduction,” begins when he’s up for the final round of the Prince William County Martin Luther King Jr. oratorical contest, wearing a colorful outfit. Then he flashes back to being on the basketball court when his father arrives at the game to deliver Kendi’s acceptance letter to college. He didn’t consider himself the scholarly type, since his grades were middling and his SAT score was a little over 1000. Later he concludes:

I thought I was a subpar student and was bombarded by messages — from Black people, White people, the media — that told me the reason was rooted in my race. . . which made me more discouraged, and less motivated as a student. . . which only further reinforced for me the racist idea that Black people just weren’t very studious. . . which made me feel even more despair or indifference. . . and on it went.

The rest of the introduction covers the MLK contest itself. He now regrets his speech for sending the wrong message, lamenting about dysfunctions in the black community. Then there’s some Orange Man Bad stuff, much about politically incorrect quotes. (The appendix lists an old one; The Donald says he hates his money being counted by blacks. “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. . .” Well, that figures.) Finally, he discusses the importance of being an antiracist rather than merely non-racist.

The author at a glance

Since then, Kendi’s overcome any misgivings about his role in academia. Ultimately earning a Ph.D. in African American Studies, he launched a career as a professor. Lately, he has a fellowship at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Concurrently, he’s the director at Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research, to which Twitter’s head honcho Jack Dorsey donated $10 million [2]. Other than that, he also holds a Guggenheim fellowship. Among his several books about race relations, How to Be an Antiracist became the most popular, which got a major boost after George Floyd suffered a coronary [3] while being arrested. It reached number one in the NYT bestseller list, and the eminent Gray Lady also had printed a laudatory review.

With the hallowed imprimatur of elite-level academia, he draws a salary to indoctrinate classrooms of impressionable students. Not only that, he’s been rewarded with some sweet book deals. Therefore, he’s been granted great prestige and a wide audience. He certainly wouldn’t be the first Leftist activist to imagine he’s fighting The System while unwittingly serving its purposes.

For the cherry on top, Fairfax Country (VA) paid him $20K for a one-hour virtual presentation [4] last August about “Cultivating an Anti-racist School Community.” Sweet! That’s about like getting 1,666 ninjaghinis in a DLive superchat session. Cupcake probably pulls in more for Clinton Foundation lectures, but even so, that hour of hard work was about what the average full-time forklift operator makes in eight months.

I am shocked — shocked — at how badly America’s bigoted society oppresses its black dissidents like this! Will the persecution never end?

A more sensible point

Lately, there’s been a minor kerfuffle [5] about a couple of tweets he made concerning President Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett, to replace Ruth Babykiller Ginsburg. He complained about her adopting two Haitian kids. Others apparently have read a little much [6] into that, so I’ll quote him directly:

Some White colonizers “adopted” Black children. They “civilized” these “savage” children in the “superior” ways of White people, while using them as props in their lifelong pictures of denial, while cutting the biological parents of these children out of the picture of humanity.

And whether this is Barrett or not is not the point. It is a belief too many White people have: if they have or adopt a child of color, then they can’t be racist.

There seem to be a lot of assumptions in that one — colonizers who believe they’re civilizing savages and all that. Still, I’ll concur about the virtue signaling. Celebrity airheads need to quit bringing back kids from exotic locales as if they were living souvenirs, and also their trendy imitators [7]. There’s something deeply wrong with this. Furthermore, children have a right to be raised within their own culture. Lastly, I have to wonder if The Donald did enough research there for his Supreme Court pick. His future may rest on this, as SCOTUS will have to rule on all the ballot box stuffing [8] by Biden’s fans.

Opening premises

Most chapters begin with definitions, generally his framing of the subject, and usually in accord with au courant academic Leftist thought. The first chapter defines “racist” as “One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.” An antiracist does approximately the opposite. There is no middle ground.

I’ll have to differ at this early point. “Racist” is too loaded to be useful; therefore an anti-concept [9]. Using such polemical terminology is rather like holding a panel on comparative religion and one of the participants incessantly calls everyone else heretics preaching heresy. That might make for a lively interfaith conference, but not much clarity will emerge. Still, given the subject matter here, we’ll have to run with it.

Then the author discusses his ideological journey, surprisingly beginning prior to his birth. Shortly after his parents met, they attended a Soul Liberation concert in 1970. Even thousands of whites were “swaying and singing along to the soulful sounds of Black power.” The keynote speaker began preaching liberation theology. (More frequently, that’s Catholic-flavored Herz-Jesu-Sozialismus; imagine Sandinista Christ in a St. Che beret waving an AK-47.) Later, his father received a keynote definition from a Harlem theological luminary: “A Christian is one who is striving for liberation.” That might seem pretty ultracalvinist, but hey, I remember back when “Is the Pope Catholic?” was only a rhetorical question!

[10]

The Pope strives for liberation while wearing a robe curiously embroidered with Pizzagate symbols.

Further definitions follow, clarifying his position. I’ll excerpt the main points:

Much follows concerning the last item. For beginners:

By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy.

Thus, if a policy in its many possible forms isn’t explicitly antiracist, then it’s racist by this special definition. That kind of thing is pretty much the cornerstone of this book. (Still, Bush the Younger does dichotomies better — “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Epic!) I’ll make up an example. A law meant to limit pollution would be nonracist if it results in reducing racial inequity. If it benefits all populations the same — which is fairly likely since everyone breathes the same air and drinks the same water — then it’s a racist pollution control law. Since the author carefully spelled out exactly what he meant, and is quite serious about all this, then such implications are hardly an exaggeration.

Uh, wait a minute. . .

[11]

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So that’s interesting if one accepts all the premises (stated or implied), but the devil is in the details. To make jaywalking laws antiracist, it would be necessary to study the disparate impact of existing ones and figure out how to rewrite them to promote more racial equity. Of course, murder is a big one. Blacks, who are about an eighth of the USA’s population, commit slightly more than half the murders. (Merely citing crime statistics is one of the things likely to get someone banned on social media these days.) To create an antiracist murder law, should we set 3/4 of black murder convicts free at random, or instead give them a 75% discount on their sentences? Should this preferential treatment apply only to convicts of pure African descent, or do the benefits taper off and end after 1/8 African or something?

Did anyone notice the big underlying assumption? In order for absolute equality of outcome to occur naturally between the races, then they cannot differ biologically, culturally, or behaviorally in any meaningful way. However, if such differences indeed do exist, then differences in results are unavoidable, no matter how well everyone was committed to getting along. Passing laws to equalize results would be senseless and unjust, bringing us to the Iron Bed of Procrustes, Harrison Bergeron’s dystopia, and all that — not too different from what The System already is trying to do.

Not to worry; the author has all that covered, neatly wrapping the tautology with chapters 4, 7, and 8 about biology, culture, and behavior. His position is that there are no meaningful differences in these areas. Disagreeing with these premises, of course, is racist. Failing to promote them actively is racist too. Preach the litany of anathemas or be damned with the heretics. And of course:

The use of standardized tests to measure aptitude and intelligence is one of the most effective racist policies devised to degrade Black minds and legally exclude Black bodies.

It’s a very long story, but despite nearly a century of attempting to explain away inconvenient results, making the entire subject a taboo, and otherwise muddying the waters, Leftist academics with Comrade Lysenko’s mentality are still beating that dead horse.

If one maintains the absolute egalitarian premises given above — no meaningful differences in biology, culture, or behavior — then “racism” is the only possible cause for disparities in outcome between races. The implications go pretty far, of course. Disparate health outcomes are blamed on racism; genetic differences and dietary preferences can’t have anything to do with even part of that. This much is cherry-picked. With these premises, it’s completely inexplicable why blacks suffer less skin cancer, for example, than whites. It’s starting to get tiresome — racism this, racism that, racism racism racism und so weiter.

More stuff about racism

The second chapter opens with an anecdote near the author’s birth:

Just before that arrival, as my pregnant mother celebrated her thirty-first birthday on June 24, 1982, President Reagan declared war on her unborn baby. “We must put drug abuse on the run through stronger law enforcement,” Reagan said in the Rose Garden.

Incorrect. I have no idea if the author likes to toke up the 420 or whatever, but I’m quite certain he wasn’t up to anything of the sort when he was still a bun in the oven. Other than that, drug abuse occurs in all races and should be considered a vice.

Then it discusses a three-way tension between competing alternatives to the race problem: segregation, assimilation, and antiracism. It indicates the former two are typically white responses; blacks generally embrace assimilation or antiracism. The author cites Thomas Jefferson as generally universalist, though overstating the case considerably. It’s quite odd that he doesn’t distinguish nationalism as a fourth way. It’s certainly different from segregation where they got the fuzzy side of the lollipop – riding in the back of the bus, separate drinking fountains and lunch counters, and all that. Instead, nationalism offers sovereignty, full control over their destiny, the ability to manage their affairs and celebrate their culture according to their sensibilities, and no whites to ruin everything for them. Surely he knows the teachings of figures like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X.

The book continues along the same lines, interspersing personal history, sometimes including a dose of samokritika, with political theory. The latter is topical per chapter, such as microaggression theory [13] or the trendy idea of race as a social construct. The ideological odyssey is, in linear fashion, running through the chapters.

Early on, much concerns his education; for starters, complaining about whites who pull their kids out of the local public schools which are mostly black. (Golly, why would they want to do that [14]?) His parents send him to religious schools, some more to his liking than others. By now, they’ve given him much instruction in racial consciousness around the same time that white liberal kids get told that racial consciousness is bad.

The personal narrative does drive home some political points. For example, concerning the O. J. Simpson verdict:

When “not guilty” sliced the silence like a cleaver, we leapt from behind our desks, shouting, hugging each other, wanting to call our friends and parents to celebrate. . . Over in Manhattan. . . my father and his Black co-workers migrated out of the room with grins under their frowns. . . I wanted O.J. to run free. I had been listening to what the Black adults around me had been lecturing about for months in 1994. They did not think O.J. was innocent of murder any more than they thought he was innocent of selling out his people. But they knew the criminal-justice system was guilty, too.

A litany follows about high-profile 1980s-1990s cases in LA and NYC involving police brutality and misconduct. (The implication is pretty clear: these things made it right for Simpson to get away with double murder.) Then the discussion quickly shifts into hurtful ethnic jokes and friction between African Americans and recently-arrived black populations.

When Ghanaian immigrants to the United States join with White Americans and say African Americans are lazy, they are recycling the racist ideas of White Americans about African Americans.

What, they can’t make up their minds themselves? The author later did convince one of his Ghanaian students that his attitudes ultimately came from whites. (Is there any ethnic stereotype anywhere in the world that whites didn’t create?)

In chapter 6, Kendi’s personal odyssey part goes discordantly with political rhetoric. Kendi lived in Flushing during his early teens, a formerly white working-class neighborhood in Queens where nearly all the former inhabitants fled. High school is his first experience with public education. A fellow student pulls a gun on him. (“Smurf” also brutally mugs a kid on the bus for his Walkman, and not even the driver stops the young mattoid.) Then the author discusses his brief interest in the Zulu Nation gang, impressed with its reach and history. During a rumble, he sneaks up on a skinny youth and sucker-punches him. “He went down hard on the pavement and I skittered off.”

As for the political rhetoric in this chapter, it complains about bipartisan efforts during the 1990s to get street crime under control. As one might expect, he dismisses the racial factor in bad neighborhoods. He found some statistics that employment and small business ownership negatively correlate to violence. At that point, I was glad to see that he’s onto something constructive. Then he denounces capitalism in a later chapter.

Kendi pointedly states that there’s nothing wrong with black culture or black behavior. It’s assimilationist to regard Ebonics, rap music, fashions like baggy pants, and so forth as something backward, although there are plenty of blacks who have misgivings about all that. As for social problems like drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, and flaking off school, he argues that these shouldn’t be regarded as racial in nature either. (Really, CivNats do a much better job of saying everyone is just an individual and all that.) The problem here is that rebellion for its own sake against white standards and degenerate rap music glorifying criminal lifestyles have had some real-world consequences, as have a lot of counterproductive Leftist ideology and policies. Michael Jackson had a good point about facing the man in the mirror.

To be antiracist is to think nothing is behaviorally wrong or right — inferior or superior — with any of the racial groups.

Really, every society has its positive aspects as well as areas it can improve, and I’ll certainly say that underperformers in my own race need to get their act together. I suppose it’s easier to blame racism and Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome (I’m not making this up) for everything, and then criticizing whites for considering ghettoes to be dangerous no-go zones. This sort of talk was seriously worn out long ago. Leftists (and more so with Zionists for that matter) seldom understand that bad behavior causes so-called prejudice. It’s not about ignorance; it’s about knowledge gained from experience.

The intersectionality buffet

[15]

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Several chapters are about some other personal characteristics generally forming identity groups, though mercifully it’s not tediously exhaustive like some Ivory Tower scribblers. (For example, “fat studies” is a real thing, lately taught at a couple of Left Coast state schools. Surely it’s a great way to get a job in fast food.) All such factors are considered in the context of race, which is different from how such subjects are usually treated by other Leftist figures.

The first one concerns color, mainly discussing the rivalry between lighter and darker blacks. That much was a bit interesting, as I don’t have personal experience of it. (I would’ve expected there to be more mutual solidarity.) Then lots of politically incorrect quotes follow, usually older than a century. I have to wonder if the author has a Rolodex file for this sort of thing. Here we also find out that it was NeNe Leakes who called President Trump “Orange Man.” Hey, I learned something new!

Another one is about class, which is rather refreshing since cultural Marxists generally put this distinction in last place (if they even mention it at all). By this time, the author has moved to a rough neighborhood in Philadelphia.

Death resided there, too, apparently. My new Black neighbors had been told for years that Hunting Park and Allegheny West were two of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Philadelphia — the poorest, with the highest reported rates of violent crime.

Golly, I’m sure the crime rate [17] has nothing to do with the people actually living there, now does it? He briefly goes into some history: “racist developers” created suburbs for “fleeing Whites, while largely confining Black natives and new Black migrants to the so-called ghettos, now overcrowded and designed to extract wealth from their residents.” I’ll add that the ghettoes that sprouted mid-century used to be orderly, tight-knit, white working-class neighborhoods with a flourishing Catholic spirituality. Nice places to live and raise children, until they were taken over. Apparently, when the population was replaced, the character of the neighborhood changed too. It’s strange how that works.

Kendi identifies capitalism as the cause of poverty. I’ll concur that there’s a lot wrong with the way capitalism is being done now. Fortunately, there’s more than one way to run a market economy. Distributism would go a long way toward improving economically blighted areas, no matter who is living there.

The chapter on gender covers a lot of ground, including feminist perspectives. Some of it gets pretty foul. The author asserts that there’s nothing wrong with single motherhood. GLBT perspectives come into the picture too, carried forward into the next chapter about sexuality. That one dips its toes into radical gender theory too.

Other items

Chapter 10, “White,” discusses Kendi’s journey beyond anti-white racism. Newly in college and angered by the disputed results of the 2000 election, he concludes:

White people became devils to me, but I had to figure out how they came to be devils. I read “The Making of Devil,” a chapter in Elijah Muhammad’s Message to the Blackman in America, written in 1965.

This odd Nation of Islam text describes how a mad scientist named Yakub created the non-black races, the worst and final product being whites. (It’s rather like how in the Tolkien legendarium, Sauron gradually created orcs from horribly mistreated elves.) Well, lots of college students get convinced of silly stuff, right? He dives into some other Afrocentric nonsense, illustrating that whites evolved in a cold climate and became barbaric while Africans remained cooperative and peaceful [18]. Finally, he concludes that we’re a bunch of aliens.

Malcolm X came to a more universalist position. The author eventually does too. I’ll add that even so, through the internal logic of his special definitions and his skewed perspective of the world, he not only has license to keep complaining incessantly about whites, he believes it’s a duty and a positive good.

The following chapter, “Black,” discusses racial views of blacks — particularly the low-class types. The political digression reveals more advanced thought than some academic Leftists who assert that non-whites are powerless in order to grant them a free pass for bad behavior. A long litany follows about black sellouts who are racist against themselves. Curiously missing is an exploration of black biases about whites and the consequences thereof [19].

In chapter 13, “Space,” he defends black spaces and criticizes assimilationist aspects of integration. What he envisions, though, is everyone having unrestricted access to each other’s spaces. We already have that, at least theoretically. (If I wanted to move to Detroit, I could.) It’s unclear, though, how territorial integrity will be possible and encroachment can be prevented. Ever since desegregation, it’s been one turf war after another.

The most notable part of chapter 16 covers the distinction between demonstrations and protests; generally, the difference between blowing off steam and creating an effective ongoing strategy. Chapter 17 discusses institutionalized racism and the Trayvon Martin case. (Missing from the discussion is the MSM’s spin, such as willfully mischaracterizing it as a white-on-black incident, leading to riots and misplaced retaliatory violence.) The author affirms his commitment to antiracism. It seems that he really wants to be a better person, and may well have mellowed out and become a nice guy as he’s gotten older and wiser. The problem is that by then he’d been marinated for years in critical race theory, nursing some very old grudges, and traumatized by a centuries-long litany of one-sided atrocity stories. His journey to universalism, if he wishes to pursue it, still has a long way to go.

By one-sided, I mean that “diversity + proximity = war” works both ways. Kendi also only considers one side of the story for several of these events. For example, the Birmingham church bombing was one of those COINTELPRO false flag attacks. Ironically, it was meant to carry out an antiracist agenda to discredit the Ku Klux Klan, and it worked. For that matter, Kendi mentioned the 2007-2008 financial crisis when comparing blue-collar crimes to white-collar crimes, and aren’t those whites in the suburbs a bigger batch of crooks? The financial crisis’ cause [20] was the government carrying out an antiracist agenda to pressure banks into making loans to risky borrowers because too many minority applicants were being rejected. This is the sort of thing that happens when The Narrative is given more importance than reality.

How to stop racism

In the final chapter, Kendi’s wife — and later Kendi himself — survive close calls with cancer. He likens it to racism. The medicine he proposes is what he had envisioned for the American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center (the precursor to the one he leads at Boston). These include several agenda items, mainly to enforce antiracist ideology.

In a separate policy statement [21] also appearing in 2019, he proposed a Constitutional amendment to create another federal TLA agency, the Department of Antiracism. This one not only would supersede the entire legislative branch, but it would also have authority over every government official (presumably including SCOTUS and the President). Back in the day, I recall a Young Communist League member on campus boasting about how Cuba had outlawed racism. Hey, now’s our own chance at last!

It would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.

It’s not clear who would choose this panel of “formally trained experts” with final authority over all three branches of the government, or who would preside over it, but I think I can guess who might want to be the USA’s first Commissar of Antiracism.

This is your brain on antiracism – any questions?

I’m afraid that this book just wasn’t convincing.

I get it about walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins. However, after reading How to Be an Antiracist, it felt like I’d participated in the ChiCom Long March while serving as Mao Zedong’s Groom of the Stool. All told, it rates at least 8.5 on the Chutzpah Meter.

Anyway, if you’ve ever wondered what students learn in African American studies classes, now you’ve had a glimpse. Obviously, there are major agendas packaged with this. One thing I can say for How to Be an Antiracist is that the author has bundled up most of the Leftist talking points about race into a single book. It reveals in plain sight what they believe and want to do, not loaded up with obfuscating jargon or tucked away in obscure publications for a limited target audience of activists and fellow travelers.

Whew! There’s a lot of ground covered. . . Religion is all about the racial struggle. Every single law must be judged against the standard of promoting equality of results. This must be made the overriding principle of the legislature. Everyone who disagrees even slightly with antiracism (as formulated) is an enemy. Everyone who fails to promote it enthusiastically is an enemy. The list goes on. So here we have it — antiracism is a totalitarian ideology. What are we to make of all this?

Although How to Be an Antiracist promotes radical race denialism, it seems more oddly fixated on race than the most far-out “wignat” one can imagine — maybe someone who chews raw meat for breakfast and thinks William Pierce was way too liberal. Really, I have difficulty understanding how the author can have such a one-track mind. Then again, I’m not an academic barnacle, community agitator, professional demagogue, or other such grifter whose livelihood depends on inflaming grievances and promoting the Party Line. This racket can be quite profitable, thanks to an ideological climate where academia and the MSM bestow sinecures and perks upon these clowns: professorships, lucrative publishing contracts, the mantle of prestige as wise authorities on race relations, etc. The book seems almost a parody of what a Social Justice Warrior [22] would write. However, this is the real deal, from someone wildly successful at monetizing the chip on his shoulder, lavished by The System with tremendous amounts of influence.

Again and again, I was losing my patience with these tales of woe. If Kendi were a white nationalist instead, everything would be sunshine and roses.

Other than all advocacy organizations on his side being smeared as “hate groups,” hostile media coverage, Social Justice Warriors trying to get him fired from his job, being blacklisted by well-funded “watchdog” outfits with the ear of law enforcement, censorship by monopoly social media platforms to prevent him from access to the free marketplace of ideas, the risk of getting hit on the head with a bike lock by some maniac, the possibility of getting sprayed in the face with chemicals by masked anarchists while the MSM cheerleads for them and the police look the other way, the political establishment hell-bent on dispossessing his people, and other minor inconveniences.

Yeah, just tell me how awful you have it, pal.

In the world that the antiracists want, what is the intended role of whites? Anyone who deviates from The Narrative will be considered an enemy. So is anyone who lacks sufficient enthusiasm about it. We’re supposed to cooperate happily with our own dispossession until we’re dragged down in every socioeconomic metric to black levels. Come on, tell us something new! From the countless lemmings who gave top reviews to this book and buy into that nonsense, the picture doesn’t look encouraging. These ethnomasochists and pathological altruists can be expected to be treated as shabbily as feminist allies [23]; nobody appreciates servility.

Final thoughts

Even as dysfunctional as Marxism-Leninism is, it makes more sense than cultural Marxism. Dialectical materialism is all about economics and class relations, effectively looking at the world through green-tinted Wizard of Oz lenses. Although this reductive approach loses clarity, it’s actually fairly easy to measure economic status and progress. Economists do this all the time, making their living drawing up nice charts for us. Moreover, poverty sucks for everyone in the same way, no matter how many intersectionality points someone has.

Cultural Marxism brings lots of other factors to the table. Feminists view the world in terms of sex relations, radical GLBTs put on the lavender glasses, minority activists see everything in terms of their own identity politics, and so forth. Intersectionality chows down on the entire cultural Marxism buffet. Typically, grievances are weighed according to cherry-picked factoids, discussion of amorphous forces like “privilege,” comparing relative butthurt — in other words, the Victimization Olympics. That’s practically impossible to sort out coherently, consistently, and justly. On the other hand, it’s easy to look at something like a graph about economic inequality by class over time to see how well globalist free trade policies are working out for the masses.

The only groups in this scheme who aren’t supposed to have a voice are the so-called oppressors. Heading the list are the whites who built advanced societies and developed most of the world’s technology. Now, we’re starting to get crowded out of our own countries by ingrates who act like they own the place. When we finally get sick of this nonsense, the professional activists should be put on the first boat out of here.

Until then, I have a different answer to the demands of the critical race theory dweebs, and a very simple one: no.

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