There is an aphorism that every movement starts as a cause, becomes a business, and devolves into a racket.
The recent disclosures regarding Ibram X. Kendi, the avatar of antiracism; and the institute founded under his auspices at Boston University, indicate that antiracism may well be into its third phase.
On his way to monetizing the antiracist movement, following the publication of the book “How to Be an Antiracist,” Kendi had the good fortune to bask in the warm remunerative embrace of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System.
Kendi was paid $25,000 in June of 2021 to answer questions lobbed to him by a representative of CMS in a Zoom call. He spent 43 minutes on the call, which equates to $581 per minute. Nice work if you can get it.
Kendi espouses the view that any inequality in terms of outcome is evidence of racism. One’s intent is irrelevant in Kendi’s world, and striving to treat everyone equally without concomitant equal results is insufficient. A mere aspirational goal of equality, absent equal results, feeds into the framework of structural racism which defines American society.
Columbia University Linguistics professor and social commentator John McWhorter, who is black, makes the salient point that Kendi allows no one to fall within what is to Kendi’s mind an illusory spectrum between “racist” and committed “antiracist.”
“For reasons Kendi seems to think obvious but are not, there is nothing in between these two categories — not to be actively working, or at least speaking, against the imbalance (between Blacks and whites) leaves one in the racist class. There is no such thing as someone simply ‘not racist.”’
One might legitimately ask why CMS felt the need to feature a presenter who discounts the civil rights era paradigm of treating and judging all persons equally (in Dr. King’s words, by the content of their character) even if such fair and equal treatment does not eliminate all racial disparities.
Now comes word of an investigation into Kendi’s signature project, the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. The layoffs of half of the staff there has raised questions about the management culture and spending of grant funds at the center, which has been recipient of tens of millions of dollars in corporate benevolence. It also seems that the center produced very little research.
By Kendi’s standards, the layoffs themselves are evidence of racism, because the actions of the antiracist center had a disproportionate effect on minority employees.
The academic rigor of Kendi’s work has received no small amount of criticism. Kendi defines structural racism as “a collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequality, that are substantiated by racist ideas.” As a general principle, it does not promote understanding to define a word by reverting to the word itself in the definition.
Kendi was a cultural phenomenon at the time he received the generous offer to provide guidance to CMS, as was Robin DiAngelo, the author of “White Fragility.” The status of academic celebrity does not justify the largess that CMS bestowed upon Kendi.
Apart from the exorbitant price, what did Kendi have to impart that was so valuable? Professional educators tend to be progressive, and I have a hard time believing that CMS administrators were harboring damaging conscious or unconscious racial prejudice — unless one believes that unequal test results among different racial groups is proof of racism.
It is not hard to think of less grandiose but more practical uses for $25,000. Perhaps CMS could increase the salary of bus drivers or others for whom a small pay increase would make a big difference. Granted, that would take a lot more than $25,000, but it would be a start.
More important than possible alternate uses for such funds is the statement CMS makes by its fiscal extravagance. When one looks at the scrutiny that Kendi is now under, and more closely examines his message of disdain for mere equal opportunity, it accentuates the need for more grounded decision making among those who run our public schools.