Who Is Ibram X. Kendi?

Who Is Ibram X. Kendi

Who Is Ibram X. Kendi

Prominent Proponent of Critical Race Theory

Ibram X. Kendi is a best-selling, highly-paid advocate of Critical Race Theory.  He commands five-figure speaking fees and has sold hundreds of thousands of books promoting his views about race relations.

Kendi is very popular  with the Fairfax County School Board.  It  paid him $20,000 for a one-hour video lecture, and 3000+ copies of his books have been purchased for use in Fairfax County high schools, middle schools and elementary schools.  The leaders of Fairfax schools clearly think Kendi has important things to say regarding education of our youth.  But who is he, and what is his message?

Profile of Ibram X. Kendi

Kendi was born in 1982 in Queens, New York City, to middle-class African American parents who were activists on racial issues.  At age 15 the family moved to Manassas, Virginia.  His parents stressed the importance of education, but, as Kendi describes in his book How to Be an Antiracist, he was  uninterested in education during his high school years.  In his senior year, however, a classmate persuaded him to enter an oratorical contest, which he won.  He was then motivated to enroll at Florida A&M University, where he earned a degree in African Studies and Journalism in 2004.  He went on to earn masters and doctoral degrees in African Studies from Temple University in 2007 and 2010. 
Kendi  is now the Director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University.  He has written several books, including Stamped from the Beginning (2017) and How to Be an Antiracist (2019).  Both books claim that American society is racist to its core.  He speaks around the country about a philosophy that has become known as Critical Race Theory.  Many of his lectures are delivered to school administrators, teachers and staff.  He spoke to an estimated audience of 1500 at the kick-off of Fairfax County’s 2020-21 school year.

Thus, to understand what Critical Race Theory is, and how it is influencing our schools, it is important to understand what Kendi teaches.  A summary of his best-selling How to Be an Antiracist is below. 

Summary of How to Be an Antiracist

Kendi uses a semi-autobiographical method to describe the evolution of his views about race relations.  He once embraced  viewpoints he now regards as racist, but he learned to reject them during his African American studies.  For example, he believed that blacks were largely responsible for their status in society, due to not valuing education enough, teenage pregnancy, etc., but he now believes it is racist to view problems in black communities as even part of the problem.  Similarly, he once believed, but now rejects, the idea that blacks should “assimilate” into white values and culture.

For the most part, Kendi supports all of the views summarized in my post “What Is Critical Race Theory?” (Dec. 17, 2021), including the following:

 The concept of “race” is artificial.   Therefore, no real differences exist between the races.  The practice of dividing people into different “races” is merely a device to give power to some groups at the expense of others. 

American society is systemically racist.  The racism stems from history, from  often-unconscious beliefs by whites in their racial superiority (“white supremacy”), and from the prevailing culture in America.

“White privilege.”  As a result of the systemic racism, whites have inherent advantages in society, and blacks are disadvantaged.

All racial disparities between blacks and whites in education, employment and education are due to racism.  It is racist to believe that disparities are caused, in whole or in part, by factors other than racism (e.g., single-parent homes, teenage pregnancy, crime rates, different attitudes about the importance of education, etc.).   Kendi is critical of civil rights leaders who have called upon blacks to eliminate racial disparities through education, hard work, two-parent households, avoidance of drugs, etc., including Eleanor Holmes Norton, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.

 Color blindness is racism in disguise.  People who take a “color blind” approach to racial relations are really racists because it allows them to justify acceptance of the status quo, in which blacks and whites are not equal. 

You are racist if you don’t support activist government programs to eliminate unequal outcomes.  This is a corollary to the preceding point.  According to Kendi, racism consists of ideas and policies that normalize racial inequities, and “racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing.”  A racist policy is “any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.”  “There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy.  Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.”  Any policy that sustains inequity is systemic racism. ‘‘Race neutrality’ sustains racism.  There is no such thing as a non-racist idea, only racist and anti-racist ideas.”  To be non-racist, one must be “anti-racist.”  An anti-racist is someone who embraces policies designed to eliminate racial inequities. Thus, racial discrimination, if it is in the form of affirmative action, is good policy.  “The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity.  If discrimination is creating equity, then it is anti-racist.”  “The only remedy to racist discrimination is anti-racist discrimination.  The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.”

 Standardized tests are inherently racist.  If standardized tests produce or sustain racial inequality, they are racist in Kendi’s opinion.  “The use of standardized tests to measure aptitude and intelligence is one of the most effective racist policies ever devised to degrade Black minds and legally exclude Black bodies.”  “The idea of an achievement gap between the races – with Whites and Asians at the top and Blacks and Latinx at the bottom – creates a racial hierarchy, with its implication that the racial gap in test scores means something is wrong with Black and Latinx test takers and not the tests.”  Kendi postulates that different environments can produce different kinds of intelligence, each of which is equally valuable.  He asks, “What if we measured intelligence by how knowledgeable individuals are about their own environments?”, rather than, e.g., their ability to solve math problems.

  Desegregation and assimilation are not the answer to inequities.   “Assimilation” by adopting white values and culture is not the answer.  “Assimilationist ideas are racist ideas” because they suggest that one race or culture is superior to another.  All cultures are equal.  Thus, people who argue against the use of Ebonics are spreading racist ideas.  “To be antiracist is to equate and nurture differences among racial groups.”  Kendi also says there is no problem with blacks trying to create their own, separate spaces on campuses or elsewhere.  These should be viewed aslegitimate efforts to protect the minority from racism.

Capitalism is racist.  Kendi believes that racism and capitalism are “conjoined twins.”  Capitalism creates class differences, and there are differences between race-classes.  There are significantly more poor blacks than poor whites.  According to Kendi, “antiracist policies cannot eliminate class racism without anti-capitalist policies.”  “To love capitalism is to end up loving racism.”  “Capitalism is essentially racist.”  The profit motive needs to be eliminated from essential life sectors such as education, healthcare, utilities, and mass media.    

Kendi and the Fairfax County School System

The next article in this Blog will describe the ties between Ibram X. Kendi and the Fairfax County school system.

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  1. Gino Marchetti on December 19, 2021 at 3:22 pm

    This quote is very disturbing. “Capitalism is essentially racist.” The profit motive needs to be eliminated from essential life sectors such as education, healthcare, utilities, and mass media. ” He is attempting to drag this country into Marxism, which we should fight tooth and nail. Maybe he’d be happier in another country?

  2. Lori on December 19, 2021 at 4:03 pm

    Very interesting connection with this school board- I had not heard this before. I will be following your posts to learn more. Also interesting is his tie to Manassas. I smell a rat.

    • Karen Quiner on December 20, 2021 at 2:26 pm

      Explain Lori. What is the tie?