Parents are speaking out against schools teaching about “white privilege” and “institutional racism,” and some have even gotten arrested at school board meetings. A New Jersey English teacher resigned because an ideology of skin color “power hierarchies” had dominated her school. An Oregon school superintendent suggested that if teachers don’t want to teach “anti-racism,” they should seek employment elsewhere. The largest teachers union in America expressly committed itself to fighting back against “anti-CRT rhetoric.”
Yet Ibram X. Kendi (born Ibram Henry Rogers), the founder of the much-vaunted “anti-racism” movement, took to The Atlantic with the Orwellian claim that “There Is No Debate Over Critical Race Theory.”
“The United States is not in the midst of a ‘culture war’ over race and racism. The animating force of our current conflict is not our differing values, beliefs, moral codes, or practices,” he argues. Instead, “Republican operatives” have “conjured an imagined monster to scare the American people and project themselves as the nation’s defenders from that fictional monster.”
Opponents of critical race theory (CRT) aren’t arguing against Kendi and his allies; they’re arguing against a straw-man version of CRT that doesn’t exist, Kendi claims.
“What happens when a politician falsely proclaims what you think, and then criticizes that proclamation? Is she really critiquing your ideas—or her own?” Kendi asks.
Ironically, Kendi is guilty of the very sleight of hand he accuses his critics of using against him.
Take Matthew Yglesias, for example. Kendi quotes Yglesias, who attempted to explain Kendi’s own philosophy of “anti-racism.” Yglesias noted that Kendi argues that “any racial gap simply is racist by definition; any policy that maintains such a gap is a racist policy; and—most debatably—any intellectual explanation of its existence (sociological, cultural and so on) is also racist.”
“But nowhere have I written that the racial gap is racist: The policies and practices causing the racial gap are racist,” Kendi responds. “Nowhere have I stated that any intellectual explanation of the existence of a racial gap is racist. Only intellectual explanations of a racial gap that point to the superiority or inferiority of a racial group are racist.”
Yet Kendi is carefully crafting his denials to evade the real issue. Kendi does not deny the claim that “any policy that maintains such a gap is a racist policy.” Kendi’s “anti-racism” explicitly claims that any explanation for racial gaps that does not blame “structural racism” is racist because it assumes that black people are inferior, which is not true.
Kendi cannot deny the “anti-racism” idea that he lays out in Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. You see, humble reader, I actually read Kendi’s book, and I know that Yglesias was presenting Kendi’s perspective accurately.
Recommended: The Real Problem With ‘Anti-Racism’
In the book, Kendi explains the basic logic of his “anti-racism”: People of all races are inherently equal, but some races have more money/prominence than others, therefore the society must be racist. He briefly entertains other potential explanations of racial gaps, but he claims that all of these alternative explanations are evasions of the real issue.
Kendi’s history presents three different kinds of people: outright racists, “assimilationists,” and “anti-racists.” He argues that most Americans still harbor racist ideas, and that any explanation for racial disparities besides “structural racism” is inherently racist.
America’s long and successful struggle to ban outright racial discrimination in the law does not matter to the “anti-racist” movement. It does not matter that black people tend to dominate sports like basketball and football due to their individual training and success. It does not matter that a wide variety of factors explains why police tend to regard young black men with more suspicion, most notably crime rates.
Kendi’s “anti-racism” emerges elsewhere in his work, of course. In a Politico video back in 2019, Kendi called for an amendment to the Constitution that would enshrine “anti-racist principals: Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals.” He called for the creation and permanent funding of a Department of Anti-racism (DOA), which would be outside the voters’ control. This totalitarian bureaucracy “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.”
Kendi’s Atlantic article claims that conservatives and Republicans are twisting his ideas beyond recognition, but his own words testify against him. Kendi presents a stuffy legal definition of critical race theory — “a way of looking at law’s role platforming, facilitating, producing, and even insulating racial inequality in our country” — while rejecting “definitions” like this from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas): “Critical race theory says every white person is a racist.”
Yet Kendi cannot deny that Marxist thinkers invented CRT in order to upend society by claiming that hidden racism pervades American institutions — a claim that is central to his own “anti-racism.”
Kendi claims that he has “consistently” challenged “Manichaean racial visions of inherently good or evil people” but he cannot deny that CRT advocates attribute various aspects of society to the nefarious impact of “whiteness.” The Smithsonian briefly published a “teaching tool” infographic on “whiteness.” That infographic claimed that the nuclear family, science, capitalism, the Judeo-Christian tradition, individualism, “objective, rational linear thinking,” and even values such as “be polite” are aspects of oppressive whiteness.
Whatever Kendi’s intentions, his work has inspired a movement that strains to find racism in everything, that demonizes white people as oppressors, and that coddles black people as victims. In fact, black Florida mother Keisha King argued that CRT harms even the black people it intends to help.
“CRT, in its outworking today, is a teaching that there is a hierarchy in society where white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied people are deemed the oppressor and anyone else outside of that status is oppressed,” King argued. “Telling my child or any child that they are in a permanent oppressed status in America because they are black is racist and saying that white people are automatically above me, my children, or any child, is racist, as well.”
Kendi accuses Republicans of dancing from issue to issue in a rush to demonize black people. “First, Republicans pointed to Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Three days after George Floyd’s murder last year, President Donald Trump recast the largely peaceful demonstrators as violent and dishonorable ‘THUGS,'” Kendi notes.
Of course, he cannily omits any mention of the destruction of black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments amid these “largely peaceful” demonstrations. He also omits any mention of the rioters repeating claims of “systemic racism” that trace back to CRT and his own “anti-racism.”
Kendi then notes that Republicans and Trump turned to “cancel culture,” as if the idea first struck the Right in 2020 — and hadn’t been a consistent theme for years. Kendi then faults the GOP for attacking “the 1619 Project and American history,” as if the 1619 Project had not twisted American history out of recognition along the lines of CRT — so badly that The New York Times issued embarrassing corrections and stealth edits, leading scholars to demand the revocation of the Pulitzer Prize.
Kendi suggests that there is no connection between the Right’s various “fictional monsters,” but vandals in Portland spray-painted “1619” on a statue of George Washington they topped in 2020. When Claremont’s Charles Kesler wrote in The New York Post, “Call them the 1619 riots,” Hannah-Jones responded (in a since-deleted tweet) that “it would be an honor” to claim responsibility for the destructive riots.
While opposition to CRT is multiracial — bringing black, Hispanic, Asian, and white parents together — Kendi compares opposition to CRT in schools to segregation. “In the 1950s and ’60s, the conservators of racism organized to keep Black kids out of all-white schools. Today, they are trying to get critical race theory out of American schools,” he writes.
Kendi is utterly wrong to suggest that the grassroots opposition to CRT is somehow misled about what critical race theory actually is. Parents know what it is — and black and Asian moms and dads are just as irate about this neo-racism as white parents are.
Yet Kendi is fighting hard to make sure that “There is no debate over critical race theory.” He wants the cultural elites to ignore the issue and to dismiss irate parents as the ignorant hoi polloi. The National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers union in America, pledged that it will “fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric.” Kendi and his allies already have entrenched CRT in many institutions — so they are trying to silence their opponents by demonizing them.
Americans should see through the tactic and refuse to take the bait. We must continue to exert pressure on this issue, because elites are seeking every excuse to drop the issue.