September 18, 2023 - 10:00am

Ibram X. Kendi, America’s most notable “antiracist”, has a new gig with ESPN. That is, the channel ostensibly dedicated to sports coverage. Starting this week, the academic will present Skin in the Game, a show set to focus on harmful racist stereotypes in sports.

In the programme, Kendi will speak “to athletes and experts in an effort to explore issues at the intersection of race, sports and society”. At the end of a promotional clip from last week, he instructs the viewer that “it is up to all of us to confront the racism in society and our favourite sports, because we all have skin in the game.”

For a man who claims capitalism and racism go hand in hand, Kendi certainly has an odd way of sticking it to the man. ESPN is owned by Walt Disney, a corporation worth a little over $150 billion. Disney has rewarded outgoing CEOs with compensation packages worth tens of millions and paid its employees so poorly that some of them were forced to live in tent cities. One assumes that Kendi will receive a generous payment from ESPN for his services, especially since the activist has in recent years received sizeable sums of cash for his antiracist work. 

Three years ago, the Fairfax County school district paid Kendi $20,000 to speak about racism for one hour. Not to be outdone, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools paid him $25,000 for an appearance the following year. In December of 2021, as the Federalist reported, America’s leading critical race theorist “was paid nearly $45,000 by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to promote several of his books and train faculty and students, while ensuring the university deleted his lecture from a private server.” In the space of just a few years, he has made hundreds of thousands of dollars from repeatedly sounding the antiracist alarm.

When not producing film and TV projects, as well as podcasts, Kendi is nominally a professor at Boston University. In June of this year, according to his employer’s website, Kendi and his BU colleague Joel Christian Gill “collaborated on a new, graphic version” of Stamped, an illustrated book that shines a light on the history of racism in the United States. According to BU’s coverage of the book, “white people dismiss upwardly mobile Black people as exceptional, ‘Extraordinary Negroes’.”

In 2020, Kendi announced that he would establish Boston University as the country’s leading academic institution for data-driven antiracist research. Last week it was announced that a little under half of the antiracism centre’s staff are being laid off, amid claims of exploitation. Yet the initial goal was remarkably ambitious, coming as it did from a man whose own claims to academic preeminence are contentious at best.

According to his website, Kendi is a “world-renowned” scholar. However, as The College Fix’s Madison Rehbehn wryly noted last month, he “has not published an academic paper in at least four years.” In the same period he has found time to author children’s books, start podcasts, write blogs condemningwhite dolls, and sign a deal with a sports channel. A quick look at his Google Scholar page brings up very little in the way of actual academic output.

Kendi clearly doesn’t have time to write papers: he has a new show on ESPN, after all. According to a recent press release from the channel, the first episode will focus on “Black athletes who use public platforms to protest injustice”. Future episodes will focus on issues like “race-norming”, the highly questionable practice of adjusting test scores based on race or ethnicity, as well as the assimilation of Latino baseball players and “the lack of diversity in sports media”.

Racism is obviously a serious problem, and it can only be helpful that America’s difficult relationship with race is discussed. Yet Kendi’s career has been founded on profiting — handsomely, as already noted — from pouring inordinate amounts of gas on race-fueled flames. With his new show, one can expect the flames to be brought to a different audience, and for Kendi’s bank balance to get even bigger. Capitalism may or may not feed racism, but it certainly helps Dr. Kendi do anything and everything but his actual job.

John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist.