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Ibram X. Kendi’s race hustle deserves to fail

Ibram X. Kendi is the P.T. Barnum of antiracism. Credit: Getty

September 22, 2023 - 4:10pm

All in all, one shouldn’t be surprised at the revelations, reported by the Boston Globe, about allegations relating to mismanagement of funds and a dysfunctional work environment at Ibram X. Kendi’s antiracist research centre. At Boston University, Kendi’s institute has been lavished with tens of millions of dollars from philanthropic billionaires, corporations and numerous other small donors so that it can “solve these intractable racial problem of our times” using “exhaustive racial research, research-based policy innovation, data-driven education and advocacy campaigns”.  

Despite these exorbitant funds, since 2020 the centre has produced no original research or scholarship, adding nothing of substance to the argument over racial inequality and the precarious socio-economic status of black Americans. Kendi’s centre isn’t the only self-proclaimed antiracist non-profit to fall on hard times. The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation revenues plummeted by 88% in the last year, while it has also been mired in a corruption scandal. 

It is worth asking how, with vast funds at these non-profits’ disposal, they have provided little clarity in explaining the precise contours of racial inequality and its roots, and laying out a programme to tackle it as they promised they would. Adolph Reed once quipped that identity politics isn’t an alternative to class politics: it is a form of class politics. Kendi’s brand of antiracism is a great example of this. 

The audience of his race hustling isn’t poor black Americans, but instead middle-class and mainly white liberals to whom “antiracism” functions as a pseudo-spiritual exercise in atonement for the original sin of America. This is the same type of audience that reads Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and adopts the 1619 Project’s thesis relating to the alternative founding myth of America. 

Just as Oscar Wilde once declared in The Soul of Man Under Socialism that charity is not the solution to poverty, but rather aggravates the difficulty in solving it, the philanthropic antiracism that props up hustlers like Kendi aggravates the difficulty in alleviating racial inequality. This is because the ideology that it advertises peculiarly racialises not just people but social problems such as police brutality, dilapidated housing, schools and unemployment, in such a way that it obfuscates & mystifies the roots of social inequality.

This inequality can be attributed more to the contemporary political economy than to the eternal phantom of “white supremacy”. Put another way, the historical context to help explain the fragile socio-economic position of black Americans today is 40 years of deindustrialisation, not 400 years of white supremacy. This is what the “anti-racism” of Kendi and his ilk obscures and clutters with their intellectual detritus. 

What can we learn from this sorry episode? Well, for one, that we should all be wary of undistinguished academics who become overnight celebrities, fawned over and promoted by the mainstream media — especially when the ideas on race they promote are unoriginal, vacuous and socially regressive, despite the vaguely progressive rhetoric in which they masquerade. 

Awarding them heaps of corporate sponsorships is evidence that this ideology is part of the status quo and will not lead to coordinated social action against racial injustice. Quite the opposite: they get comfortable and do nothing. Who would’ve thought Ibram X. Kendi would have more in common with P.T. Barnum than with Malcolm X or Charles Mills?


Ralph Leonard is a British-Nigerian writer on international politics, religion, culture and humanism.

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Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
9 months ago

These activist organisations, fronted by intellectual-fraudsters, have been running a cultural extortion racket. Liberals have paid lip-service, and Corporations have paid in hard currency, lest anyone accuse them of the dreaded “R” word.
But I have little doubt that the last thing Ibram X Kendi actually wishes to see is racial harmony and an end to racism. That is because Kendi is not, even remotely, in the ‘Equality’ business, he is in the ‘Grievance’ business. And the racial grievance industry is enjoying a boom time. There are careers to be had and fortunes to be made. Who cares if we’re speaking the truth if we can make a buck from spreading falsehoods! No sense in trying to bring communities together when your lucrative career depends on stoking resentment on one side of the racial divide and feeding a sense of guilt to the other.
Ibram X Kendi, along with fellow race hucksters like Robin Di Angelo, Kehinde Andrews and the Guardian’s Afua Hirsch, are just arms dealers in the culture war.

John Le Huquet
John Le Huquet
9 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Well said.

Adam Huntley
Adam Huntley
9 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

At least arms dealers don’t usually use their mates in social media, Academia and MSM to smear your reputation or get you to lose your livelihood

Glyn R
Glyn R
9 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Spot on. I’ve been entertaining similar thoughts in relation to Peter Tatchell and Stonewall. If we substitute the word gender for the word race in the last sentence of your penultimate paragraph it applies equally to their ‘activism’.

Last edited 9 months ago by Glyn R
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Glyn R

Good point.

Margie Murphy
Margie Murphy
9 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Arms dealers don’t pretend to care. They pretend nothing. They don’t manipulate. They just want you to buy their product. Race hustlers want you to buy their product while they hear your confession, exact penance and tell you what it will.cost. again and again. No redemption. Ever. And stupid white liberals are a happy to debase themselves over and over.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
9 months ago
Reply to  Margie Murphy

Margie,
I may be too late to reply to you – these pages seem to have a fairly short shelf-life.
But actually the overriding characteristic of arms dealers – certainly the big players – is that they do pretend to care. I’ve met and interviewed quite a few over the last 15 – 20 years and, to a man, the serious ones are keen to let you know that they are arming a particular warlord, faction or militia, precisely because they “care”. They’ll tell you that they support “X” because they firmly believe that will bring peace and stability to the region etc. etc.
It’s a performative and self-serving lie, almost without exception, but that is their justification and they sell it with the zeal of a true believer.
The only blatant nihilist I ever met in that world was a one time owner of Portsmouth Football club, a fellow called Arkadi Gaydamak. He could hardly pretend that he’d armed a particular faction because he thought they’d bring peace. Gaydamak had made his (very considerable) fortune by arming BOTH SIDES of the Angolan civil war. Not even a pretence that his busines was for the long term greater good. He nakedly profited from death and the emiseration of 3 generations of an entire country.
There is a special place in hell for him.

0 0
0 0
9 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Conflict is good for business, the intent is not to rise tension to the point that it will escalate into warfare, but keep things on slow boil to keep benefiting but also prevent the extreme radicals from over taking them if the conflict come. But the problem is that the faithful are taking the stuff seriously and its geting to the point that they cant control them enough. Its like Saudi Arabia were they advocated extreme Islam as means for the rulers to staying power by using it to grant legitimacy to themselves, but the whole thing took a like of it own and the monster has matured and his very hungry and is very angry.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

Excellent essay. The most fascinating thing about this grift is the donors are not looking for real research or actual results. They donate because they are wealthy white men whose only interest is to stay on the good side of the mob. Kendi simply needed to create the appearance of actually doing something, but he failed to even do that. The bar to keep the grift going was pathetically low – just churn out some garbage, keep a high profile and everyone is happy. Maybe he’s moved on to another grift and lost interest in BU. Or maybe he’s spectacularly incompetent.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Competent leaders are in short supply everywhere these days. I find myself in the awkward position of being a libertarian who feels somewhat conflicted about the idea of a military takeover of the government. On the one hand, I have my libertarian principles, but on the other hand, I fear the military is the only place where competent, pragmatic, non-ideological leadership can even be found and America needs that as much as a drowning man needs a life preserver. It’s a conundrum to be sure.

Alan B
Alan B
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

You’re wrong: Libertarian, govern thyself

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Alan B

Not allowed to.

starkbreath
starkbreath
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Don’t know that the military would provide the strong, sure hand that you think they would, they’re sounding awfully woke these days. If you don’t believe me, just look at some of the recent recruitment videos.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Don’t look to the military for competent leadership of independent thinkers. They are as sold out at the top ranks to resumé polishing and woke ideology as any corporation is.

Betsy Warrior
Betsy Warrior
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

But Pinochet and Idi Amin are dead! ?

Last edited 9 months ago by Betsy Warrior
Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Kendi has recently been hired by a sports network to comment on racial inequities in sport. This may be distracting him from his accustomed pseudo-scholarship. I can only wonder who will tune in to the program.

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Or maybe he’s just a racist.

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Michaels

I believe they’ve redefined the term in such a way that it can’t apply to him. Control of the dialogue is very important.

Last edited 9 months ago by Erik Hildinger
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Michaels

Succinct and to the point.

John Murray
John Murray
9 months ago

I’m glad that the article mentioned Oscar Wilde, because when I read about the Kendi center’s difficulties, what sprung to mind was his comment: “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.” I do wonder though if people are missing the point perhaps? Kendi and co. literally go around telling people that things like work ethic, reliability, being on time, etc, are manifestations of white supremacy, so maybe blowing millions of dollars in donations (e.g., pocketing them) they’re just engaged in praxis.

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
9 months ago
Reply to  John Murray

They’re just following in the footsteps of the leaders of post colonial Africa

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago
Reply to  John Murray

Don’t forget math, which is also a manifestation of white supremacy. Solution? Don’t teach any thing from algebra on up. And because our smart phones are so handy, let black kids find the answers online and no need to show the work. This should be great for black kids’ self esteem—everyone thinks you’re dumb, kid.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
9 months ago

I was in Sainsbury’s yesterday and had the misfortune to flick through a new offering for kids; ‘Brilliant Black British History ‘.

This is recommended by David Lammy and Diane Abbot no less ( no recommendation obviously) and is 98 % pure BS.

Published by Bloomsbury staggeringly, who claim it is ‘informative and inspiring’ and who should be ashamed of themselves.

My new revised title would be;
‘The Big Black Book of Lies’.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

I was in Sainsbury’s yesterday and had the misfortune to flick through a new offering for kids; ‘Brilliant Black British History ‘.
Entries that should be in that book:
*The Black Prince
*The Black Dinner
*The Black Death
*The Black Country
*The Black Irish
*The Black and Tans

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

The current generation of British book publishers have betrayed everything the industry used to stand for.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Did you read any of it MD? Which bits jumped out as erroneous history? Intrigued.

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Did you?

Isabel Ward
Isabel Ward
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Black people built Stonehenge

RM Parker
RM Parker
9 months ago
Reply to  Isabel Ward

Priceless…

Last edited 9 months ago by RM Parker
j watson
j watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Isabel Ward

Yes prompted by that had a look myself. Clearly nonsense. Some of the rest of the Book was fine and not unreasonable for a kids book, but that bit was laughable and deservedly called out as such.
Slightly separate – DNA science suggests v little trace of the builders of Stonehenge in current indigenous population. Something seems to have happened c1500=2000BC where they died out or were replaced.

Last edited 9 months ago by j watson
Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

If they died out 1500 years ago how do we have sufficient of their DNA to make any kind of meaningful judgement of this sort?

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
9 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

We have their remains from burials which are dna tested.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Yes JE, amazing what we can decipher now from DNA science.
As I understand it replaced by the Beaker people (as archaeologists call them) migrating across Europe from Eurasian steppe. Quiet how and why unclear but Bronze technology probably one.

Kirsten Walstedt
Kirsten Walstedt
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson
Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

“replaced”? Are you one of those dangerous conspiracy theorists who needs reporting to the authorities? Careful with that language old boy. It’s Diversity, not being “replaced”, as the Aryans ‘Yamnaya’ made Europe as Diverse as possible:
https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24132230-200-story-of-most-murderous-people-of-all-time-revealed-in-ancient-dna/

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

“An eye-opening story of Britain, focusing on a part of our past that has mostly been left out of the history books: the brilliant Black history of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.”
Ireland is not part of Britain. So as well as being a pack of lies, this book is promoting colonialism.

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
9 months ago

We don’t count, Lennon. We never did

Andrew D
Andrew D
9 months ago

It’s allegedly a history book, so perfectly OK to include Ireland, which was part of Britain from the 12th century to the 20th

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
9 months ago

Please see the above link. The Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of England (later, Great Britain) were in personal union until the Act of Union 1801. The former was a client state of the latter. So legally and historically, it is not the case that “Ireland was part of Britain from the 12th century to the 20th”. So the impugned book is historically incorrect on just so many levels.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
9 months ago

In the dying days of Rome, the elites would send agents provocateur into the forum and the wine shops to foment tribal and ethnic conflict in order to deflect the plebs from demanding their heads on poles in the Colosseum.

Nothing really changes.

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
9 months ago

In All the President’s Men Deep Throat urged the reporters to “follow the money.”. Likewise, when evaluating an ideology, it is always important to ask who profits from it. In the case of most woke ideologies it is always the purveyors of the ideology who profit the most and the people they profess fervently to want to help gain nothing. Wokeness profits wealthy, Democrat neo-liberals by letting them off the hook for the poverty and inequality they have helped maintain. It creates for them the illusion that they are progressive. As the author says these deeply deluded people want only to assuage the guilt they feel for reaping ungodly profits while the rest of the world suffers, and they give millions to charlatans who help them.

Daniel P
Daniel P
9 months ago

Personally? I always thought he was creepy.

He gives off this sociopath, pseudo intellectual, hip vibe. The kind of guy that is trying to hustle and get in coeds pants.

I mean we have seen these pop culture sociopaths a million times, seems like every generation produces a few.

He made a bunch of money, he got adoration from young women, betting he got laid a bunch. I have no doubt that is precisely what he wanted.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
9 months ago

“solve these intractable racial problem of our times”
They do realize that “intractable” means “unsolvable”, right?

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
9 months ago

I believe it more closely means, ‘hard to solve’ – 

AC Harper
AC Harper
9 months ago

It’s not just a racism thing or the ethnicity of the charity or thinktank staff.
Every now and again some charity becomes overwhelmed by the ‘free money’ available and spends it on personal items. Perhaps an inevitable prosecution for fraud, even for small amounts, might have a salutary effect?

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago

Interesting article. Supports the theory that the pendulum is swinging against the woke. First an expose of the trans related excesses at the Tavistock leads to reaction on that front. Now exposes of anti-racism activism which will probably lead to increased scepticism about orthodox views. Next exposes on DEI? I am not sure who will win in the long run but for the time being it is going our way.

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Please! ‘Diversity, Inclusion and Equity’ – better acronym!

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
9 months ago

Kendi is a narcissist and a fraud. He is the antithesis of Martin Luther King, Jr., and if King were alive today, he would not only denounce Kendi for what he is, he would disgrace him in public debate. Kendi is in love with himself, and a racial hater of the worst kind. His financial misadventures come with the territory.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
9 months ago

The culture war makes a lot more sense once you realize it’s the same old class war wearing a fancy new coat.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
9 months ago

In the dying days of Rome, the elites would send agents provocateur into the forum and the wine shops to foment tribal and ethnic conflict in order to deflect the plebs from demanding their heads on poles in the Colosseum. Kendi would have made a killing there too.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
9 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Hugh, can you give me a citation for that? I would love to use it in my civics classes.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
9 months ago

“It is worth asking how, with vast funds at these non-profits’ disposal, they have provided little clarity in explaining the precise contours of racial inequality.”
They were never about legitimate policy research. They start and end with very specific and false beliefs and focus entirely on collecting more and more money by talking endlessly about them in pursuit of collecting more and more money by talking endlessly…etc.

Gary Taylor
Gary Taylor
9 months ago

Kendi straight up told you that the written word is white supremacy. And now you want to hold him to the written word? Can you hear yourself?

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
9 months ago

Someone should explain to this flake that he is the problem. Between the Democrats and charlatans such as this person, they have put back race relations 30 years if not more. They are the real racists they accuse everyone else of being. We have one right here in South Africa called Malema. Dangerous cretins.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
9 months ago

“the historical context to help explain the fragile socio-economic position of black Americans today is 40 years of deindustrialisation, not 400 years of white supremacy”
This is way too reductive – it overlooks things like the sexual revolution and drug proliferation both of which have had an outsized impact on black communities, as well as more complex historical issues like 4,000 years of African slavery. There’s a lot that accounts for racial disparities – deindustrialization and white racism are each little slivers of the overall mosaic.

Geraldine Kelley
Geraldine Kelley
9 months ago

Mr Rogers (Khendi) is so staggeringly dim and inarticulate that the only words that can explain his successful grift are “ positive discrimination.” We now live in an alternate universe of the Emperor’s New Clothes. It does not bode well for the black community anywhere that we now have to view them through this prism.

Chipoko
Chipoko
9 months ago

Kendi’s laughing all the way to the bank!

Gordon Peterson
Gordon Peterson
9 months ago

Is it true that Disney+ has hired Kendi to play Walt Disney in The Walt Disney Story?

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
9 months ago

It seems pretty obvious that Kendi is working hard to secure as much cash as he can while he is still riding the wave of popularity.
After putting out special versions of his book for teens, kids, and even aboard book for babies, he’s recently produced the “anti-racist cookbook.” Just like any other fandom, Star Wars, or Harry Potter, etc.
I somewhat suspect that the main point of this organization was to give him a certain kind of credibility, a title he can claim when he makes a public statement, after he had left his teaching and research roles, such as they are.

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
9 months ago

Grifters gonna grift. Hate the game not the playa etc

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
9 months ago

Who would’ve thought Ibram X. Kendi would have more in common with P.T. Barnum than with Malcolm X or Charles Mills?” – Me, and lots of other conservatives.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago

He’s still well behind the ‘Grifter in Chief’, one Donald J Trump!
However whilst both welcome some of the thinking Kendi et al stimulated, even if one didn’t entirely agree, and the Author’s reflection ‘political economy’ plays a bigger role in perpetuating unmeritocratic inequality, Kendi going to realise when you allow yourself to be become a celebrity with corresponding lecture fees and donations you also invite much more scrutiny. Another with ‘feet of clay’ appears to be emerging.

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Oh please change your brain channel (if you actually have a brain), because if you have been paying attention, Biden takes the cake!

Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

I never thought I’d make a Trump favourable comment, but here goes – Trump knows what he is, hence the numerous mafia comparisions and his own claim that he could shoot someone on 1st Av etc.; Kendi, I suspect, actually thinks he is some sort of angel. Industrial levels of hubris, ugh.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

We see and hear a little less of Kendi than the Orange one, so difficult to know if under questioning he’d demonstrate the same, or worse level of hubris and arrogance. Trump set a pretty high bar there hasn’t he. You may be right, but difficult to know.
Criticising his views expressed in books and lectures is legit though.