Accusations of fund mismanagement at the academic's centre are no surprise
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?