During the Iraq War, “Halliburton” became shorthand for a unique kind of evil to the American left. It’s not just that the multinational contractor was receiving substantial contracts from the government for infrastructure in post-invasion Iraq. The corporation was profiting off of pain, if you listened to the Keith Olbermanns and Code Pink protesters of the world.
Assume that’s true and apply that logic to the racial and political divisions that have been stoked in the months since George Floyd’s death in police custody on May 25. Along with fellow “antiracist” thinker Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi could be the “Halliburton” of our moment.
Kendi was already an au courant celebrity in intellectual circles before our summer of protests, but the author and academic became a truly mainstream figure when his tome “How to be an Antiracist” appeared on the reading lists of every liberal who had fleetly discovered the word “woke” had a colloquial meaning, that they wanted to be woke and that being merely a good liberal actually meant their allyship with BIPOCs (did you know that’s the in acronym now? It stands for “black, indigenous and people of color”) was insufficient.
For those of you who are curious what an “antiracist” is and how it differs from simply refusing to entertain racist thoughts, I give you Kendi himself from the introduction to “How to be an Antiracist”:
“What’s the problem with being ‘not racist?’” he wrote. “It is a claim that signifies neutrality: ‘I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.’ … One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist.”
There’s no in-between for Kendi: One is either racist or an antiracist. If you’re blaming people or individual prejudices, as opposed to the system, you’re not an antiracist. “You’re either going to, as an individual, continue to reinforce the notion that something is wrong with a particular racial group and allow those policies and power and structures to stay in place or be part of a force to dismantle those policies and powers and structures,” he told The Washington Post last year.
Kendi’s theories are a curious and contradictory lot and can’t be properly summarized in a few paragraphs; suffice it to say that after having read the better part of “How to be an Antiracist” that I didn’t become an antiracist, that I don’t consider myself to be a racist either and that I don’t plan on reading any more of Kendi’s work.
It’s not just the prestidigitation of ideological convenience he so frequently employs, or that his redefinition of the word “racism” seems less a part of any coherent system of thought on his part than it is a means to an end, that end being landing as many NPR interviews (and government contracts, which we’ll get into later) as possible.
No, it’s that, in Kendi’s racial paradigm, this kind of talk is actually “antiracist”:
I’m challenging the idea that White parents of kids of color are inherently “not racist” and the bots completely change what I’m saying to “White parents of kids of color are inherently racist.” These live and fake bots are good at their propaganda. Let’s not argue with them.
— Ibram X. Kendi (@DrIbram) September 26, 2020
Kendi tweeted this out on Saturday. In case you didn’t get the cretinous subtext of this, here’s the family of Amy Coney Barrett, the circuit court judge nominated by President Trump to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court:
How could anyone attack this beautiful family? pic.twitter.com/OgytoYGdky
— Alec Sears (@alec_sears) September 26, 2020
Yes, apparently, Amy Coney Barrett’s adopted children were props because of what colonizers did decades — in fact, probably centuries — ago.
Kendi was responding to a now-deleted tweet by Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin, who had questioned how the left was going to try to and cast Barrett as racist, given the judge adopted two of her children from Haiti.
Martin has apparently deleted the tweet because she used an incorrect picture, but her point was clear:
“With 2 adopted children from Haiti, it is going to be interesting to watch the Democrats try to smear Amy Coney Barrett as racist,” she wrote, as reported Saturday by the U.K. Daily Mail.
Seeing Kendi’s response, I’m reminded of two separate quotes. One is from Voltaire: “I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.” The other is a proverbial phrase that dates back to Ancient Greece: “God helps those who help themselves.”
If Martin gave Voltaire’s supplication a shot and then decided to take some initiative in the matter, all I can say is this: Good work, since it wasn’t long before Kendi was making it clear that he didn’t just mean Barrett’s children.
And whether this is Barrett or not is not the point. It is a belief too many White people have: if they have or adopt a child of color, then they can't be racist.
— Ibram X. Kendi (@DrIbram) September 26, 2020
Even if you take Ibram X. Kendi at his word here, he’s advancing a bad faith argument with no application to either Barrett or interracial adoption as a whole.
Yes, white colonizers may have “adopted” black children to “civilize” them in the “superior” ways of the colonizing power. If you want to experience this racial mindset today, you’d have to read a Joseph Conrad or Rudyard Kipling short story. To make an argument that Barrett — or any white family who adopts Haitian children — is engaged in the same practice based solely on their skin color is the epitome of racism.
Unfortunately, the racial dynamics of Barrett’s adopted children was a uniquely pernicious talking point on social media Saturday, including one parroted in various forms by a number of Kendi apologists. Fortunately, conservatives were on hand to call them out.
— Stephen L. Miller (@redsteeze) September 26, 2020
Dem operative’s opening salvo at Judge Barrett: attacking her young children.
This is twisted. Leave the kids alone. pic.twitter.com/LHE5aOVVi6
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) September 25, 2020
This probably won’t be a particularly fertile talking point in the long run, given that most people still define this kind of thinking as racist, or at the very least not antiracist. But that’s our cultural Halliburton — vitiating the cultural climate yet again because it’s profitable for his brand.
And yes, like Halliburton, Kendi is a government contractor, too. He’s a contractor on a much smaller scale, but according to WTTG-TV, he received $20,000 to talk to Fairfax County, Virginia administrators and school leaders about (sigh) racism. The $300-a-minute virtual talk included a 45-minute speech and a Q&A session. One is almost tempted to ask whether it was a no-bid contract.
However you might feel about Kendi, your money doesn’t have to go to support him. It’s easy enough to avoid buying his books or donating to his Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. If you’re a taxpayer who underwrote a virtual talk about racism from a man who has very curious ideas on the subject, that’s something of a different matter.
Perhaps the money was worth it for Fairfax County officials, if not in terms of intellectual ROI then certainly in virtue-signaling.
This is Kendi’s moment, like it or not. When books that explored some aspect of race theory took off in sales this summer, “How to be an Antiracist” was only outpaced by “White Fragility.” (Kendi, it seems, doesn’t have as much of an issue with black movements being adopted by white women like “White Fragility” author Robin DiAngelo.)
And yet, Saturday’s tweet shows the eventual limits of antiracism, at least as conceived of by Kendi.
He attacked modern interracial adoption (and Barrett’s family, whether he wants to admit it or not) by comparing it to colonizers kidnapping black children from their territorial possessions in an attempt to supplant native cultures with Western values.
The woke may nod. The sensible will be repulsed.
Author: C. Douglas Golden