NY Times readers let Ibram Kendi have it

AP Photo/Steven Senne

NY Times columnist Michelle Goldberg has written a defense of Ibram Kendi which is probably the least convincing thing you’ll read today. To be clear, I don’t think the problem is with Goldberg, who is a decent writer when she has a meaty story to work on. The problem in this case is that attempting to blame Kendi’s problems on “the system” just isn’t credible. [emphasis added]


It’s almost hard to blame right-wingers for their delight; Kendi’s mistakes played right into their hands. But for the rest of us, it’s important to understand that the center’s apparent implosion is more the result of a failed funding model than a failed ideology. It exemplifies the lamentable tendency among left-leaning donors to chase fads and celebrities rather than build sustainable institutions…

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that in 2020, when there was a sudden rush to fund racial justice work, so much money — some but not all from corporations seeking good P.R. — flowed to the charismatic Kendi, who had little evident management experience, to build something from scratch…

Last week, however, Family Matters First found out that its contract with the center had been terminated ahead of schedule, meaning the group won’t receive $10,000 it was counting on. Tatiana Rodriguez, the founder, told me that the association with the center had meant a great deal to her tiny organization: “This was something that we were excited about as a community,” she said. Now she feels betrayed by Kendi.

But with all the money sloshing around in that brief messianic moment in 2020, she shouldn’t have had to go through him in the first place.

Did you catch that? None of this is really Kendi’s fault, it’s the system, man. If the left wasn’t so driven by fads and celebrity, this wouldn’t have happened. Why wouldn’t it have happened? Because Kendi never would have been given all of that money in the first place. This is the best defense she can come up with. It’s not Kendi’s fault he was unprepared and undisciplined, it’s everyone else’s fault for believing in him.


Come to think of it, this is pretty much the same hokum that is central to Kendi’s own work. His great insight is that all differences in outcome between groups are proof of a systemic problem (racism) which needs to be opposed and rectified. Goldberg has simply applied this thinking to Kendi’s personal failure as a boss and manager. Only instead of blaming the collapse of his antiracism research center on racism she’s blaming something like celebrity culture.

But Goldberg’s readers just aren’t buying it. There are so many good responses here I’m not sure where to begin. Let’s start with the idea that Kendi’s ideas are only seen as failed ideology by people on the right.

“But for the rest of us, it’s important to understand that the center’s apparent implosion is more the result of a failed funding model than a failed ideology.”

It’s the opposite. This isn’t just a failure of implementation. Kendi’s ideas are unpersuasive to those of us on the center-left and even many liberals. We just don’t make much of a fuss about them, because of politeness (or fear), save for people like Michelle’s colleague John McWhorter. To portray it as if only right wingers disagree with his advocated policy solutions is not reflective of attitudes more broadly.

Another reader from Berkeley makes a similar point:

Not just conservatives are feeling vindicated and hopeful that this anti-intellectual, anti-liberal fever may be breaking. To many. the whole “antiracism” enterprise seemed like an opportunist, ad hoc, faux justice con from the jump.

Part of the problem at the Center is likely that more and more people/organizations are finally willing to acknowledge what was apparent to many across the political spectrum immediately. Small wonder they are not then willing to prop it up at further risk to their wallets and reputations. Break-ups are hard, I know.

As for the columnist, since she seems somehow still sympathetic, how about an honest attempt to explain what “antiracism” practically means beyond platitudes and accusations. The vagueness alone seems suspicious on its face. What really is the problem and what are real solutions, aside from proselytizing to actual and metaphorical toddlers?

I hope the time has come when otherwise smart people stop outsourcing their commonsense and critical capacities. Antiracism is a racket and an invitation to betrayal. To my eyes, it seems to have done nothing but further inflame the nation around racial essentialism and, of course, to celebrate and enrich Mr. Kendi, which may have been the whole point to begin with.


From California:

Goldberg lets Kendi off far too easily.

Sure, it is an indictment of the donors: fools are their money are soon parted.

But it’s also an indictment of Boston University, agreeing to accept so much money with so little oversight.

Mostly though, it’s an indictment of Kendi.

Many of those of us who care about the underlying problems have found Kendi’s oeuvre to be intellectually vacuous.

And apparently, he’s as good at managing money and an organization as he is a writer.

Maybe there is a systemic problem here, but the problem is the closed system of constant affirmation that Kendi has created for himself.

In academia, scholars publish in peer reviewed journals or publish books that are also peer reviewed. Dr. Kendi publishes books for a general readership that make broad claims without scholarly citations backed up by peer reviewed evidence. Moreover, he refuses to publicly debate people who disagree with his views. He dismisses any criticism as racist (or at least perpetuating racism), in a self-enclosed logic that brooks no dissent. All of this is highly unusual in a university setting.

Perhaps there’s a pattern here – someone who wants to maintain control and doesn’t like people challenging his views. It’s a poor model for the life of a scholar or someone who manages a multi-million dollar institute.

The problem really is Kendi and his ideas. [emphasis added]

Progressives’ eagerness to cry racism or Tom-ism at those who questioned the academic quality of Kendi’s work is one reason why they can’t coordinate as well as conservatives do. Insults and fear-mongering don’t garner meaningful support. Also, Kendi’s juvenile ideas refute the basic tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy: avoid black and white thinking, avoid catastrophizing, embrace individual agency. Meanwhile, Kendi is laughing all the way to the bank.


Bad ideas lead to bad outcomes, such as canceling young children. From a mom in New York:

Dr. Kendi addressed my kid’s elementary school a couple of years ago. I listened in (all on Zoom) and was horrified by what I heard. He spoke approvingly of harsh cancellation-style measures for young children who demonstrate “racist behavior”. While I understand that such behavior is distressing, it is nonetheless neurotypically normal – irresistible even – for some young children to push on boundaries to find out what happens next. Of course such behavior needs remediation, but cancelling them is not the answer.

From San Francisco, a commenter who read Kendi’s book and didn’t think much of him.

Excuse me, but did anyone actually read “How to be an Antiracist” past the first deeply flawed chapters? Kendi is at his absolute worst when relating his own life story. For many, many pages.

Like the pages he spent describing the skin tones of women he was attracted to in college? Or where he admits that he believed whites were descended from aliens, as a 20 year old undergraduate? Or the part where he describes a beating he witnessed in a tone of self pity? Or his towering anger at the failure of his teachers to recognize his genius?

Kendi is not only a deeply flawed reasoner, but an embarrassing narcissist, and an extremely bad writer.

Finally, a number of people brought up Kendi’s big idea for solving all of America’s problems.


For some reason, mainstream commentators like Michelle Goldberg never mention Kendi’s solution to the inequality problem. Here it is:

“To fix the original sin of racism, Americans should pass an anti-racist amendment to the U.S. Constitution that enshrines two guiding anti-racist principals: Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals. The amendment would make unconstitutional racial inequity over a certain threshold, as well as racist ideas by public officials (with “racist ideas” and “public official” clearly defined). It would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA 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. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.”

Kendi, in short, wants a totalitarian body composed of “formally trained experts on racism”–that is, people like himself–to exert total power over our laws and public officials. Why doesn’t anyone ever mention this?

A Department of Anti-Racism would act as a combined Supreme Court/antiracist FBI with the power to discipline elected officials “who do not voluntarily” change their minds. He’s describing a kind of Stasi with complete power over all three branches of government.


Kendi’s ideology is absurd and his vision of perfect equity is an anti-democratic nightmare. If a Republican had seriously suggested this, you can bet Michelle Goldberg would have noticed and would not have skipped over it.

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