Humanist, professor and author Ibram X. Kendi spoke about the nature and simultaneous growth of anti-racist and racist ideas at the Lory Student Center on Feb. 7.
Kendi is an award-winning historian and professor at the University of Florida. He is the best-selling author of Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Currently, he is working on his next book which will be about how to be anti-racist. Kendi holds two undergraduate degrees in journalism and African American studies as well as a doctorate in the latter.
Kendi said that every wave of anti-racism progress is followed by a new set of barriers. These are increasingly sophisticated racist ideas, political and economic policies, as well as cultural norms with new justifications. According to him, one of the most advanced of these is the current theory that racism is over, that we have reached a post-racial America.
“(This theory) says to an individual who believes it that all the disparities in this country are not a result of racial discrimination because (it) doesn’t exist,” Kendi said. “(Instead) it’s what’s wrong with black people.”
Protesting is a short-term solution, according to Kendi, because those with a discriminatory agenda will reinstall their policies when social pressure goes down and use more sophisticated racist ideas to do so.
“The goal should be gaining power,” Kendi said.
After researching over 600 years of history, Kendi said that people who came up with racist ideas from the start and who substantiate existing ones have done so for political, economic or professional self-interest.
“We all see the ways in which the Republican Party has benefited from voter suppression policies,” Kendi said. “You can understand the way in which a slave owner benefits from enslaving people (or) the way segregation was able to maintain the cheapness of black labor in the South.”
Kendi said racist policies lead to racist ideas, which ultimately lead up to racism and hate.
“Our line of thinking that ignorance and hate leads to racist ideas, which leads to racist policy I found is largely ahistorical and actually quite the opposite,” Kendi said.
Kendi used the idea that black neighborhoods are dangerous and violent as an example of a current racist idea in the U.S. He cited that there is no direct correlation between black people and violent crime, but a direct correlation between violent crime and unemployment across all communities, regardless of racial identity.
According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor, persons living at or below the federal poverty level have more than double the rate of violent victimization than those in high-income households for whites and blacks. The black unemployment rate has also been consistently double the white unemployment rate since the 1950s.
Kendi also dispelled the idea that arrest and incarceration rates are reflective of actual crime rates. He said that believing that has led to an increase in the number of police officers in black communities, which has led to an increase in arrests and incarceration. We should not go to police officers, but instead work on increasing employment and employment opportunities, according to Kendi.
Ivan Albert, an LSC employee, said he really enjoyed Kendi’s speech.
“He was talking about how racism is intertwined with a lot of things, like if you remove the racism from capitalism, you have to do the same for sexism … for all of these other areas,” Albert said.
Kendi closed his speech by telling the audience packing the room to look within and be their own leaders, instead of looking for a messiah or savior.
“The next Martin Luther King could be in this room or the next Malcom X … the next Angela Davis …Why not?” Kendi said. “The reason why they’re such important figures is because they weren’t trying to become anybody. They forged their own path and they were very serious about changing and revolutionizing the world.”
Collegian reporter MQ Borocz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MQBorocz22.