It’s been a good week for Ibram X. Kendi, professor of history, best-selling author, and founder of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. On August 20, his nascent research center came into possession of a not-inconsequential sum of money – $10 million to be exact – thanks to the largesse of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. The research center’s mission is
“to figure out novel and practical ways to understand, explain, and solve seemingly intractable problems of racial inequity and injustice.” Or, as the bold message on the website’s homepage reads, “BE ANTIRACIST.” FILE PHOTO: American author and historian Ibram X Kendi attends a photocall during Edinburgh International Book Festival 2019 on August 10, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland © Getty Images / Simone Padovani/Awakening
Some of Kendi’s views might be considered
“moderate” by the standards of contemporary “anti-racist” intellectuals. For example, he rejects the argument that blacks cannot be racist simply because they lack power. However, some of his other views do‚ shall we say, invite further scrutiny. As Coleman Hughes notes in a highly instructive review of ‘How to Be an Antiracist’, Kendi goes so far as to claim, “there is no such thing as a not-racist idea, only racist ideas and antiracist ideas.”
It is from this radical strain in Kendi’s writing that his most ambitious policy proposal derives. In particular, Kendi has called for
“an anti-racist amendment to the US Constitution,” which would aim to “fix the original sin of racism.” (Let it not be said that John McWhorter is exaggerating when he compares “anti-racism” to a religion.)
According to Kendi, the anti-racist amendment would be based on two guiding principles:
“Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals.” While few would disagree with the second principle, the first one does seem rather difficult to accept. (It appears to just be a restatement of the “correlation implies causation” fallacy.) As Kendi notes, “The amendment would make unconstitutional racial inequity over a certain threshold.” In other words, if racial disparities in any institution were found to be too great, then that institution would be in violation of the Constitution.
To begin with, the enforcement mechanisms Kendi outlines strike one as slightly authoritarian. There would be a
“Department of Anti-racism” in which “formally trained experts on racism” would “monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas.” Moreover, ensuring compliance with the amendment’s “threshold” for racial inequity would obviously require an unprecedented degree of social engineering.
It is well known that average income is not equal across the major racial groups in the US. According to the Census Bureau, average household income in 2017 was: $40,000 for blacks, $50,000 for Hispanics, $68,000 for whites and $81,000 for Asians. Hence Kendi’s proposal would require a massive redistribution of income from whites and Asians to Hispanics and blacks.
But achieving equality of incomes is only the beginning. For there are many other domains in which the races do not achieve equal (or even close to equal) outcomes, including some where it would be quite difficult to argue that racism has played a role.
The US population is 60 percent white, 13 percent black, 18 percent Hispanic and six percent Asian. However, the National Basketball Association is about 74 percent black, the National Football League is about 68 percent black, and Major League Baseball is about 30 percent Hispanic. Blacks are therefore massively overrepresented in the NBA and the NFL, while Hispanics are somewhat overrepresented in the MLB. Taken to its logical conclusion, Kendi’s proposal would mean recruiting more non-Hispanics into the MLB, and many more non-blacks into the NBA and NFL.
Asians are substantially underrepresented in the NBA, the NFL and the MLB. But in other domains, they are overrepresented. In 2019, five out of six members of the US International Mathematics Olympiad team were Asian. In 2018, it was all six. In 2017, it was five out of six. In 2016, it was five out of six. And in 2015, it was three out of six. Once again, Kendi’s proposal would mean recruiting many more non-Asians into the IMO team.
It is unclear what
“racism” has to do with the overrepresentation of blacks in the NBA and the NFL, or the overrepresentation of Asians in the IMO team. And it is even more unclear what “anti-racist” purpose would be served by attempting to correct these disparities through government fiat.
As a matter of fact, you might have noticed that correcting racial disparities might involve some discrimination of its own (against members of the high-achieving groups), and that such discrimination could be considered worse than the
“problem” it was designed to solve. Kendi has an answer for that too, although you may find it slightly bewildering. You see, “The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist.”
Taking Kendi’s proposed
“anti-racist amendment” to its logical conclusion illustrates the problem with assuming that all racial inequality is evidence of unjust discrimination. Unequal outcomes across races can arise for a variety of reasons, and attempting to equalize them through government fiat would be in exercise in discrimination itself. Think your friends would be interested? Share this story!
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