Ibram Kendi is molding young minds at Boston University as the recently-appointed head of the Center for Antiracist Research. He’s a popular author who’s ridden the antiracism wave as it has been building over the last few years.

Now he weighs in on multi-racial adoption from third-world countries, in reaction to Amy Coney Barrett, who has seven children, two of whom were adopted from Haiti:

If you go to Twitter and take a look at the responses, you may note that many of the readers there don’t think this tweet was Kendi’s finest hour – or anyone’s finest hour.

But I doubt Kendi will miss a step, because many of his fellow academics probably think such sentiments are insightful and “courageous ” (a word sometimes used to describe his book How to Be an Antiracist). He’s won many writing awards and has been the subject of admiring articles (see this in GQ).

There’s also the following: “In 2020, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.” I don’t think that’s empty hyperbole, either. Right now, Kendi might indeed be one of the most influential people in the world.

Kendi is also the author of a picture book for young children called Antiracist Baby.” And no, I am not making this up:

…[It’s] a new 9×9 picture book that empowers parents and children to uproot racism in our society and in ourselves, now with added discussion prompts to help readers recognize and reflect on bias in their daily lives.

Take your first steps with Antiracist Baby! Or rather, follow Antiracist Baby‘s nine easy steps for building a more equitable world.

With bold art and thoughtful yet playful text, Antiracist Baby introduces the youngest readers and the grown-ups in their lives to the concept and power of antiracism. Providing the language necessary to begin critical conversations at the earliest age, Antiracist Baby is the perfect gift for readers of all ages dedicated to forming a just society.

Which brings us full circle. Maybe if white people who are adopting children from Haiti read Antiracist Baby to their children, Kendi will forgive them their colonialist adoption virtue-signaling, which is not the approved sort of virtue-signaling – unlike his book, which is the “perfect gift for readers of all ages dedicated to forming a just society.”

And a lot of people must want that perfect book, because as I wrote this, the book was #1 on Amazon in children’s Values Books, #1 in Children’s Books in the US, #2 in Children’s Prejudice and Racism books, and #133 in Books of all types. So yes, Kendi is a highly influential person, both with the older and the younger set.

As far as I can tell from reading Kendi’s Wiki page, some interviews with him, and his website, he appears to have grown up in an intact family in Queens and then Virginia (last name: Rogers, a name he later changed), with parents who were a tax accountant and a health care business analyst but who later became Methodist ministers (of Black liberation theology bent). I also found this perhaps-relevant inteview with Kendi from November of 2019:

For Kendi, the “civilized theology” often espoused in middle-class black churches meets his definition of racism. Civilized theology is the idea that the function of the church is to bring wayward people into the church to save and civilize them. Those wayward people tend to be working-class and poor black people. According to Kendi, the church is saying that behavior-deficiency is causing their plight. “The reason why this is racist is because it suggests that there is something wrong groups of people,” said Kendi, who revealed that he is not a member of any church. “Racism is anytime we perceive the problem as the people instead of addressing the problems of the people,” he asserts.

To further explain his theory, Kendi compared two types of preachers. “There are preachers who fundamentally preach about the problem being structural, racism, and society. They use Jesus and the word to galvanize people to challenge society,” he said. This is what most people know as liberation theology.

Then there are those preachers who focus on the individual. “You have preachers who say the fundamental problem is the laziness of people, or the inability to not be violent,” Kendi said. Further, “Basically, people need to change. The way you change people first is by becoming saved?”

So it seems that to Kendi, religion is not about the individual, and Christianity is not about the need of the individual to be saved, but it is or should be political in nature – at least, for black people. The sinner is not to ever be blamed, and only by changing society can that person be helped or saved.

But Kendi takes it even further than replacing the religious with the political. He appears to believe that a church or pastor (even a black church or pastor) is racist if giving the message that a black person’s “wayward behavior” needs changing. And not only that, but Kendi conflates a black pastor telling a black person to straighten out his/her life with “suggest[ing] that there is something wrong [with] groups of people.” Did you catch that transition from the individual to the group?

What is Kendi suggesting here? That black individuals who make bad choices cannot change until some undefined “systemic” change happens to all of society? That such individuals have no – to use a popular word these days – agency? No responsibility for their actions, and no hope of changing on their own or through religion? And does this admonition only apply to “middle-class” black churches? What’s middle-class got to do with it?

And what of white people in churches – middle-class or otherwise? Do they have agency? Are they to be considered a “group” when a pastor speaks to them as individuals with individual responsibility?

I will add that one possible result of Kendi’s tweet is that any black child, adopted by white parents, who might be reading Kendi’s Twitter feed (such as, for example, teenagers) might react by becoming convinced that he or she was adopted not out of love but instead through parents’ narcissistic desire to deny their own innate racism. Can you imagine the effect on some of those children and their parents, on reading that the antiracist expert Kendi has spoken thusly?

[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]

 

 
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