A poor analysis of a problem will rarely result in a good solution. Ibram X. Kendi’s book “How to be an Antiracist” takes on the issue of inequalities between racial groups in the US. Unfortunately, his misdiagnosis of the problem leads him to the wrong solution.
Mr Kendi is a clear writer, though, and there is logical force to his argument, which is essentially:
- There is inequality of outcomes between racial groups (unequal results in income, wealth, incarceration rates, etc). As one example, Kendi points to home ownership: In 2014, 71% of White families lived in owner-occupied homes, compared to 45% of Hispanic (Kendi uses the term Latinx) families and 41% of Black families.
- Racist policies cause the inequality between racial groups.
- The solution is “antiracist” policies, which Kendi defines as policies that promote equity between races (in contrast to racist policies, which promote inequity between races).
Kendi is right, of course, that there is inequality, and that the harm of past racist policies reverberates today. Past housing discrimination, for example, is one reason poor Black people tend to be concentrated in distinct sections of cities. But Kendi insists that “racist policies” (a term he prefers to “systemic racism”) are in operation today.
But a major weakness emerges in Kendi’s argument (a weakness in the “systemic racism” argument generally) when he tries to identify actual examples of racist policies today. He sees “voter suppression” efforts aimed at Black people; but the facts actually show high rates of voter turnout in the Black community. He describes America’s drug laws as “racist policies” enacted for the purpose of incarcerating lots of Black men. “[A]s my pregnant mother celebrated her thirty-first birthday on June 24, 1982, President Reagan declared war on her unborn baby,” Kendi writes regarding Reagan’s announcement of a “get tough on drugs” law. But the facts actually show that drug-fighting polices were widely supported by Black politicians and citizens, who were genuinely alarmed at the increase in crime and drugs in their communities. “We need outrage!” said Congressional Black Caucus member Charlie Ragel in a 1989 profile of him entitled “The Front Line General in the War on Drugs.” “I don’t know what is behind the lackadaisical attitudes towards drugs, but I do know that the American people have made it abundantly clear: They are outraged by the indifference of the U.S. government to this problem.” I think Kendi is right that many drug laws have done harm, but to call them “racist policies” is unfair and inaccurate, and ignores the actual history of those laws.
Kendi sees “racist policy” in police shootings. But as I have noted in other blogs, and as other studies have convincingly shown, the facts indicate that police treat Black people the same as any other demographic group. Pick any demographic group – women, Asians, Blacks, Whites, young, old – and you will find a rough correlation between police shootings and violent crime rates. Males are 95% of those killed by police. But we don’t accuse police of anti-male sexism, because we know males commit the vast majority of violent crime. Police shootings do not indicate widespread sexism, or racism, despite what you hear from the media.
So Kendi’s main proof of the existence of racist policies is the inequalities themselves. “Either racist policies or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” Actually, there is a third possibility: Culture. Cultures that emphasize education tend to raise successful children, which is why Nigerian-Americans have a higher average income than White Americans (as do Indian-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Palestinian-Americans, Egyptian-Americans, Syrian-Americans, and several other non-White groups, according to the US Census Bureau.)
In any case, having misdiagnosed the problem, Kendi offers a terribly misguided solution: government-enforced racial discrimination to benefit certain groups, which he calls “antiracist policies.” And I give Mr Kendi credit for speaking plainly:
The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist. Someone reproducing inequity through permanently assisting an overrepresented racial group into wealth and power is entirely different than someone challenging that inequity by temporarily assisting an underrepresented racial group into relative wealth and power until equity is reached.
The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.
As I approached the end of the book, I waited for specific “antiracist discrimination” examples. How would Kendi discriminate to achieve “equity” between races? But he provides little detail. Since publishing the book, he has proposed creating a Federal Department of Antiracism whose power would be, to say the least, unprecedented: “The DOA [Department of Antiracism] 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.”
I hope that is too totalitarian for most people.
Kendi is angry. He hates the fact that there is inequality between the races. All decent people want to see less disparity. But I agree with US Supreme Court Justice John Roberts who wrote: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” (Which makes me dangerously racist, according to Kendi. “The most threatening racist movement is not the alt right’s unlikely drive for a White ethnostate but the regular American’s drive for a race-neutral one.”)
I wonder how Mr Kendi would respond to Wai Wah Chin, charter president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York, who has actually experienced “antiracist” discrimination directed against Asians. “What do progressives say to a Chinese-American or Indian-American when she realizes their ideology means her children will be held to higher standards to get into college simply because of their race?” asks Ms Chin. “Should she really have to tell her children they must just accept that because of their race they will have to work harder to get the same opportunities as others – and accept this new racism as the price of a woke America?”