We Need to Talk About Kendi
I n 2003, novelist Lionel Shriver released We Need to Talk About Kevin to critical acclaim. The book was later adapted into a horror movie. The basic premise of the story (spoiler alert) is that a mother, blinded by love, is deceived and manipulated by her son and fails to recognize the signs of his antisocial personality disorder, which ultimately has disastrous consequences for many innocent victims.
Westport, like this well-intentioned mother, has a similar problem, which we need to confront directly, as uncomfortable as it may be. While we all deeply oppose racism, bigotry and prejudice, many of us in Westport have been pressured into accepting a particular philosophy of racism that, in our view, is simply wrong. To a large extent, this philosophy has already been institutionalized within our schools and across Town government. Further, we have been led to believe, consistent with the warped internal logic of this philosophy, that any disagreement with this philosophy is itself a manifestation of racism and white supremacy and must be silenced and condemned. We refer here to the philosophy of “antiracism” as articulated by Professor Ibram X. Kendi.
Kendi's ideology has become extraordinarily prominent across multiple layers of Westport government — an ideology which we believe is antisocial and destructive. In this piece, we discuss the scope of Kendi’s influence across the Town of Westport, who was behind it, and why it must be undone.
As we have written previously, TEAM Westport is the appointed town committee that has run an aggressive ideological campaign to make antiracism the official town mission. As a reminder, it has been determined that TEAM Westport is an improperly constituted committee that is in the process of being reformed. The Town of Westport has formally acknowledged multiple violations of the town charter and statutes, which necessitate substantial changes to TEAM’s membership.
Having operated for many years, improperly, as a partisan committee with a specific and identifiable ideological agenda, a great deal of damage has already been done. One of the more shocking discoveries in our review of TEAM’s meeting minutes is the frequency with which Kendi is mentioned and the extent to which the Town of Westport has engaged with Kendi’s organization directly. On at least one occasion, Westport schools have apparently participated in “antiracism training” of 40 school administrators by Kendi’s group. Thanks to TEAM’s advocacy, we have also incorporated Kendi’s Stamped as part of the 10th grade curriculum; meanwhile, To Kill a Mockingbird (a book Kendi considers racist) has disappeared from the 8th grade curriculum.
Perhaps the most clearcut explanation of TEAM’s role as an advocate for Kendiism in our schools comes from TEAM’s Chairman himself. In this August 2020 video presentation hosted by the Westport Library, he discusses how TEAM has already injected Kendi’s thinking into K-12 education in Westport and is now setting its sights on pre-K. We encourage readers to view the entire YouTube video but will quote directly from the Chairman’s comments beginning at 22:00:
With a 93 to 94% white demographic in Westport itself… from the beginning our concern has been the children and the impact of the Westport bubble on those children… For that reason we have had a particular focus on working with Westport schools strategically and programmatically… Our work with the schools has actually included the Superintendents, as well as the Board of Education who’ve been members, and some of the key administrators and leaders at the administrator and teacher levels inside the schools… Over the past two plus years, TEAM Westport has worked in partnership with school leadership to develop an antiracist recommendations framework which is still being… rolled out and some of it still under consideration… I have to say that a good deal of that has been informed by Ibram Kendi who is the author of How to Be an Antiracist and has also had his team as well as himself personally here working with us over the past two and a half to three years. So we have recommendations put together for K-12, but that’s K-12. Tonight our focus is on pre-K.
While TEAM’s “original mission” is supposedly to make Westport a more welcoming place from a multicultural perspective, its current mission appears to be to proselytize Kendiism. We have previously cited the presence of an “Antiracism” page on the Town website in the TEAM Westport section. The content on the Town website is nearly identical to and appears to have been drawn from the content of another website in which Kendi is prominently featured and a video clip of him discussing his book is linked.
In January 2018, Kendi gave a lecture at the Westport Playhouse. Westport blogger Dan Woog discussed this event upon its one-year anniversary noting that “[a]ttendees contributed almost $3,000 toward antiracism training in Westport.” Woog went onto explain how TEAM and various other groups in Westport subsequently “worked with Dr. Kendi and his team to develop antiracism training for senior management of key organizations in Westport. It includes town government, the police and the school system.” We strongly agree with Woog’s observation in that blog post: “Dr. Kendi’s impact on Westport has been profound.” (We also find it very disturbing that private funds have dictated how Town and school employees are trained. If, for example, a religious organization held a fundraiser to train Town employees on how they are supposed to behave, what they are supposed to think and what they are allowed to say, would the public find this acceptable?)
So who is Dr. Ibram X. Kendi? What does he believe? And why should we be concerned that a currently illegally formed town committee (due to the fact that from its inception it did not meet state requirements of minority representation) has been aggressively proselytizing Kendi’s ideas within our schools and community in every possible way (including, we would note, the most recent TEAM Westport Essay Contest)?
To answer these questions, we encourage readers to do their own research, read Kendi directly (including children’s books like Stamped and Antiracist Baby) and review the abundance of information available about him on the internet. While it is entirely inappropriate (and certainly non-welcoming) for our town and our schools to promote any sort of philosophy or ideology, Kendi’s version of antiracism and many of his public statements are particularly odious and offensive. We explore a number of the more objectionable elements of Kendiism below:
Kendi’s skewed definition of racism
The first thing to understand about Kendiism as an ideology is that it does not utilize the commonplace definition of racism (such as the Merriam-Webster definition, “a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”). In Kendi’s framework, “[r]acism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities… Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing.”
Kendi obliterates the traditional concept of racism (passing judgment on someone on the basis of skin color and appearance). In doing so, Kendi essentially condones the application of traditional racism or is at least silent on the matter. While his reasoning appears circular and self-referential (which may be a deliberate strategy to confuse), his definition of racism does ultimately link to an external concept (equity). Basically, he “reverse engineers” what a racist is. He views racism as support for policies and ideas that he believes lead to unequal outcomes among racial groups. In essence, a racist is anyone who disagrees with Kendi’s primary political objective (racial equity) and his opinions as to how that objective can be most effectively achieved.
All of us grew up being taught that having negative feelings towards people of a particular background or treating them poorly on that basis is wrong. In Kendi’s framework, how we feel about and treat people are no longer directly relevant; policies and outcomes are all that matter. By training our teachers in Kendi’s antiracism, we are doing our children a tremendous disservice by de-emphasizing the most important aspect of racism — the immorality of hating another human being based on how they look. Instead, our children are being redirected to the politics of equal outcomes.
Kendi’s stance on discrimination is consistent with Apartheid
Because Kendi rejects the traditional definition of racism, he has no qualms whatsoever with racial discrimination. Kendi endorses racial discrimination to achieve what he views as desirable political objectives, such as equity (equality of outcomes across races). Kendi essentially rejects the basic principle animating civil rights legislation and the Constitutional principle of equal treatment under the law. This paves the way for an Apartheid-like system, where Americans would be assigned to different racial categories and treated differently, in order to socially engineer outcomes that Kendi and his supporters view as good.
Since the 1960s, racist power has commandeered the term “racial discrimination,” transforming the act of discriminating on the basis of race into an inherently racist act. But if racial discrimination is defined as treating, considering, or making a distinction in favor or against an individual based on that person’s race, then racial discrimination is not inherently racist. 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.
Kendi’s opinion of interracial adoption
As Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was being confirmed, Kendi had some choice words for parents of adopted children of color. Justice Barrett has two adopted children from Haiti. In a September 2020 Tweet (since deleted), Kendi wrote:
Some White colonizers "adopted" Black children. They "civilized" these "savage" children in the "superior" ways of White people, while using them as props in their lifelong pictures of denial, while cutting the biological parents of these children out of the picture of humanity.
It is offensive to Westport taxpayers who were either children of interracial adoption or have adopted children of a different race that Dr. Kendi is our town’s choice to deliver training on racial matters. Frankly, all Westport taxpayers should be offended.
Kendi’s proposed Constitutional amendment
Among the more alarming and insane ideas proposed by Dr. Kendi is his proposal for a Constitutional amendment that would not only enshrine his warped definition of racism in the Constitution but create a “Department of Anti-racism” or “DOA.” This “permanently fund[ed]” committee of “trained experts on racism” would function as some kind of supreme authority that overrides every democratic legislative process and Constitutional right an American citizen might have, including freedom of expression. Kendi essentially wants to create a dictatorial government agency that is empowered to enforce his vision of racial equity and punish those with dissenting views. (One cannot help but wonder if this concept of an all-powerful government entity inspired TEAM’s grandiose sense of its own role within Westport). In Kendi’s antiracist autocratic fantasy:
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.
Kendi’s financial success
Kendi appears to generate extraordinary revenue from his antiracist activities. He extracts hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches and has a vast array of publishing activities geared toward both the pre-K-12 education market and adults. Perceived by many as a “grifter,” he is in any event a huge commercial success. As Dan Woog reported, he has raised thousands of dollars in Westport alone, private funds which were then funneled into training for municipal and school employees. This raises serious questions as to why decisions around how Town employees are trained are made by private donors.
We have additional concerns about Kendi’s financial relationships in Westport. How much money have we as a Town spent in total on antiracism training with Kendi’s group, including both private and public funds? How much have we spent on his books, in the schools and the Westport Library? Have any members of TEAM Westport or other political bodies commercially benefited, directly or indirectly, by promoting Kendi’s business activities within Westport? Westport citizens deserve total transparency on these questions.
In the United States of America, and Westport, we are all entitled to hold and express whatever political, philosophical or religious views we prefer. But we also have a tradition in our government and our public schools where no individual or group’s point of view can become enshrined and be allowed to go unchallenged. The “profound” impact of Kendi on Westport, as Dan Woog put it, is wrong because no particular ideology should become so influential. But it is especially wrong because Kendiism is so misguided and damaging.
We are in this situation now because TEAM Westport has been operating in violation of the law and without the usual checks and balances that prevent abuses from forming within government bodies. We urge our Town leaders to take stock of just how far TEAM Westport has pushed Kendiism within our schools and broader community and to think about how we can stop and reverse this ideological takeover. As the various legal violations of TEAM Westport are addressed and the group is modified, our Town leaders should think carefully about the opportunity we now have to bring diverse perspectives on racial matters into that organization as well as our schools, the Library and other parts of local government.
Our community and our children deserve better, much better, than to be subjected to a flawed ideology that diminishes the immorality of racism, explicitly promotes racial discrimination to achieve political ends, shows contempt for democratic processes and individual rights, and seeks to punish any and all divergent points of view. We can do better than Ibram X. Kendi.