Kendi’s Troubles Threaten the Whole ‘Antiracist’ Biz
As blue-collar philosopher Eric Hoffer reportedly observed some years back, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” Ibram X. Kendi’s brand of antiracism skipped the first two phases. It was conceived as a racket.
Like most rackets, Kendi’s depended for its success on finding suckers to support it. Kendi found his at Boston University. In a perverse effort to atone for imagined sins, the BU administration funded a Kendi brainchild, the Center for Antiracist Research. Hysteria over the death of George Floyd inspired the center, but hysteria alone cannot sustain it.
“After suddenly laying off over half his employees last week and with his center producing almost nothing since its founding,” writes David Decosimo in the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Kendi is now facing an investigation and harsh criticism from numerous colleagues complaining of financial mismanagement, dysfunctional leadership, and failure to honor obligations attached to its millions in grant money.”
No surprises here. Kendi is just one racial bunco artist out of many. Doing research for my new book, Untenable: The True Story of White Ethnic Flight from America’s Cities, I reviewed the work of four of the leading lights in this movement, specifically on the subject of white flight.
Two, Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates, are Black; two, Robin DiAngelo and Tim Wise, are White. What they have in common is that none of them gives any evidence of ever having spoken to a White person who fled. Evidence only spoils the con.
Not even academics who specialize in White flight bother to speak to its victims. Princeton’s Leah Boustan concluded a New York Times op-ed with the remarkable observation, “To complicate the picture, few of [the fleeing Whites] left personal accounts, and they may not have been able to articulate exactly why they moved.”
For my book, I spoke to at least fifty White people who fled collapsing ethnic communities. Everyone with whom I spoke knew exactly why they left. It’s just that no one bothered to ask them. What I heard over and over was the rationale one childhood friend, a Democrat, gave for finally leaving our Newark, New Jersey, neighborhood.
“It became untenable,” my friend told me. What I asked what “untenable” meant, he answered calmly, “When your mother gets mugged for the second time, that’s untenable. When your home gets invaded for the second time, that is untenable.” Multiply my friend’s experience by a million or so, and you have the true story of White flight as it unfolded in cities big and small across the northeast and north central United States.
The antiracists traffic not in truth but in propaganda. “Most urban whites preferred ‘flight over fight,’” wrote Kendi in his National Book Award winner, Stamped from the Beginning. “Real estate agents, speculators, and developers benefitted selling fleeing whites new suburban homes. America experienced an unprecedented post-war boom in residential and new highway construction as white families moved to the suburbs and had to commute farther to their jobs.”
This conspiratorial caricature of post-war urban America may help Kendi win awards, but it bears little relation to reality. In 1954, my parents used the GI Bill -- a “model welfare system” writes Kendi sarcastically -- to buy an 1880s fixer-upper on a Newark block home to several black families as well as immigrants from 14 different countries. An elderly female boarder came with the house. We would live in that house for the next ten years until the Highway Department took it.
Among my childhood friends we were the only homeowners. As I learned in my research, people loved this neighborhood, in no small part because of the Catholic church and school at its center. They did not want to leave. “Blockbusting” explained nothing about a community of contented renters who did not rely on public schools. An explosion of violent crime -- the city’s homicide rate increased sixfold between 1950 and 1972 -- explained a lot.
Kendi’s parents, who went by the name “Rogers,” seem to have been wary of the public schools in their native Queens, New York. They sent young Ibram to a Christian elementary school. When his mother, a business analyst, and his father, a tax accountant, moved to a largely white Virginia suburb, they sent young Ibram to the public high school. It was presumably good enough -- and safe enough -- for him to attend.
Kendi’s fellow antiracists are as conspiracy-minded as he is. In “The Case for Reparations,” an overpraised article in the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that housing segregation wasn’t simply the work of individual home owners. It was instead the intended result of government policy. “White flight,” Coates insists, “was not an accident -- it was a triumph of racist social engineering.”
This isn’t sociology. This is fiction. Government agents have always been more clumsy than clever, and in Newark, more greedy than either. In our case, the authorities socially engineered us out of our home simply because we stood in the way of a major federal payday for the city.
Born in 1975 to a radical family -- Ta-Nehisi’s father, Paul Coates, had been a Black Panther -- young Coates did not have to wander far from home to find his ideology. Paul Coates ran Black Classic Press, a radical publishing house. Coates’s mother was a schoolteacher and one of the four women who bore Paul Coates his seven children.
Coates attended Howard University but never got around to graduating. Degrees were for lesser mortals. In the age of forced diversity, Coates had no need for a Black press. He found his audience on the white-bread pages of the Atlantic, a mother lode of guilt waiting to be mined.
Sensing the potential of the antiracist movement, Whites have begun to colonize it, few more shamelessly than Robin DiAngelo. Here is how DiAngelo sums up White flight in her preposterous bestseller, White Fragility: “White families fled from cities to the suburbs to escape the influx of people of color, a process socialogists [sic] term White flight. They wrote covenants to keep schools and neighborhoods segregated and forbade cross-racial dating.”
DiAngelo’s analysis of White flight is no more accurate than her spelling of “sociologist.” Her dissertation abstract was predictive of where she was heading. “I used Whiteness theory to frame my observations,” she explains, “which defines Whiteness as a set of racialized relations that are historically, socially, politically and culturally produced.”
I missed my calling. DiAngelo makes more than $700,000 a year warning enlightened White people about their fragile, melanin-deprived brethren. Were DiAngelo -- born Robin Taylor -- to tell the true story of America’s great ethnic diaspora, her speaking fees would shrivel to nothing.
Like many in the White franchise of the antiracist biz, Tim Wise seems obsessed with the 1950s hit show, Leave It to Beaver. The show speaks of a time, Wise says with attempted sarcasm, “when everything was in its place, before all the struggles for equality and justice came along in the 60s and messed everything up.” Today, he imagines, “You have a whole political movement that is based on escaping into that fantasy.”
In the world according to Wise, White flight “began as soon as communities and schools came to have even small numbers of people of color in them.” This is a stunning conclusion in that it ignores very nearly all real-world evidence.
Wise’s one true observation, however ironic its intent, is that the sixties did mess everything up. The loosening of sexual mores during that ill-starred decade, coupled with government policies that rewarded fatherlessness, created a crisis in the black community that endures to this day.
And now Kendi may be messing everything up for his colleagues. He conceived a research institution dedicated to ignoring the root causes of a crisis his funders hoped to resolve. The BU brass actually hoped to scale this nonsense up. Now, with their eyes open, they may be helping to pull it all down.
Jack Cashill’s new book, Untenable: The True Story of White Ethnic Flight from America’s Cities, is available in all formats.
Image: Montclair Film