Wearing the Kendi blinders

Ibrahim X. Kendi once famously said: "When I see racial disparities, I see racism."  For Kendi, no further effort is exerted, and no thought is required.  In contrast, someone such as Thomas Sowell sees a racial disparity and considers differences between the groups.  He might see income differences between X and Y and then ask: What's the rate of urban versus rural living between X and Y?  What's the average time spent watching TV versus reading between X and Y?  What is the mean age of X and Y?  For instance, the average age for Hispanics in the U.S. is 30, and for whites, it's 44.  Would anyone apart from Kendi not agree that this huge age difference might explain some of the income disparity between whites ($71,033) and Hispanics ($57,981)?  By using this multi-factorial approach, scholars such as Sowell have found that many factors explain group differences.  Unlike Kendi, Sowell doesn't jump to a conclusion.

There is a taboo on relying on biology to explain group differences.  One can avoid the potentially career-ending minefield of investigating genetics as an explanation for group differences in I.Q. or crime and still see biology as a factor in some disparities.

It was noticed that darker-skinned groups suffered from higher COVID-related mortality than other groups, particularly in Northern European countries.  Those wearing the Kendi blinders quickly use their go-to explanation for this disparity: racism.  Upon further research, it was discovered that those groups with darker skin living in northern counties — hence, places with much less sunlight — were deficient in vitamin D, which is believed to be important for the immune system.  Lighter skin produces vitamin D in sunlight.  This insight is medically important because it can be corrected with supplements.  Instead of addressing the imagined "root causes" of this disparity with more "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion" seminars, the real solution was an over-the-counter pill.

Kendi isn't known for arguments about gender disparities, but his same faulty logic is used regarding that issue.  We've all heard the statistic that women make 83 cents for every dollar a man makes.  For many, this statistic isn't a starting point to find variables that might explain it, but is instead an end point to leap to the conclusion that the statistic results from discrimination by employers.  Many economists have delved into the data and discovered that after controlling for actual time on the job versus time dedicated to parenting, the difference nearly disappears.  On average, moms and dads choose different work-life balances, which is evident in the lack of pay gap between childless women and men.

Differences in religious doctrine can partially explain some historic disparities.  There were doctrinal prohibitions for Christians and Muslims against charging interest on loans, but the Torah had no such restriction.  This would explain the historic overrepresentation of Jewish people in finance.  Some disparities can be explained simply by self-inflicted doctrinal handicaps.

Clinging to a nefarious explanation before exploring multiple factors has historically been the modus operandi of all bigots.  Anti-Semitism relies on the same fallacy as Kendism, but its conclusions are even more ridiculous.  Anti-Semites see Jewish achievements and ascribe them to nefarious conspiracies.  This willful laziness ignores the centuries of oppression during which Jewish achievement arose.  Despite this, Jewish people made enormous achievements.  One example is that despite being just 0.2 percent of the world's population, Jewish people constitute 22.4 percent of all Nobel Prize winners.  Scholars have pointed out many factors that contribute to Jewish intellectual success.  Some have pointed to universal male literacy in practicing Judaism.  Others focus on the prohibition on Jews owning land in parts of Europe, which required them to focus on the professions for economic advancement.  A somewhat more controversial fact that helps explain Jewish exceptionalism is the high average I.Q.  Anti-Semites ignore all this and engage in the same fallacious thinking that misguides Kendi.  They see a disparity and conclude that it must have a singular nefarious reason (usually a conspiracy theory) instead of a fascinating mosaic of causes.

The logical path of those who insist that oppression explains all disparities is an ugly and dangerous dead end.  It's time to call out this simplistic and reflexive thinking for the danger it truly is.

Randy Boudreaux is an attorney in New Orleans.

Image: Larry D. Moore.

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