Are layoffs racist or antiracist?
Boston University Professor Phillipe Copeland would like to know. When news broke that Ibram X. Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University was laying off half or more of its staff, Professor Copeland called the move an “act of employment violence and trauma” and said the “university needs to explain … how mass layoffs are ‘antiracist.’”
Kendi needs to explain it too — and remember: neutrality is not an option.
Professor Copeland is not the only former colleague turning against Kendi. The outgoing faculty lead of the center’s policy office critiqued the original decision to give him “millions of dollars and so much authority.” The former assistant director of narrative (and, yes, the center also had an associate director of narrative) said she found the center “exploitative and other faculty experienced the same and worse.”
In another comment, Copeland accused others of sitting “at the feet of a ‘Master’ who provides answers in exchange for deference. They mistake celebrity for solutions. This is a ‘Chosen One’ theory of change.”
While these criticisms are partially directed at the university, they also clearly target Kendi and suggest he is what his critics have long said he is: a self-promoter elevated to a role he is unsuited to play.
In conversation with Columbia University linguist John McWhorter last year, Glenn Loury, a professor at Brown University, was blunter in his assessment of Kendi: “I take umbrage at the lionization of lightweight, empty-suited, empty-headed mother***ers like Ibram X. Kendi, who couldn’t carry my book bag, who hasn’t read … a f***ing thing. If you ask him what Nietzsche said, he would have no idea. … He’s an unserious, superficial, empty-suited lightweight. He’s not our equal, not even close.”
The popularity of this mediocre thinker was always stunning. He has commanded up to $40,000 per speaking engagement and attracted millions of dollars in donations, including a $10 million gift from Twitter founder Jack Dorsey. What has happened to all that money?
Those of us who lived through the moral panic that catapulted him (and Robin DiAngelo) to fame in 2020 could be forgiven for enjoying a moment of schadenfreude as his ideological brothers-in-arms turn his own arguments against him. It is an understandable enjoyment after those of us who always opposed racism were nonetheless subjected to all those workshops, trainings, and committee meetings. We watched as our institutions issued diversity statements and inclusive language guides, insisted on curricular changes, and announced new antiracist initiatives, suggesting racism lurked in every corner.
In fairness, Kendi cannot be personally blamed for all of this, even if he took full advantage of his moment. While the complaints about him and the layoffs are personal for his former colleagues, the rest of us should be more concerned with what he represents. His rise and fall are irrevocably tied to a fervor, fueled by the anxieties of a pandemic, that spread through the American academy, attempting to remake it according to the ideas of one or two thinkers — a damnable abdication of responsibility for the intellectual capaciousness and commitment to free and open inquiry aiming toward truth that should characterize academia.
Dare we hope that the decline of Kendi’s center is another sign that we have reached “peak woke” and the tide is turning, as some have suggested?
Texas and Florida are dismantling the diversity, equity, and inclusion bureaucracies that colonized their universities, and public institutions in Arizona, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Georgia, and elsewhere have renounced the use of DEI statements in hiring.
Meantime, legislatures in Tennessee, Ohio, and elsewhere have created academic centers devoted to civic education and free expression. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against race-based college admissions. There is even some evidence that the number of cancellations on American campuses is declining.
These are small flickers of freedom against the backdrop of intolerance and ideology that still dominate our colleges and universities. These institutions are still overpopulated by those who would call themselves liberals or progressives or leftists. They have allowed too much of the ideology Kendi represents to become embedded within them. And looking to the future, survey data suggests that the next generation of college professors is already set in its even more intolerant ways.
But the reduction of Kendi’s center shows that things can change. As he and his former allies descend into infighting, we should slip past them and continue to build on the reforms that have begun.
Kendi famously and perversely claimed, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination.” The remedy to Kendi’s supposedly antiracist ideology is to ignore this pernicious binary and cultivate institutions dedicated to truth and freedom that are based on merit, fairness, and equality.
This article appeared on Blaze Media on September 21, 2023.