IBRAHIM KENDI; ANTI RACISM: How to be an Anti-racist

Sometimes I want to concentrate on Biblical theology, Messianic Jewish themes and the Church.  However, I have a background in apologetics.  This goes back to the cultural apologetics of Francis Schaeffer who spoke at Wheaton College in the fall of 1967.  It is part of my text, The Biblical Worldview, An Apologetic.  Cultural apologetics analyzes the culture(s) around us from a biblical perspective.  It shows the dead ends in those cultures and the destructive aspects that lead us on to biblical faith as the only basis for lasting human fulfillment.  This is my personal background and why I sometimes address cultural issues, including political issues. 

I have written before on the important topic of critical race theory.   I have been reading more.  There are good books and articles evaluating this from a biblical faith position, but I wanted to read more in the original, just as I did for critical theory in general.  Readers may remember my review of Herbert Marcuse.  Critical race theory understands race as a social construct (it is, much more than ethnicity and culture) which because of its use by white skinned people created oppressive structures to maintain power and privilege.  This in my view was indeed historically true.  However, the CRT people believe that these power structures still exist and systematically produce inequity or disparities in outcomes for race representation and prosperity that are obscene.  The term racism is re-defined from the belief that some races are inherently or essentially inferior to the new definition of systems and policies that are in place that bring about the disparities among races, in this case, primarily Blacks and Hispanics.  Somehow it does not affect Asians!   I did find that different proponents of CRT have very different views on white guilt.  Some CRT folks have an essentialism that contradicts their relativistic epistemology and see whites an in inherently defective race such as in the black Nation of Islam.   Others do not teach race essentialism. Some teach an inherent with guilt, and some do not on other bases.  For Ibrahim Kendi, systemic racism is not based for many in the belief of blacks being inferior but is just a matter of self-interest to maintain position and many are actually oblivious to how their orientation fosters systemic racism.  The key for Kendi is anti-racist policies not getting whites to naval gaze in guilt as others do.  The anti-racist fosters effective policies that change the game.  For some CRT proponents only those in power can be racists.  Blacks thus cannot be racists. For Kendi, blacks indeed can be racists if they embrace the inferiority of whites as a race.   CRT is a complex movement, and it is better to say what particular writers say beyond the basic assertions where all agree on the issue of power and institutional racist structures. 

It is very interesting that Kendi’s parents were at one time Evangelicals.  They were at the Intervarsity Urbana Missions Conference in 1970 at the University of Illinois.  His mother was a student at Nyack Missionary College of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination.  However, after those years they were affected by liberation theology which was very liberal in theological views (not just political and social).  The next generation sometimes is even more radical as is the case with their son Kendi.  Kendi’s book is both biographical and a presentation of his basic views.  I note that relativism in the theory of knowledge (epistemology) has been devastating in academia, is irrational, and leads to much lower standards of scholarship. It is destructive to scholarship and makes scholarship a tool for the power assertions of preferred narratives.  We will see this constantly in Kendi. 

My empathy is with African Americans who are frustrated that 60 years after civil rights there are still such disparities in outcomes in attainment, income, health and so much more. Why?  The right analysis is crucial.

Ibrahim Kendi is now probably the most popular CRT proponent.  His books are widely promoted on campuses across America.  It is assigned reading in our military!   I started this essay and then on the same night, Tucker Carlson had a whole segment on it, some of which was right and some unfair and out of context.  

Here are some points for understanding and evaluation.  First the good points.  

  1. Kendi points out that the idea of integration as the solution was not effective.  He rather says the solution is resourcing the black community.  While I do not believe in race based affirmative action (how much black blood percentages or white blood or between is discussed by him), I believe in affirmative action for the poor and marginalized.  This then will effect the ethnic groups that are most in need. The issue however is that resourcing has to go to what is proven effective and not just flushing the money down the drain.  However, a black school can be effective and there are examples. I support one very effective black school.  Quality is more important than integration. 
  2. Kendi wants to preserve black spaces so blacks can be themselves in their own cultural contexts.  However, he does not want segregation but only times of separation.  He is in favor of black and white interaction and points of integration.  
  3. He wants to emphasize that white European cultures are not the norm for evaluating other cultures.  I strongly agree with that.  Somethings are great in these cultures historically and some are not; so also with African cultures. 
  4. Kendi sees the center of racism not as ideological prejudice but self-centeredness. Self-centeredness is behind the creation of the racists ideas that can use and oppress others for self.  I think this is indeed very true.  There are those who historically could not grasp cultures and their positive values when they were not white Europeans, and they were only drawing conclusions out of their own ethnocentrism and did not use others for themselves. But others took these evaluations of inferiority to aggrandize themselves.    
  5. Kendi does seek a more just world where advancement and prosperity is more well distributed and benefits more.  This is a biblical ideal which I will explain toward the end of this article. He does not realize that his ideals of equality are partly Bible based and in the long run will not be sustained without the Bible.  
  6. Kendi understands that race is a social construction and that there are many ethnicities and many shades of skin color. However, because of racism, we have to deal with race as a category to overcome the oppression of the past.   

Here are the most problematic and troubling views

  1. Relativistic Theory of Knowledge.  (Relativistic Epistemology).  The idea of objective truth is rejected.  Readers who have not studied his area of philosophy may not realize what this means, but it is central.  All students of the theory of how we come to know something is true and really the way things are (objective) know that the quest is hard.  Yet there must be no giving up of the quest.  The quest for objective knowledge is not just a western idea or something that is part of white culture and white supremacy as asserted.  Many cultures have developed the basic laws of logic.  Yeshua appeals to logic and shows the contradictions of the Pharisees.  When one rejects logic and objective truth one loses the ability of evaluation.  It leads to irrationality and incoherence.  Narratives are created.  Arguing for a view is a power assertion for how one wants to things to be, but with no basis of reality.  Kendi asserts this relativism and undercuts his whole argument.  
  2. Cultural relativism.  Kendi asserts that all cultures are equal and none superior to others.  Yes, it is wrong to make western European and American culture the norm to judge cultures.  Indeed, this was done historically in glaring ways.  But Kendi is profoundly incoherent.  Kendi seeks a culture of equity meaning that different races and ethnicities attain broad equality in prosperity and representation in societal roles.  However, most cultures never sought or practiced such, not India, China, Japan, or even much of Africa.  Certainly, it is not found in Islamic nations where women are not given equality. There must be a norm to evaluate cultures.  For us that norm is the Bible, but since Kendi has rejected the Bible and its law as the norm, he is left simply asserting his desires.  It reminds me of the story of a guest at a Passover Seder in our home years ago. She asserted that all cultures were equal and we were not to judge.  I asked about cultures of head hunters where eating people was a religious act.  She at first reacted as if the truth was getting through, but then said, “If that is their religion, who am I do judge.”  The cultural relativism of Kendi is profoundly wrong and self-defeating even for his own goals. 
  3. Equality or Equity is largely defined as equal resourcing and outcomes.  Assuring equal outcomes in income and social roles moves us to redistribution.  As soon as we use race as a basis for income transfer, the get into the unsolvable problems as to who receives the help.  How black does a person have to be?  What if one is ¼ black and looks like a white?   The idea of equity of outcome is impossible to attain.  See #5 below.  
  4. The emphasis on micro-agressions is so subjective that it will not produce solutions but only tie up people in knots and walking on eggshells.  Such an overemphasis will lead to whites avoiding blacks since they will not be able to pass the test of not violating micro-aggressions which is always changing.  Some employers, not of the big corporations but smaller businesses, avoid hiring blacks so as to avoid the never ending magnifying glass of micro aggression accusations.  They perceive that this will bring strife into their business.   The overemphasis on race is bad for race relationships. 
  5. While he admits race is a construct (cultures are more real) he then wants to have race based solutions.  Since discrimination was the sin of the past the solution is reverse discrimination in race based affirmative action.  Sadly, this will produce resentment and tribalism.   
  6. One what basis do you favor a race?  Are Nigerian immigrants included since they are doing very well in the country?  How about the Chinese, Japanese or dark sinned Indians from India?  All are doing very well. The Indians are at the top in learning and income.  Do we give special support to rich African Americans?  All attempts to give support based on race will lead to failure.  When the support is need based, it will go more to the race that needs it.  Though not based on race, it will help the poor blacks the most since they are the ones most in need.  As soon as one goes to race based, one again is dealing with percent of blood, colorism (how black is the person) etc.   
  7. Kendi criticizes ablism.  That is a term that referred to those who had disabilities.  People with disabilities should be able to qualify for positions that that are not made impossible by their disability.  However, ableism, and merit-based promotion is rejected as from white supremacy for a new kind of system where there are more equal results even in math etc.  This has led to school systems claiming math as discriminatory and changing the math programs to eliminate advanced math courses so all can be more equal.  It also leads to eliminating testing.  Yes, tests need to be examined for objective quality and not cultural discrimination, but objective norms are crucial.  How can you have engineers who build buildings that do not collapse and bridges that are safe without objective standards.  Imagine brain surgeons being given certification due to their racial categorization rather than rigorous standards?  The gains of medicine, technology and health come from people who pass highly exacting standards. Dumbing down math will not improve the Black situation with the claim that testing is white. 
  8. Kendi as many others joins the gay and the whole LGBTQ agenda as intersecting.  Hence the most important aggrieved person is the black transgender women, since she/he intersects with three oppressed categories, transgender, women and black.  This person is l the acid test of policy.   
  9. So much is incoherent.  Systemic racism in this book is systemically incoherent
  10. Kendi does not explicitly assert radical socialism as the solution to disparate outcomes in race -equality.  However, he again and again asserts his anti-capitalism.  There is much to criticize in contemporary capitalism, its crony capitalism, the control of the society by the super-rich whose wealth gives them too much power.  However, nothing has been more proven than that socialism leads to poverty for the many.  Reforming capitalism is always needed, but socialism as a system will produce no gains for the black people.  The key to capitalism is requiring investment that expands opportunity for all and limiting the political power of the superrich and maybe even having a limit to personal wealth.  However, only capitalism increases wealth and potentially for all. 
  11. Kendi uses strange language and speaks constantly about black people as black bodies.  Is this emphasis on physicality part of a materialistic atheism?  It is just strange with amazing Incoherence in the confluence of ideas and  intersectionality.
  12. Here is an amazing incoherence.  Kendi asserts a radical equality of all cultures in his cultural relativism, but also asserts the superiority of a culture or political situation in which all races and ethnicities as equal and successful (equity).  The idea of equality in the west is rooted in the Bible.  All are created in the image of God and as Paul says, God has made every ethnicity on the earth from one original human couple.  Hence all are to be offered eternal life and are important to God.  Removing this idea and replacing it with atheistic Marxist notions of equality will certainly lead to failure since the roots for this understanding will cause the tree to wither.  Eventually sinful man will use power assertion to oppress other categories of people.  
  13. Kendi does not perceive that there are cultural patterns that do lead to greater poverty.  He seems to give no credit to a stable family with a father and mother as a key predictor of overcoming poverty.  This has been proven again and again. 
  14. Kendi constantly affirms the nostrums of the left, and it undercuts his credibility.  For example, Judge Kavanaugh appointed to the Supreme Court is still said to be a women abuser (despite no proven evidence) and conservatives on the court further white supremacy. There is prejudice after prejudice in Kendi on these kinds of things.   Justice Thomas, a black conservative, furthers white supremacy and is part of that contingent of blacks that do so.  So, a true black anti-racist must support socialistic, affirmative action discrimination and more or is an Uncle Tom.  He must be a leftist. 

Kendi provides very little in policy solutions.  His view is that systemic racism is a matter of bad policy.  I agree that racial disparities is partly based in bad policy, but which policies is a issue.  It is hard to say what he really thinks will work.  Socialism?  Quotas for race disparities? Reparations or payments based on race?   Really, I don’t think he presents real workable solutions to the systemic racial disparities of income and attainment in our society.  The fuzziness on policy is quite notable.  Bigger government and its controls seem to be what he is indicating. 

One other thing of is important.   If a nation is to have unity, it must emphasize its common values.  While ethnic distinctions may be valued, they have to give way to the larger framework of the unity in values or we will produce warring tribalism forever fighting over fair distribution for the tribe.  The perception of unfairness will become rooted in every grouping with its consequent resentment and anger.  Blacks, Hispanics, darker blacks vs. lighter blacks, whiter Hispanics verses dark Hispanics, India Indians, Native Americans, European descendants, Chinese, Japanese, darker Philippine people, and more will all be aggrieved. Rather, the emphasis on our common humanity and helping those in need equally has to be the norm, need based not race or ethic based. 

Biblical Anti-Racism 

Biblical anti-racism addresses ethnic pride and assertions of dominance.  Two foundational biblical teachings are key. The first is that all human beings are created in the image of God.  Therefore, the basic equality of worth in the image of God is firmly established.  As such the Bible can assert, ‘From one He made every nation of men to live on the face of the earth.”  

The second truth is that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. This is asserted again and again.  All need the Gospel and its transforming power.  Kendi gets closer to the Bible view when he asserts that racism is rooted in self-interest!   Yes, the Bible says that sinful self-interest seeks to use others, to dominate them.  It seeks to put ourselves, our families and our tribes into the position of dominance, use them and then to demean others.  It defends the superiority of those who are like us and of us.  This is not,, contrary to Kendi, only a western colonial problem.   The Chinese leaders today see themselves as superior and having a right to dominate.  The Japanese did.  The warring Indian tribes of India did.  The genocide in Rwanda has such roots of sin.  

In the Bible only one nation is chosen and they are chosen to bring blessing to the other nations or ethnic peoples.  Their election was not based in their superiority.  God warns them again and again, especially in Deut.8-10, that they are not a superior people but sinful, stubborn and unworthy people who are only elect due to his gracious calling.  

Ethnic pride and the assertion of the superiority of one’s culture has to die at the cross. Now in Yeshua all people who embrace the Gospel also become elect or chosen.  The calling to overcome ethnic division is at the heart of discipleship.  The valuing of one’s own ethnic identity has to decrease and become secondary to the reality of our common identity as God’s elect people in Yeshua.  Love must overcome temptation to self.  One can value the good things in one’s culture or the culture of others but there is an overarching Kingdom culture from the Sermon on the Mount and the Bible as the norming norm.  Cultures are only better or worse to the extent that they live by biblical norms and values. 

Kendi’s embrace of sexual aberrations as intersectional in deprivation with racism will bring destruction to those who embrace such aberrant lifestyles.  Kingdom values bring all cultures into criticism.  We can all it the biblical critical school!  Only that which passes in agreement with biblical moral teaching can be embraced.  As such, Kendi’s cultural relativism is profoundly anti biblical.  It produces terrible incoherence.  On the values side he seeks equality and equity, but cannot criticize Islamic nations or others that are not western due to intersectionality since all that is non-western has to be embraced as representing peoples who were exploited.  Oppression in other societies is given a bye.  However, in the Bible, all cultures that oppress are brought into judgement by God (see Amos1-3).  Only biblical norms can redeem cultures. Without biblical transformation, today’s atheist and secular quest for equity will end with new oppression.   The self-root cannot be overcome in a humanistic way. Opposing one race to another and fostering a secular white guilt will fail. Real guilt can be atoned for only at the cross.  One must not see all whites as guilty for being white so that recent immigrants are as guilty as descendants of slave owners.  

So where do we begin?

  1. First, Critical Race Theory and secular anti-racism challenge the Church for its failure.  The most profound failure of the Church is to miss the priority of offering the Gospel and works of compassion.  Luke 4 brings this out where Yeshua says his Gospel is to the poor, the captive, and the prisoner. The Gospel is for all, but the first right of refusal is always to the most needy.  As such every church, every denomination and association should have been making serving the poor and needy the center of their ministry.  Most of the wrong nostrums for dealing with race in our society can be traced to the abysmal failure of the Church to live according to the Biblical emphasis from the Torah, to the prophets to the New Testament. 
  2. The way to biblical prosperity or success in the Bible is to become a disciple of Yeshua, to enter the Kingdom and then experience the great reversal of conditions from his power.  The poor are blessed because poverty does not define a follower of Yeshua. (Matt. 5).  The Kingdom has come.  Lasting success and prosperity cannot be attained apart from Biblical moral norms and this includes biblical norms for sexuality, marriage and the family.  When the society fosters lifestyles contrary to these norms it fosters poverty and ultimate destruction. 
  3. Many big government policies to lift the poor and the African American community have at least partly failed.  Kendi is right about wrong policies, but he misses just where policies are wrong and will prescribe, in part, the same solutions that have failed.  For example, some public schools in poor communities are underfunded. This would be his emphasis.  But two such school systems in black cities are some of the highest funded in America, and most students from poor black communities are not learning to read.  The schools graduating a majority as illiterates.  Imagine if Blacks and all poor people were given vouchers to choose the schools they desire, but only schools showing good outcomes would be qualified for the choice.  What a revolution that would be!  Yes, the public teachers unions are part of the reason for systemic racial disparities! Does Kendi see this?   No, but many black parents do!  They want vouchers and charters!

Here is a list of policies that could help, but remember that only so much progress will be made without the Gospel. 

  1. Education vouchers and true education choice for all; equal funding for such vouchers. 
  2. Change welfare to incentivize fathers to stay in the home and subsidize income rather than penalizing those families that lose support and have less due to a working father. 
  3. Connect welfare to workfare and job training. 
  4. Incentives for enterprise zones in poor communities and police protection for such businesses so riots and criminals will not make businesses unfeasible. Walgreens leaving San Francisco neighborhoods is not helpful to poor communities!
  5. Bring a well-trained and massive police presence in poor neighborhoods to end gun violence, gangs, and drug dealing is key.  
  6. Encourage business to hire the poor who can do the job and not go for hiring the overqualified. 
  7. End prison for non-violent crimes and have community work and restoration programs.  

Yes, we do agree that the outcomes for different races and ethnicities should not be so unequal.  But we cannot just snap our fingers and pass laws making outcomes equal. The answer is not to dumb down education, math etc. and end the basic norms of meritocracy.  Rather it is to work to qualify more.  One cannot have bridge builder engineers and brain surgeons who do not qualify just to fill a quota.  One has to be able to do the job well.  The key is programs to qualify more.  Again and again, we see that an intact family is a key matter in all this again and again.  Socialism is not the answer, but we should limit the obscene levels of individual wealth that brings controlling power over the whole society.  Creating more wealth for all requires a regulated free enterprise.  Only the dynamic of people in free enterprise, some making more, some less, but all with adequate provision, can expand wealth. Socialism brings poverty for all but for those in charge of the system.   We should indeed have incentives to hire the poor, but not base it on race but poverty.  The overemphasis on race, micro aggressions and more will produce more resentment and division.  Some CRT theorists are anti white racists, but thankfully not Kendi.  

This is my answer to Kendi.