I’m far from the only one to notice that the Ibram X. Kendi brouhaha happens to coincide with the release of the
latest book by Thomas Sowell
. Sowell, now 93, has long been the first stop for confused liberals starting to wonder if finding racism at the root of all our problems isn’t making things worse. True to form, Sowell’s “Social Justice Fallacies” does as much to discredit Kendi’s project as the current
allegations of financial mismanagement
at his Center for Antiracist Research.
Consider Sowell’s note on methodology:
There are many reasons why different people are in poverty, and these reasons are not limited to just the ones that happen to be currently in vogue, such as discrimination by race or sex. None of this automatically tells us how much effect discrimination, or any other factor, has on a given group’s economic or other advancement, which can vary at different times or under different conditions. But the facts of history can at least save us from jumping to automatic conclusions, on the basis of rhetoric and repetition of such catchwords as "legacy of slavery," "white supremacy," and "blaming the victim."
Note the clarity and care with which Sowell lays out his task and the rigorous humility of his claims. He will begin by clearing away the fashionable rhetoric clouding this issue. He will appeal to history rather than his personal experience. He will demand nothing from the well-intentioned reader but a good-faith effort to follow his arguments.
The reader who does will be rewarded with a concise yet nuanced explanation of how the earnest desire to redress past wrongs metastasized into our current inquisition. Crucially, Sowell resists the temptation to produce mere counter-propaganda, a restraint other “anti-woke” commentators would do well to emulate. Sowell does the necessary work of debunking specific, spurious claims, but he also exposes the faulty reasoning behind them. The result is a kind of manual for how to think about “racism” as understood in 2023 America. Why not give a copy to your anti-racist uncle this Thanksgiving?
While a hardback copy of “Social Justice Fallacies” will run you a reasonable $28 ($18.99 for the ebook), some will balk at supporting this particular writer of color. But such criticisms may have a tinge of self-interest to them. For example, the Sowell mania was recently so fevered on X (formerly Twitter) that
one wag remarked
: “[A] bunch of white dudes just discovered a Black person they’re willing to listen to, while dismissing the vast majority of the rest.” Coming as it does from a (white) “antiracism educator” who
charges at least $10,000 a speech
, we should take that as a ringing endorsement.
The curriculum such educators employ is necessarily vague and open-ended. Consider this assignment from Kendi’s blockbuster, the most potent indulgence of Liberal White Lady masochism since “Fifty Shades of Grey”: “Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.” Certainly this also evokes a Maoist struggle session.
But to me Kendi’s "How to Be an Antiracist" program resembles nothing so much as Scientology. Enlightenment always beckoning but constantly receding, as the eager pupil ascends level after level and pays for course after course. By all accounts, the only real effect of the $43 million in grants and gifts that the Center for Antiracist Research blew through was expanded awareness of the Ibram X. Kendi brand.
Then again, Kendi has always shrewdly understood himself as more prophet than policy wonk. To paraphrase L. Ron Hubbard’s famous quote about career transitions, you don’t get rich teaching college history. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.
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