Most South Africans have little knowledge of Ibram X Kendi, founder of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, newly appointed holder of the prestigious Andrew W Mellon Professorship in the Humanities at Boston University, and author of a best-selling book on How to be an Anti-Racist.

Yet it is the doctrine that Kendi captures in this book that lies behind the recent upsurge in street protests in the United States and elsewhere, the toppling and defacement of statues, the silencing and ‘cancelling’ of dissent, the outpouring of support for #BlackLivesMatter, the denunciation of individuals and institutions as ‘racist’ – and the confessions of racist ‘guilt’ by many of those accused.

What is racism?

Kendi’s definitions of racism and anti-racism are ‘lucid’ and tangible, he says. It is not necessary to burden people with redundant concepts such as institutional racism, systemic racism, or structural racism, for racism in all these forms can be identified by a simpler test.

‘Racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas’. Racial inequity is ‘when two or more racial groups are not standing on an approximately equal footing’ on measures such as home-ownership, income, and employment.

A racist policy is any law, regulation, or procedure that ‘produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups’. A racist idea is ‘any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way’ and so tries to explain away ‘racial inequities in society’.

What is anti-racism?

Anti-racism is essentially the opposite. ‘An anti-racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between groups’. An anti-racist idea is one that sees ‘racial groups as equal’ and identifies ‘racist policies as the cause of racial inequities’.

Racist policy is the key issue, for it ‘cuts to the core of racism’ better than the common concept of racial discrimination. Racial discrimination is not a particularly helpful idea, for what matters is whether the discrimination in issue is ‘creating equity or inequity’.

‘If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist’. The correct kind of discrimination – that which creates equity – must be maintained at all times, moreover.

‘The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.’

No race-neutral alternative

There is no non-racist or race-neutral alternative to this racist/anti-racist dichotomy. Hence, the ‘most threatening racist movement’ is not the nationalistic ‘alt-right’ in the US but rather ‘the regular American’s drive for a race-neutral’ approach.

‘There is no neutrality in the racism struggle’, Kendi stresses. Nor can any individual or institution claim to be ‘not racist’ or ‘colour blind’. The only choice is between ‘being actively racist or actively antiracist’.

‘A racist is someone who is supporting a racist policy by their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea. An antiracist is someone is who is supporting an antiracist policy by their actions or expressing an antiracist idea’.

These labels are not fixed, however. Rather, they are ‘like peelable name tags’ that can be applied or removed depending on what the individual or institution is doing, or not doing, at any particular time.

To avoid the ‘racist’ name tag, people must constantly engage in ‘self-awareness’ and ‘self-criticism’, as if they were ‘fighting an addiction’. They must also acknowledge any perceived racist misdeeds they may inadvertently have committed – and overtly oppose any policy that does not produce equity between racial groups. 

The link between racism and capitalism

Kendi claims that ‘it is impossible to know racism without understanding its intersection with capitalism’. In his view, racism and capitalism became ‘conjoined twins’ with the growth of the Atlantic slave trade and the reliance on ‘slavery and forced labour in the Americas’. This in turn ‘powered industrial revolutions from Boston to London’, fuelled Western colonialism, impoverished ‘non-white’ countries, and brought the world to its present point – where racial capitalism threatens the death of all through ‘inequality, war and climate change’.

Adds Kendi: ‘To love capitalism is to end up loving racism. To love racism is to end up loving capitalism. The conjoined twins are two sides of the same destructive body… Capitalism is essentially racist. Racism is essentially capitalist. They were birthed together from the same unnatural causes and they shall one day die together from unnatural causes.’

What’s wrong with Kendi’s thesis?

So much in Kendi’s analysis is false and dangerous that it is difficult to know where to begin in unravelling its flaws. A few of the most obvious points must at least be made.

His anti-racist goal – the use of policy to produce equal outcomes on all indicators from employment, income, and wealth to education and home ownership – is impossible to achieve, even under the most totalitarian of governments.

It demands demographic representivity in every sphere, as if all individuals start from the same ‘blank slate’ and can be moulded by the state to develop the same aptitudes, interests, and skills and so achieve the same outcomes – irrespective of variations in age, education, experience, family structure, self-discipline, and the like. In the real world, however, variables of this kind are significant and prevent the supposed ‘norm’ of demographic representivity from ever being met in any heterogeneous society.

Setting an impossible goal is not meant to help resolve the problem of inter-racial inequality. The aim is rather to maintain a constant state of racial polarisation and division which can be used to justify ever greater state powers in the pursuit of equity.

Kendi also ignores the fact that race-based affirmative action policies inevitably help the most skilled and politically connected within the disadvantaged group – what India calls the ‘creamy layer’ – while bypassing the people most in need of help. This outcome is particularly evident in South Africa, where BEE policies over many years have helped only some 15% of black people while overlooking and harming the remainder.

Kendi’s thesis assumes that redistribution from one racial group to another – in South Africa, from a 10% minority to a 90% majority – can bring about prosperity for all. But that ignores the need to grow the pie, rather than keep cutting it into smaller pieces.

Comments economist Thomas Sowell of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution: ‘What do the poor need most? They need to stop being poor. And how can that be done, on a mass scale, except by an economy that creates vastly more wealth? Yet the political left has long had a remarkable lack of interest in how wealth is created. They think that wealth exists somehow and the only interesting question is how to redistribute it, by turning money and power over to people like themselves.’

Kendi also denies human agency and encourages victimhood, while dismissing as ‘racist’ those who disagree with his false assumptions and tunnel vision. The ‘racist’ accusation has long been damaging to reputation. However, in the environment that Kendi and others have helped create, it has morphed into a powerful disciplinary tool that can be used to demonise, de-platform, and even to dismiss those so denounced.

The political dangers in Kendi’s approach are enormous. It is helping to establish a new statist ideology that replaces core Western values of individualism, equality before the law, limited government, free speech, and the pursuit of objective truth through scientific and other inquiry.

Kendi’s thesis demands conformity, distorts the present and the past, and ignores the practical barriers to upward mobility that need to be addressed. It also uses its narrow concept of ‘anti-racism’ to attack and in time destroy the capitalist system that, despite its faults, has done far more to lift billions out of poverty than any other economic system.

[Picture: Slowking4,]

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  1. Well at least there was no mention of the MANDATED wearing of face masks so as to further enforce the inhalation of concentrated Carbon Dioxide ( you know, that deadly substance Greta and the SG of the UN are constantly lecturing us world citizens on) and cotton micro fibres deep into the lungs for hours on end.
    I suppose we should all be thankful for that small mercy anyway!
    I’m not being racist here am I?

  2. And by stating that capitalism = racism and vice versa he negates black capital and implies that blacks are incapable of surviving in a capitalist world which, I believe, is extremely racist in itself.

    • Furthermore, his theory of racial equity must presuppose someThing to measure against. What would this be? Because there certainly is no single quantifiable value that can be attached to being white; the disparity of wealth across the white spectrum is massive and reflects every other segment of global society. So is Kendi targeting an average? And beyond financial equity what other aspects will then be included? Intelligence? Physical prowess? Hair? Skin tone? Well, hello to the dystopian world foretold by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

  3. It is always the simple solution that results in tyranny. It is not called ideology for nothing. And there is always one at work in every dictatorship. The USSR used to put dissenters into mental institutions on the basis that they must be mad to oppose the system — and kept them drugged up so they wouldn’t be able to corrupt the other more normal loonies who still believed in communism and Uncle Joe Stalin the failed priest who killed millions with a stroke of his pen. Ideology sounds like something to do with idols– could there be a link?

  4. When you force cultures to mix by political strategies you will get friction and that results in racism. You leave people to decide with whom they wish to associate themselves with on a permanent basis, on a social basis, in sport, in business etc. and they will gravitate as they see fit. You move into our neighbourhood and start slaughtering your goats and cows on your front lawn, I assure you, you will have a lot of friction and a lot of hatred boiling over. Because we go to a butcher to buy our meat and that is part of my culture. I do not mind if, in your culture, you have a tree to act as your butcher and you brig live animals there to be slaughtered. My culture developed what we refer to as an abattoir. So we build abattoirs and you plant trees, but not next to one another. And we will all live happily ever after. I do not hate you . I respect your culture, but do not come and force it upon me, and then I won’t react in a belligerent way and nor will you.(I hope)

  5. After having worked in Africa for just over a decade, I cam into contact with numerous senior government and private company officials. Travelling the rural areas I was amazed at the lush vegetation, high rainfall and obvious fertile land. Yet there was a near total lack of any prosperous farmers. Upon highlighting this obvious fact on a number of occasions to these gentlemen I was given virtually the same answer every time. It goes like this:
    Africans are trained to believe (by their witch doctors in general) that every person is born with a fixed amount of “happiness” into this world. Or as they practice it, “Money or earthly goods”. Any person who thus have more than the rest is then blamed for having more than the rest due to “stealing” it from the rest and if such person then refuses to redistribute this additional wealth between the members of the community he/she is subsequently eliminated (killed). Thus, as a result, nobody is attempting to work hard to obtain more earthly goods or money. And hence there are very few successful (by western standards) people in those countries. I am friends with one such gentlemen who is currently the CEO of a large mining group in his country that is looking after more than 15 of the children of his extended family financially in order to ensure he is safe. They are milking off his income in this manner.
    This explains a lot of the ramblings of this poor soul. He is obviously using the term RACISM and CAPITALISM to try and enforce his tribal train of thought onto the more intelligent members of the world population. Are there no more people with wisdom that can stop such foolishness before it is published? Makes me wonder.

    • Ernest, you are spot on but of course the lefties will pounce upon you. Having worked in the previous homelands I had very similar experiences that seriously impeded development efforts, simply because nobody wanted to be better off than their neighbours.

  6. These Socialist supposedly Anti-Racism leaders are simply looking for a justification for Anti-White Racism in pursuit of the Curley effect.

  7. I have traveled to and lived in over 40 countries around the world and the most racist people I encountered were black Americans, Jamaicans and Chinese. Obviously not all amongst them but a majority.
    Black Americans and Jamaicans have huge social issues within their societies. Broken families, crime, drugs, racist education, etc, and they blame everything on white people. The more successful black Americans also agree that the problem lies within their own attitude, education, behaviour and social environment.
    Chinese are brought up to be racist based on class and colour. Dark skinned Chinese are looked down upon and black people are viewed as dangerous and hostile. Even white people are disrespected as lesser beings. I worked and lived in China for 6,5 years and was treated as if I was incompetent and less important than a Chinese person. As long as one does what they tell you to, logical or not, then all is well. Does that sound familiar in South Africa regarding the ruling regime? The Maoist mindset and ideology is here too.
    Unfortunately, the influence from these people has grown significantly in South Africa so one can expect racism to increase.

  8. The philosophical framework for this type of “ideology”, is of course to be found in the so-called “critical theory” framework been taught at American universities… please look it…

  9. As suggested in the article, if we apply this ludicrous philosophy to the individual rather than to the collective (the latter being racist), how can we possibly make sense of it, for obviously each individual is born with certain talents, or not, and nurtures them, or not, and then has the opportunity (or not) to earn a living (or not) from them. How can we possibly deny the reality of this, and what, apart from education opportunities, can possibly be done to alter this? Most frustrating is that there is no consensus possible on what constitutes equity and equality. Another flaw is that there is no recognition of inequality within races and groups. How does this connect with the ridiculously ubiquitous claim that inequality is intrinsically a consequence of racism?

    I wonder if the author of the book realises that one of his assertions inadvertently endorses a call for future affirmative action privileges for whites in S Africa. I will not be waiting with bated breath to see.

  10. What do we call it when whites are excluded from any assistance from the ANC GOVERNMENT during this epidemic purely on the colour of their skin? Dare we say raci…..????

  11. ‘There is no neutrality in the racism struggle’, Kendi stresses. Nor can any individual or institution claim to be ‘not racist’ or ‘colour blind’. The only choice is between ‘being actively racist or actively antiracist’.
    Why do we even discuss Kendi’s hate filled nonsense?
    Ernest Hemingway when once asked by a journalist whether he was fond of the Italians having spent time there during WW 1 he replied No. He was then asked the same of the Spaniards as he enjoyed the running of the bulls. Again the answer was; No How about the Cubans where you spent many years of your life or Africa where you enjoyed big game hunting. Finally giving up the journalist asked ; Who then Mr Hemingway do you like? to which his reply was; I like my friends.
    The present obsession with race and culture I find tiresome. Accept people for who they are. Like those who you find of kindred spirit. Treat the majority with respect unless their behaviour is found wanting in which case avoid them. I would avoid Kend and would not waste precious time engaging him in debate.

  12. Every one is understanding that racism is the main problem in our world to day. But it isnt. The problem is classism. Take South Africa as a example. The A N C has created a upper class group who through there own corruption and cronyism have lifted themselves into a eletist group that feels nothing and have lost feeling with the electrorate that has put them into office and through the propoganda of apartheid and racism being advocated to cover there own bad government and greed.In America when mr Floyd was killed there where more white people than blacks protesting and braking everything down because it is a class thing rather than a racial problem. In our own country our president condemned Mr Floyds death but said nothing about all the black people that died at the hands of sadf and policemen. the total now is 36. Isnt that showing the elitists have has lost its feeling with the poor people , both white and black. We must wake up! Ronnie Odendaal Durban South Africa

  13. Ibram X Kendi and those supporting his ideas are completely delusional.
    What he describes as racist is just diversity. People have natural/developed talents in different directions and fields of their choice. This is part of freedom. The best we can do is trying to ensure equal opportunities, from there it is up to the individual as to what he makes of it.
    Not everybody can be a Usain Bolt, running the 100m in less than 10seconds. So by this argument this individual is a racist because he was able to set himself apart from the rest of the world in this regard? In this matter we are completely unequal, thus according Kendi the reasons for this is RACIST?
    This is utter rubbish, I cannot begin to comprehend such stupidity. Therefore I believe the people entertaining these stupidities have a sinister inhuman agenda.

  14. Americans flounder from one extreme to another. Remember the 1950’s – McCarthyism and a red under every bed? This new movement, more like a religious movement, will undermine academic life as we know it for the next generation. The only difference between the cancel culture and the inquisition is that the woke mob’s burning is virtual but no less real.

  15. We should strive that everybody have an equal opportunity to become unequal. It is about equality and not about equal outcomes. The personal response to circumstance is what create unequal outcomes. You can either be a victim of or a victor over circumstances.

  16. Let me state at the outset: I agree with every one of the 20 comments, i.e. I am a racist. However, I also always try to hear the other person’s point of view and to look at both sides of any coin. It would, in my opinion, be interesting to have at least on or two comments from the left. I am sure there must be some equally convincing (sounding) arguments from that side

  17. I think it is very simplistic and foolish to consider “modern” racism as having universal characteristics. The racism from colonial and apartheid history is not the same as American racism even though they obviously are of African historic origin. The diverse cultures of all groups that are involved, their histories, demographics, political systems, laws, etc make each case unique and academic attempts to identify a common “ism” cause, like capitalism or socialism, and then to propose solutions based on that is unhelpful.


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