Ibram Kendi was interviewed by Ezra Klein for the NY Times about his book “How to be Anti-racist.” If you are not familiar with Kendi or her book, here is Klein’s summary of the general idea proposes:
His argument was that no matter what you want, no matter what you feel, all that matters, all that matters, is the results. If a certain policy or action reduced racial inequality, it was an anti-racist action. If it increased it, it was racist. If you support policies that reduce racial inequality, you are being anti-racist. It doesn’t matter why you’re doing it. If you don’t, you are being racist. That’s. That’s the whole frame.
That really is. Kendi’s book is a simple argument for equality of outcomes, what antiracists often call fairness. Here’s Kendi’s own description of what it means to be anti-racist:
Well, what it means to be anti-racist is to first acknowledge that we live in a society of racial inequalities, from wealth to health, criminal justice and education, and acknowledge that we have been taught that, say, blacks are disproportionately impoverished or incarcerated. because there is something wrong with black behavior or culture. And being anti-racist means, no, the racial groups, not the individuals, but the racial groups are the same, that there is no group that is inferior or superior. And therefore the cause of a disparity or inequity must be policies or practices that we see or do not see. And to be anti-racist is to identify and challenge them …
I agree with Kendi’s fundamental assumption about entire groups of people. Offer a little warning when saying racial groups, not individualThey are the same even when it comes to criminal justice. But, obviously, people are not incarcerated as a group, they are tried as individuals. So if you see a disproportionate number of incarcerated minorities, Kendi’s opinion forces you to assume that’s the case. It even explicitly rules out cultural factors. And yet his ideas don’t really fit in with things that we can easily observe.
For example, the obvious example is shootings and homicides, which have risen sharply across the country. The victims and perpetrators of these crimes are disproportionately minorities. You can’t really argue that violent crime is committed equally by all races, even if you believe that all races are inherently the same. So if murders are being committed at disproportionate rates, shouldn’t we expect to see a disproportionate incarceration for murder? A justice system that puts people in prison at rates that match their percentage of the population would be quite wrong under the circumstances.
But Klein’s questions to Kendi are more about public policy than crime. He wants to know how anti-racism could be achieved at the congressional level. Here, Kendi suggests something similar to the Congressional Budget Office, except that she would rate bills for (her definition of) racism rather than by budget impact:
I think that’s one of the challenges of creating a different kind of world, because it certainly won’t be easy. But there are examples where we do it in other ways. So it makes perfect sense to people for the Congressional Budget Office to evaluate the financial impact of a proposed tax bill so that we can then evaluate, make a decision as the general public or even our Congressional leaders can understand. really what is this tax bill. what you are going to do with the economy. It makes sense for so many people to have that in place.
But for whatever reason, it doesn’t make much sense for us to have an evaluation, an analytical evaluation, of that same tax bill to understand whether this will increase or reduce the racial wealth gap, for example, or is it going to create more inequality. of income, be it income inequality between racial groups or even between racial groups or even between genders. I just think if we really want to create a society, just a humane society where we can live our best lives, where we are implementing policies and practices that have been shown to have the effect that we want them to have. , we have to study it. We have to analyze it. We have to examine it. And we have to create the apparatus that allows us to do that.
Klein asked him to be more specific about how a Congressional Anti-Racist Office might function. Kendi said that analyzing each piece of each bill to determine its impact on racial groups “would bring us together.”
When the bill is going through Congress, we would do a racial impact assessment on every aspect of the bill. So if, for example, we do know that one aspect of the bill is going to cut child poverty in half. Well, they are all children of all racial groups. Well, what kind of impact will it have on child poverty within the black community, within the native community, within the white community? I mention the white community because there are certain segments of our society that try to promote that bills like these will not be useful to whites. So in order to have a really data-driven assumption that this will reduce child poverty in the white community by a third, I’m just throwing in a number, this number of white children, black children, and native children, and Latino children, this is the potential impact that could help shape that broader discussion.
But for whatever reason, we don’t get involved in that form of analysis. Somehow we imagine that this form of analysis is divisive, although, for me, In fact, it will bring us together because different communities will see that it is additive to their communities..
I hesitate to say that Kendi hasn’t thought about this because she probably has. I suppose what you would say is that I am not sure I agree with your fundamental understanding of the human disposition. In practice, CBO scores often become the focal point of discussions between people on various sides of a debate. The score itself is often hotly debated by experts who claim that the score is too high or too low. What the CBO score rarely does in practice is solve the problem or bring everyone together.
So I don’t know why Kendi thinks that adding a second level of analysis that divides the population into constituent racial groups would suddenly “bring us together.” What if analysis of a bill shows that black families improve 10% on some metric, but white families improve 12%? If Kendi had that analysis of a bill in hand, would she find it acceptable, or would she actually call it racist? I think the answer is obvious.
On the contrary, what if the bill gets a score of Congressional Anti-Racism Office which showed that black families would see a 10% improvement, but Asian families would only benefit from 3%. What does Kendi think would happen once that score was revealed? Unity between races?
But there is another problem here that Ezra Klein doesn’t seem to notice. In Kendi’s own analysis, he assumes that each group can “see what is additive to their communities” and that is what would bring us together. But wait a minute. His entire ideology is centered on the idea that equity (equality of results) is what matters. So if the benefit of a given bill is completely fair to all racial groups, but the starting place of, say, black Americans is 20% lower than that of white Americans, the bill is racist. .
Think about it. Giving everyone the same benefit is not fairness. Honestly, I think Kendi, using her own definition of racism, would have to say that these bills should benefit some races and not others to achieve what she seeks. In the case of my hypothetical bill, I would need a bill that results in a 30% improvement for black Americans and 0% for white Americans. That’s the bill that would be tried as anti-racist by Kendi’s equivalent of the CBO.
Let’s put aside for the moment that passing bills explicitly excluding certain breeds from benefits would almost certainly be illegal under current law. Even if it could somehow pass through the courts, bills like that certainly wouldn’t “unite” precisely because I would not do it benefit everyone.
Again, I don’t want to say that Kendi didn’t think it through, but I don’t see how she can say what she said in this interview if she really considered it carefully.
There is much more to the interview, including Kendi’s take on the underfunding of the police. I can write about it tomorrow.