Possible debate between Robin DiAngelo and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

March 20, 2021 • 10:30 am

The people who run the “Letters’ section of Conversation, where Adam Gopnik and I are debating “ways of knowing”, are trying to set up debates between proponents and opponents of Critical Race Theory (CRT). The problem is that the proponents are happy to give public lectures, but not so happy to debate. As far as I’m aware—and I may be wrong—neither Ibram X. Kendi nor Robin DiAngelo, who have written the two most influential popular books on CRT, have been willing to debate their views.

Conversation is trying to set up such a debate, preferring to do it as a video rather than an exchange of letters, and has reached out to both DiAngelo and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. They have just started a Crowdfunding site where you can pledge money to underwrite the debate, and all the funds are earmarked for charities, not for the speakers.

Moreover, if the debate doesn’t take place, you can get your donation back, or have it go straight to the charity:

If the conversation happens proceeds go to Starehe: a charity providing Kenya’s brightest underprivileged children with a quality education. You can pledge safe in the knowledge that you will not be charged unless the conversation happens.

Click on the screenshot below to go to the site (and to pledge if you wish):

The topic will clearly involve identity politics and/or CRT; here are the campaign’s biographies:

Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism, debuted on the New York Times bestseller list where it remained for 85 weeks.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a best-selling author and human rights activist. As a proponent of individualism, she has expressed concerns about identity politics and its capacity to erode our sense of common humanity.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has already accepted, but DiAngelo has not—at least not yet.

I suppose the philosophy is that the more money that’s pledged, the more willing people would be to participate in such a debate, because, after all, the money is to go to educate poor kids in Kenya. There are 90 days left in the pledge drive, which started less than two days ago, and if the debate doesn’t take place, well, you have nothing to lose by underwriting it.

The likely correlation between pledges and the probability of a debate comes from realizing that it’s hard to resist doing a bit of talking to garner a big donation for the education of poor African kids. Both DiAngelo and Hirsi Ali would surely have an interest in that education.  It’s also “bad optics” if you refuse to debate when there’s a sizable donation to a worthy charity at stake.

But some cynics don’t think it will take place:

I don’t know if they reached out to Kendi yet; I suggested that they try to set up a debate between him and McWhorter.  I know that McWhorter has agreed to such a debate a while back, but Kendi refused, despite having said that he’s willing to debate his ideas with anybody who’s a genuine university professor (weird, eh?), and certainly McWhorter fills the bill.

It would be fun to see a back and forth between these folks (and between Kendi and McWhorter), so if you want to underwrite the debate, click on the screenshot above—or here. There’s a FAQ section with questions about funding and the like.

Feel free to weigh in below as to whether DiAngelo will accept. I’m not holding my breath.

23 thoughts on “Possible debate between Robin DiAngelo and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

  1. I suspect not. My understanding of Critical Social Justice theory is that proponents believe that reason, debate, and discussion are themselves tools of oppression and privilege, so that by agreeing to engage in them, they’ve already lost.

    One does not challenge a tenet of Social Justice Theory. One asks for clarification in order to better understand it.

    1. Reminds me more of presuppositional apologetics than it does of anything that should be dignified with the term ‘theory’.

  2. Not a hope in hell that DiAngelo or Kendi would agree to such a thing, but the more money is pledged the more embarrassing their refusal becomes — and it (likely) costs nothing!

  3. There is an unanswered letter to Ibraim Kendi from Coleman Hughes in the letters (Wiki Conversations) to which there has not been a response. It was general–“on race relations” and emphasized and exchange of views, a conversation.

    1. And Hughes blazed the trail by inviting Kendi to a debate and setting up a GoFundMe for the United Negro College Fund to give him incentive to engage. This resulted in Kendi superciliously dismissing Hughes’s invitation by saying that Hughes has only a bachelor’s degree and is not a college professor.

  4. It’s a nice try, to create an ethical imperative for DiAngelo by agreeing to say a few words in a debate that would fund the education of privilege-less, black children in Kenya or declining to, and made to look hypocritical and truly uncaring about desperate black kids.

    McWhorter and Loury noted in one of their discussions that they don’t think either DiAngelo or Kendi would ever agree to a debate because they have everything to lose. I agree.

    But if DiAngelo declines, will they shame her for not really caring about black people? It seems simple for her to claim something like ‘it strikes me as unseemly to condition helping young black kids in Africa on whether someone gives a talk or not. People should either give to that noble cause or don’t but I want nothing to do with organizers who operate this way.’ Further, it strikes me as a little extortional. Individuals should be coerced into events that if they choose not to participate in, for whatever their reason, has implications about their character? That said, CRT must be critiqued by knowledgable people in public.

    1. “Further, it strikes me as a little extortional . . .

      Some would say that of DiAngelo’s speaking fees.

      “. . . [that] Individuals should be coerced into events that if they choose not to participate in, for whatever their reason, has implications about their character?”

      Strikes me as an accurate description of the feelings/mindset of someone coerced into attending a DiAngelo presentation.

      “That said, CRT must be critiqued by knowledgable people in public.”

      If the charity appeal is insufficient for DiAngelo, perhaps they might offer her a cut of the donations equal to her average speaking fee.

  5. I am maybe being very harsh here, but I have not seen where proponents of CRT are interested in facts and reasoning, since those tools are a recognized danger to their cause. They also seem to have a great interest in using CRT to make a lot of $, and losing a debate will look bad for them. In the future, they would be also be asked to give talks to a paying audience for charitable causes. Or to lend proceeds of their best-selling books for charitable causes. So a debate for charity would be a bad precedent all around!

    1. I would not be entirely surprised if the charity itself — a school for African children which has the approval of an Enlightenment rationalist — is seen as Part of the Problem by DiAngelo. It might be classified as a colonialist Western version of oppression imposed on the children of indigenous people. That would mean Ali may have miscalculated on providing the incentive.

  6. My guess is that DiAngelo will do the debate but it won’t be satisfying to those who disagree with her views. Right now she’s figuring out how she can react to challenges without making any concessions. By taking part in the debate, she’s forgoing her first line of defense so she’s looking for another way to respond. We’ll see.

  7. I do not think that the major proponents of CRT are going to show up to debate with critics. Their arguments are weak, and in a 1:1 video conversation without an audience, they cannot get the visible and audible moral support of their base. CRT proponents have more to lose than gain in this format.

    1. I doubt the minds of the viewers would be changed either way. It would likely resemble creationist debates, with misinformation spewing faster than correction. Or, like the presuppositionalists, they would simply define themselves into correctness. Believers will continue to believe, and skeptics will continue to wonder WTF is wrong with them.

  8. As we say in politics, don’t debate your rival candidate if you are the front-runner, especially if you are ahead by a large margin, because, as Jimbo pointed out above, you have everything to lose. Kendi, DiAngelo and their ilk are the front-runners in the current arena of racial ideology. They are rich, famous, and accustomed to having the news media fawn over them. They would be foolish to give up their positions of dominance by debating such intellectual heavyweights as Hirsi Ali, Hughes, Loury, and McWhorter.

    1. Needless to say, it tells us something about the current social context and about the media that
      DiAngelo & Co. are “rich, famous, and accustomed to having the news media fawn over them” without ever having been required to defend their dogmas in person against serious challenge. This
      blessed position was occupied in medieval times by the archbishops and cardinals commonly referred to as the princes of the Church. Come to think of it, this changed in 1519, when a defender of
      the Church’s doctrines, Theology Professor Johann Eck, debated one Martin Luther in Leipzig. The impunity of Holy Mother Church began to change after that, it appears, with important consequences.

  9. I doubt either will debate. I’m certain neither will debate a POC, because they can’t dismiss their opponent with “white fragility.”

  10. What about the negotiations over the basic nuts & bolts: when, where, what time zone, who will be the moderator, how many support staff people will be there, will it it be live or taped, what venue will carry it? If so, will that station have advertisements? So many possible loopholes built-in along the way.

    All sorts of other “outs” that DiAngelo could invoke, even if she “agrees” to the debate.

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