Loury and McWhorter on Kendi’s fall

October 3, 2023 • 12:45 pm

As you know, Ibram Kendi has fallen on hard times, with his Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University falling apart. Employees are leaving or being laid off, money is unaccounted for, there are accusations of lax or absent supervision, and so on.

In this nine-minute conversation between Glenn Loury and John McWhorter, John asks a good question:

“Why is there so much joy about what happened to Kendi–not only among conservatives, but in the media it’s people of all stripes who are so happy to see that guy getting his butt kicked.  What is all this joy about? . . .  There’s a part of me that says ‘it’s about time’, but not for the reasons that a lot of people are thinking. For example, I don’t think he’s a grifter, I don’t think he’s been trying to put one over on people. It’s not that a mere criminal that’s being brought to justice; I don’t think of it that way at all. Do you?”

Loury responds that yes, Schadenfreude is not a great emotion, but he feels that Kendi is an “empty suit”—a “little man behind the curtain”—who “doesn’t know anything.”  Loury asserts it’s not really about Kendi, but the failure of the extreme antiracist extremists, like Black Lives Matter or the 1619 Project to make any progress.

I agree with Loury about the problems of an unequipped Kendi being made the symbol of a movement, and if you read his book How to be an Antiracist, you’ll see the intellectual vacuity of his ideas. McWhorter agrees that Kendi was chosen to be the symbol of that movement, and wasn’t equipped to lead it, but that’s no reason to be angry at him.  In response, Loury asserts that the man is a fraud, and so he does show a bit of Schadenfreude, for Loury adds that Kendi is an “embarrassment and an absurdity.”  Isn’t that Schadenfreude?

In response, McWhorter says that Kendi was thrust into a position for which he was not equipped, and it was not his fault that his Institute fell apart. (McWhorter says that what Boston University did in founding Kendi’s antiracist center  “was an insult to black achievement.”)  In other words, Loury blames Kendi for taking money and doing what he was unequipped to do, while McWhorter blames society and Boston University for thrusting Kendi into a job that was irresistible in order to do performative antiracism.

How do I feel? In the middle, but closer to Loury than to McWhorter, I suppose, since I did read Kendi’s book and found it without value. An institute founded on his ideas was almost bound to fail.  Kendi certainly has to take some blame for not running his center properly and, as people have claimed, for having abused his authority. But I do share McWhorter’s view that it also reflects badly on people’s thoughtless rush to enact antiracism without thinking carefully about whether what you (or BU, in this case) would actually accomplish.  I don’t think Kendi is a fraud or grifter; he simply had neither the intellectual chops nor the administrative skill to become a Big Noise in the academic antiracist movement.

It’s a good discussion, but I can’t help thinking that McWhorter is pulling his punches a bit so he doesn’t look Schadenfreudy.

20 thoughts on “Loury and McWhorter on Kendi’s fall

  1. Given the damage this ideology has done to progress against racism and for social justice, isn’t a bit of schadenfreude in order?

    1. Indeed. The question arises, who would be suitable to lead the anti-racist movement? Given the (mots justes!) description that PCC(E) gives, intellectual vacuity, is there a suitable leader? That’s a bit like asking who should be chief Flat Earther.

  2. Didn’t Kendi also win a MacArthur grant? Seems that many well-meaning organizations jumped on the Kendi bandwagon.

    1. Yes, not mincing words here. Kendi is a Fraud (uppercase F deliberate), and the MacArthur Grant authorities genuflected before a poseur. I’d bet the grant-making authorities were fully aware of the thin (un)intellectual gruel he was serving, but chose to partake of it because it subliminally and overtly helped to absolve themselves of White (uppercase W deliberate) guilt.

  3. Exactly – the personal relish of anything like this is a corrosive force, and best left out. Not easy.

    My view is : the dialectic predicts that as Kendi is discarded – Steve Jobs style – the power left for the taking will simply be taken and used further “the right way” – because clearly, it wasn’t being done “the right way”.

    I don’t know how. There are sources of money out there, with associated credits – Sustainable Development Goals, for instance.

    Time will tell.

    1. And here’s a wild speculation that just occurred to me:

      How might this “Christian Nationalism” get woven with antiracism – and politically, what utility would it serve?

      Wild speculation. And I can barely understand it myself. But the raw materials are just sitting out there – and a high-value concentration of power.

  4. My overriding concern with Kendi’s most famous book (“How to Be an Antiracist”) is that, to my eye, the thing was just a bunch of unsupported assertions, a grand and sweeping diagnosis and prescription with zero data behind it.

    I also must say I find his refusal to even enter into discussion with credible, civil critics such as McWhorter and Coleman Hughes to be cowardly as hell.

    1. +1 particularly on the characterization of his book. But apparently it is characteristic of post-modern anti-enlightenment methodology   So Kendi and his ilk think that they are fine. 

  5. An interesting discussion. McWhorter has a point about the negligence of Boston University and the idiocy of organisers willing to pay Kendi $40k for a half-hour speech with no Q&A afterwards.

    BLM got mentioned – what happened with the allegations of misappropriation of funds? Here in the UK, a BKN march organiser has just pleaded guilty to fraud relating to money raised via two online fundraising pages: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-66921951

  6. What has been sad for liberal me is that so many of my liberal friends treated Kendi as if he were a Divine Prophet come down from on high with the True Law of Anti-Racism. They conceived of him as being beyond criticism.

    1. When the Emperor has no clothes he has no clothes, even though the courtiers acclaimed his fashion sense.

    2. Seems to me this is part of human nature. We hope for a savior to solve hard problems, and someone who superficially looks the part appears, we jump like fish to a plastic fly. Trump seems another good example. The real savior, us us.

  7. I confess I didn’t identify schadenfreude in Loury’s comments. This involves positively enjoying seeing someone else’s misfortune. Loury criticises that reaction, he doesn’t anywhere say he is pleased Kendi has failed, and I didn’t see it in his demeanour. He doesn’t hold back in his criticism of Kendi, but he criticises BLM and the 1619 project in the same tone. When he’s smiling I think it’s because he genuinely enjoys talking to McWhorter – and he’s just a genial fellow. Regardless, it was a pleasure to watch.

  8. The guy who wanted his “Department of Anti-racism” and the associated bogus ideology permanently made part of the Constitution deserves every bit of schadenfreude thrown in his direction.

    Both Loury and McWhorter are right about blame – everyone involved in “antiracism” is culpable.

    As for the BU Center, of course there’s money unaccounted for. Accounting, like all math, is white supremacist, you see….

  9. Kendi had plenty of time to realize that his book was not intellectually sound and to either work hard to fill the gaps or to show some humility, but he chose to keep the money train rolling. That means he’s either a grifter or at the very least a conceited fool at peak Dunning-Kruger. In either case I see little cause for sympathy.

  10. McWhorter has posted an article today on the matter in the NY Times. Our friend Ben Goren posted a thoughtful response. Perhaps Kendi will be inclined to debate McWhorter in response to the latter’s magnanimity.

  11. When I tried to watch the video on YouTube, i got a message saying YT was blocked. I can, however, watch the embedded version. Hmmm.

  12. Loury asserts that the man is a fraud, and so he does show a bit of Schadenfreude, for Loury adds that Kendi is an “embarrassment and an absurdity.” Isn’t that Schadenfreude?

    Well, to paraphrase Ed Tom Bell, the old west Texas sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones in the Coens’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, if it ain’t Schadenfreude, it’ll do until the Schadenfreude gets here.

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