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.