Ibram X. Kendi

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Date: 2021
Document Type: Biography
Length: 1,716 words

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About this Person
Born: 1982 in New York, New York, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: College teacher
Other Names: Rogers, Ibram H.
Updated:Mar. 29, 2021
 
PERSONAL INFORMATION:

Born August 13, 1982, New York, NY; married Sadiqa Kendi (a pediatric emergency physician), 2013; children: Imani. Education: Florida A&M University, B.A., 2004; Temple University, M.A., 2007, Ph.D., 2010. Addresses: Office: American University, 4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20016.

 
CAREER:

Writer, historian, and educator. State University of New York, Albany, and College at Oneonta, former assistant professor; University of Florida, Gainesville, former assistant professor; American University, Washington, DC, professor at the School of International Service and director of Antiracist Research & Policy Center. Has also worked as a journalist. Appearances on local, national and international radio and television outlets include National Public Radio, the Public Broadcasting System, CNN, Al-Jazeera, the National Broadcasting Company (CBS), and Sirius XM radio.

 
AWARDS:

Best Scholarly Book Award, Diopian Institute for Scholarly Advancement, 2012, for The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965-1972; National Book Award for Nonfiction, 2016, Odyssey Honor Audiobook, 2021, for Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America; Guggenheim fellow, 2019.

 
WORKS:

WRITINGS:

  • The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965-1972, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, NY), 2012.
  • (As Ibram H. Rogers) Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Nation Books (New York, NY), 2016.
  • How to Be an Antiracist, One World (New York, NY), 2019.
  • (With Jason Reynolds) Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, Little, Brown and Company (New York, NY), 2020.
  • Antiracist Baby, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky, Kokila (New York, NY), 2020.
  • Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, One World (New York, NY), 2021.

Author of introduction to The Souls of Black Folk: With "The Talented Tenth" and "The Souls of White Folk" by W.E.B. Dubois, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 2017. Contributor to periodicals, including the Journal of African American Studies, Journal of African American History, Journal of Social History, Journal of Black Studies, the New York Times, the Guardian, Time, and the Washington Post. Coeditor of the "Black Power Series," New York University Press; served as associate editor of AAIHS Blog.

 

Sidelights

Ibram X. Kendi is an expert in black studies and the author (as Ibram H. Rogers) of The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965-1972. The volume charts the history and ideologies of the Black Campus Movement (BCM), with a particular focus on the BCM's impact on higher education. Kendi reports that black students organized protests on campuses across the country, and these protests eventually led to new racial policies at several universities. Protests were especially effective at historically white universities, and thus black students were responsible for effecting positive change in reluctant institutions. New policies led to an increase in black faculty, black administrators, and black students, Kendi reports. It also led to the implementation of affirmative action and to the creation of black studies programs. Kendi draws on the BCM's missions, its accomplishments, and subsequent backlash, all by drawing on extensive archival research. Indeed, the author's study tracks the effects of the BCM at over one hundred universities and colleges.

Commenting on the volume in a lengthy Inside Higher Ed Online interview, Kendi told Mitch Smith that "the principal legacy of the Black Campus Movement is the widespread and public embrace of diversity and multiculturalism in higher education. The arms of this current embrace were molded and energized by the BCM from 1965 to 1972. Publicly and officially, like the BCM's leaders once did, the vast majority of colleges and universities now profess a desire and commitment to ... racial equality, eradicating discrimination and diversifying its students, staff, faculty, administration and curriculum." Kendi added: "At the same time, the language of the BCM's ideals--equality, discrimination, justice--are now being used to maintain white privilege and racism in higher education. I coined the notion of egalitarian exclusion, which I define in the book's epilogue as 'the prohibition or limiting of nonwhites, nonwhite authority, or race-specific initiatives using derivatives of equality or 'reverse' discrimination as justifications.' Nowhere is this more obvious than in the current (and historic) debate over affirmative action at historically white colleges and universities."

Kendi additionally remarked that college administrators who read the book "can discover how far black students were willing to go at one point in history (and potentially in the future), even to the depths of death, to combat injustice and racism; how far higher education has come; how, fortunately or unfortunately, black students had to assume the steering wheel of racial progress; and how and where black students are telling us we still need to go." Critics largely praised the author's insights, and The Black Campus Movement won the Diopian Institute for Scholarly Advancement Best Scholarly Book Award. As A.O. Edmonds put it in Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, "The most impressive aspect of Rogers's work is his prodigious archival research." Edmonds then went on to declare that "this is an important study."

With Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Kendi traces the history of racism in the United States, and he does so by profiling the segregationist efforts of five pivotal men: the abolitionist and social reformer William Lloyd Garrison, the Puritan minister Cotton Mather, President Thomas Jefferson, political activist Angela Davis, and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois. While some of these figures advocated for freedom and equality, they did so in ways that maintained the racist paradigm. For instance, Kendi notes that antiracists who blame racism on discrimination miss the deeper sources of racism and thus fail to address them. These deeper sources are many pronged; while segregationists believe black people are inferior, some believe these "inferiorities" are genetic (and thus impossible to fix) while others believe that these "inferiorities" are behavioral (and thus can be fixed). Either way, both beliefs are racist. Thus, by beginning in the 1600s and extending to the present, Kendi's volume charts the insidious influence of race on American history.

According to Carlos Lozada in the Washington Post,Stamped from the Beginning is an "engrossing and relentless intellectual history of prejudice in America." Lozada explained: "The battles over race in America would be fierce but simple if they pitted only racists against anti-racists, segregation against freedom. However, Kendi also calls out the assimilationists--those who seek to combat racial disparity but find blame in both the oppressed and the oppressors and, in the author's view, are complicit in racism's endurance and evolution." As a Kirkus Reviews Online contributor put it, "Racism is the enduring scar on the American consciousness. In this ambitious, magisterial book, Kendi reveals just how deep that scar cuts and why it endures, its barely subcutaneous pain still able to flare." Thomas J. Davis, writing in Library Journal, lauded the book as well, asserting that "Kendi's provocative egalitarian argument combines prodigious reading and research with keen insights into the manipulative power of racist ideologies."

When Kendi began his research for his next book, How to Be an Antiracist, he had some definite ideas about the people who proffered racist ideas and about how racist policies came into being, from slavery to mass incarceration. His research led him to go beyond the belief that racist ideas and policies stemmed from hatefulness and ignorance and that racist policies were the product of racist ideas. Instead, Kendi came to believe that racist policies were the outcome of self-interest within the political, economic, and cultural spheres. Furthermore, he came to believe that racist policies resulted in racist beliefs and the rationalization of such beliefs. "Dr. Kendi defines racist ideas expansively: any idea that there is something inherently better or worse about any racial group," wrote New York Times contributor Jennifer Schuessler, adding: "There is no such thing as 'not racist ideas, policies or people, he argues, only racist and antiracist ones."

While Kendi provides a critique of racism in How to Be an Antiracist, he does so in the form of a memoir in which he also addresses his own racist attitudes. Each chapter in the book presents a specific aspect of racism, focusing on topics such as power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and behavior. Furthermore, he highlights examples of these issues via episodes from his own life. "Deftly weaving his personal experiences with the history of racism in America and current racial inequalities, he offers assessments of the ways that racism in America is shaped and perpetuated by power structures, ethnicity, culture, behavior, class, color, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, and the steps he thinks we need to take to address them." wrote Terry Hartle in a review in the Christian Science Monitor.

Kendi writes that coming from a middle-class background he initially believed during his teenage years that black people in poor socioeconomic situations could only blame themselves for their situation. Eventually, Kendi notes that he went on to became a racist in terms of his views of white people. Eventually, he came to differentiate between white people in general and racist policymakers. Kendi does not write that he has eliminated all of his racist attitudes towards white people but that his attitudes are evolving and changing toward a more non-racist philosophy. In an interview with Vanessa Williams for the Washington Post, Kendi revealed why he decided to make his book part memoir and open up about his own racist feelings, noting: "I thought that it would help people if they saw me constantly critiquing myself and looking in the mirror. If I opened up, it would open them up to essentially do the same thing to themselves and for themselves."

Kendi ends his book with a chapter titled "Survival." In it, Kendi addresses his diagnosis of colon cancer and discusses it in terms of denials to beat cancer with denials about overcoming racism. He goes to discuss his battle with cancer and overcoming what he refers to as "metastatic" racism. Kendi's "unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who went on to call How to Be an Antiracist "not an easy read but an essential one." Writing for the Washington Post, Randall Kennedy noted: "The vexing American race question, retains a towering and tragic salience. In grappling with it, we could use Kendi's candor, independence and willingness to be self-critical."

FURTHER READINGS:

FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

PERIODICALS

  • Booklist, February 1, 2016, Rebecca Vnuk, review of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.
  • Choice, November, 2012, A.O. Edmonds, review of The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965-1972.
  • Christian Science Monitor, September 20, 2019, Terry Hartle, "'How to Be an Antiracist' Opens a Vital Dialogue on Race."
  • Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2019, review of How To Be an Antiracist.
  • Library Journal, February 15, 2016, Thomas J. Davis, review of Stamped from the Beginning.
  • Washington Post, April 15, 2016, Carlos Lozada, review of Stamped from the Beginning; August 23, 2019, Vanessa Williams, "For Ibram Kendi, Being 'Not Racist' Doesn't Cut It. He Insists That We, and He, Be 'Antiracist'"; August 26, 2019, Randall Kennedy, "Book World: A Black Author Grapples with His Own Racism."

ONLINE

  • American University, https://www.american.edu/ (November 19, 2019), faculty profile.
  • Ibram X. Kendi, http://www.ibram.org (November 4, 2016).
  • Inside Higher Ed, https://www.insidehighered.com/ (May 1, 2012), Mitch Smith, author interview.
  • Kirkus Reviews, https://www.kirkusreviews.com/ (November 4, 2016), review of Stamped from the Beginning.
  • New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/ (August 6, 2019), Jennifer Schuessler, "Ibram X. Kendi Has a Cure for America's 'Metastatic Racism.'"
  • Pen America, https://pen.org/ (September 12, 2019), Lily Philpott, "'Paint the World with Wortds': A Pen Ten Interview with Ibram X. Kendi."
  • Salon.com, https://www.salon.com/ (October 11, 2019), Chauncy Devega, "Ibram X. Kendi on 'How to Be an Antiracist': Racism and Capitalism 'Will Ultimately Die Together.'"
  • Washingtonian, https://www.washingtonian.com/ (October 23, 2019), Robert Brunner, "Interview: Ibram X. Kendi Takes a Hard Look at Racism--and Himself."

 

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000322989