Race Scholars and Oncologists

Artimaeus332 - [original thread]

On the other hand, Kendi's piece also displays some obvious flaws. For example, he is prone to false dichotomies:

You put this much more nicely than I would. This article is chock full of all of the Kendi ticks that make my blood boil.

First, we assert that racism is nothing more or less than "that which causes racial inequity". If there is racial inequity, it follows by pure logic that it was caused by racism.

Then, we establish that "racial inequity" can refer to any statistical disparity between black and white populations (followed by a bunch of figures about how black people are more likely).

And finally, we assert that only Kendi and his guild of "racism experts" can save us from the "existential threat" posed by racism:

[In my doctoral studies] I was readying myself to join a guild of intellectuals with expertise on the structures of racism. This guild studies, diagnoses, and strives to eliminate racism. The [people who believe in a post-racial society] call us “race hustlers,” but they would never call oncologists “cancer hustlers.” They’ll do anything to delegitimize our training and expertise, which veils their absence of training and expertise, which legitimizes their postracial fairy tales.

Fighting racism—in academia, in media, in activism, in art, in education, or in public service—is more than a job for most of us. It’s a calling to save nations from their national histories, to save human beings from human beings. Racism is an existential threat to the United States, like climate change, pandemics, and nuclear war. We know that the American people can’t handle this truth, but we tell them anyway and brace ourselves for the postracial gales bound to come—such as this one.

Our multiracial, multidisciplinary, multisectoral guild remains as indistinct on the streets of the U.S. as my favorite restaurant was 13 years ago. We don’t have a name. We don’t hold up signs displaying our expertise. To the American people, our expertise simultaneously exists and doesn’t. It exists when people believe us. It doesn’t exist when people don’t believe us. Our remedies and reparations for racism are rejected when they go “too far.”

Because everyone, apparently, is an authority on damn near everything. I can tell an astrophysicist that she is wrong about the existence of extrasolar planets, and she can tell me that I am wrong about the existence of racism. Humility is dead. Expertise is losing out to the world of make-believe, where everyone knows it all, where the climate isn’t changing, where vaccines aren’t saving lives, where teaching our kids the truth is harmful, where anti-poverty programs aren’t better crime fighters than cops, where assault rifles aren’t used to commit mass murder, where Nikole Hannah-Jones doesn’t deserve tenure, where the 2020 election wasn’t legitimate, and where the original postracial project didn’t produce the infernal Trump presidency.

Well, he's got one thing right: among his critics, his training and expertise are not held in particularly high regard -- or at least not as high regard as he thinks it deserves. But this is the guy who earnestly proposed that the US Constitution be amended to give a counsel of race scholars like himself authority to "[preclear] all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas".

In other words: hey, look at me, I've read a bunch of James Baldwin, so I should be given oversight of all policy decisions made in the United States.The world is a mess, and I just need to rule it.

And then he has the gall to claim his critics lack humility...

*Exasperated sigh*

Let me try to wrap this up. The core issue is that Kendi seems to believe, quite earnestly, that his quasi-spiritual anti-racist analytical framework ought to be applied to literally every domain of human activity, but despite the scope of his ambition, it doesn't seem to occur to him to demonstrate that this framework produces any actionable insights. He compares race scholars to oncologists, but doesn't appreciate the extent to which academic oncologists constantly interrogate their own methods for effectiveness. In my former career, I would interview oncologists about the applications of new cancer treatments, and let me tell you, if you get an academic oncologist talking about the particular cancer they specialize in, it is impressive to behold. They will talk your ear off, with far more technical detail and sophistication than you thought was possible.

Bluntly, Kendi and his club of race scholars are no oncologists. Whenever Kendi tries to dig into the weeds on any particular racial disparity even a little, he can't really offer anything more than pseudo-profundities like "The cause of racial inequity is either racist policy or racial hierarchy" or (on education) "I would rather have in my class students who have a tremendous desire to know, rather than the kids who think they know it all". The ability to turn a phrase does not expertise make.

To my knowledge, Kendi has never seriously engaged with this line of criticism. By his account, his project encounters resistance because "the American people can’t handle this truth".

When I read Kendi I just want to say, dude, get off your high horse. I agree that black communities in the United States experience unique injustices, and there are probably good arguments that we should prioritize alleviating these injustices more than we currently do (although, crucially, these arguments need to be stated and interrogated). But, you know, I've read many of the big names on the race studies syllabus, Baldwin, Morrison, Fanon, King, and they're great, really, they are -- studying, synthesizing, and applying their insights to modern problems is a worthwhile project -- but they don't possess the sacred forbidden truth that will "save nations from their national histories", or whatever the hell Kendi thinks he's doing.