The Absurdity of Ibram X. Kendi’s Receiving a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant

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Ibram X. Kendi on CBS This Morning in 2019. (CBS This Morning/via YouTube)

The Washington Post reports that this year’s recipients of MacArthur Foundation “genius grants” have been announced. Among the 25 fellows given a $625,000 grant over five years to pursue what the Post headline and one recipient describe as “high-risk, high-reward work” is Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi, the best-selling author of How to Be an Antiracist, apparently meets the MacArthur Foundation’s description of a person possessing “outstanding talent.” He will now have the organization’s largesse to pursue his own “creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations.”

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The Post article almost curiously buries the news of Kendi’s fellowship, as though the paper is slightly embarrassed to reveal it. It would be easy to understand why. Over the past few years, and especially since last summer, Kendi’s anti-racist campaign has been wildly successful — for him. He has formulated a worldview at once superficial and polarizing — society is so beset with systemic racism that only large-scale discrimination on behalf of groups identified as oppressed can fix it; and meanwhile, if you oppose anything he believes or proposes, you are a racist — and has used it to establish himself as one of the most important and influential figures in the U.S. today.

The idea that Kendi is in any way a risky figure, or that his work needs financial support, is ridiculous. Last year, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gave $10 million to Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research, Kendi’s academic perch. In September, Fairfax County, Va., public schools paid $20,000 for a one-hour speech by Kendi. This is a little lower than his typical one-hour speaking fee of $25,000, according to the Washington Free Beacon (whose reporting on Kendi has been sterling). In January of this year, he made a deal with Netflix, which agreed to adapt two of his books as programs for the streaming service. In July, the Free Beacon reported that Amazon spent thousands of dollars giving Kendi books to Virginia-area schools. Not to mention that his books have been best-sellers. He is not exactly cash-starved.

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Even if you agree with Kendi’s worldview, which I most certainly do not, it is absurd to pretend that he is some marginal figure in desperate need of cultural or financial support. He sits in judgment practically atop the commanding heights of our culture, separating the antiracist from the racist. His receiving a MacArthur grant should obliterate any notion that these awards are meant to support risky, unconventional, or marginalized figures, unnamed legions of whom were doubtless passed over in Kendi’s favor. And it should affirm the notion that the MacArthur Foundation, like so many other institutions of society captured by the Left, now exists merely to perpetuate its desired vision for the country. There’s a word for that, but it’s not “genius.”

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