(FEE) The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which is the second-largest teachers union in the country, recently announced their new "campaign to ‘stamp out racism.'" While that sounds innocent enough — we should all oppose racism, of course — the details are quite troubling.
The centerpiece of their campaign is the release of an AFT edition of the book Stamped, by the well-known activist Ibram X. Kendi and writer Jayson Reynolds. In the announcement, the AFT notes that they “will distribute hundreds of copies of Stamped to NAACP youth councils and advisors.” They go on to say that “Giveaways will continue throughout the year,” and that “Free classroom collections will go out to AFT members, educators, and youth mentors during the AFT’s TEACH conference.”
It was also recently
Ibram X. Kendi is scheduled to speak Wednesday at the American Federation of Teachers' TEACH Conference.
— Corey A. DeAngelis (@DeAngelisCorey) July 6, 2021
" rel="nofollow">revealed by scholar and activist Corey DeAngelis that Kendi was actually scheduled to speak at the American Federation of Teachers' TEACH Conference.
In launching this campaign, AFT hopes to bring antiracist education generally — and Kendi’s writings in particular — into the classroom.
In the announcement, they write that “the campaign aims to make sure every student has an actively anti-racist, safe and welcoming learning environment, and it will give educators the resources they need to help create it.”
They add, “The campaign will also point to First Book’s Empowering Educators series, a collection of resources that currently includes videos and a guidebook with actionable advice from educators around the country on having effective conversations on race with all students, of all ages.”
Ibram X. Kendi’s Radicalism
Like I noted at the outset, we should all want to stamp out racism. Further, it is also important for kids to have an accurate understanding of racism, slavery, and Jim Crow in US history.
But any campaign looking to promote Ibram X. Kendi’s particular brand of antiracism should be approached with extreme skepticism, especially when it is aimed at our children’s schools. After all, Kendi is a truly radical figure who openly embraces racial discrimination.
In his hit book, How To Be An Antiracist, he writes "The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination." Even though one would expect a book about antiracism to condemn all types of racial discrimination, Kendi calls for racial discrimination in perpetuity.
At the start of his National Book Award-winning work, Stamped From the Beginning — the book Stamped is based on — he writes that, in all his research, he has not seen a "singular historical force arriving at a postracial America," In simpler terms, he is arguing that he has not observed any real racial progress over the past 400 years. Despite all the gains people usually point to (i.e. the end of slavery, the end of Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, etc.) Kendi argues that racial discrimination has not abated in any way and that it has just become more subtle over time.
He also writes in Stamped From The Beginning, “that racial discrimination is the sole cause of racial disparities in this country and the world at large.” While most people understand that it is absolutely a factor — and there are arguments about how much is due to racial discrimination — the view that it is the only factor is baffling and illogical. By that standard, the Jewish and Asian income gap with whites could only be explained by racial discrimination against whites, which makes no sense.
Last, and possibly most troubling, Kendi has expressed his belief in an Executive Branch “Department of Anti-racism” which would be able to unilaterally strike down any local, state, or federal law that it deems as racist. However, under Kendi’s definition, he has even classified tax cuts as racist.
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The only word to describe this policy is totalitarian. If the agency can strike down any law they deem “racist,” but something as innocuous as a tax break is considered racist, then all this agency serves to do is impose Kendi’s views onto the entire country.
How the AFT Pushes These Ideas On Kids
While there is a tendency to brush off such campaigns as harmless, the truth is that there is a very dangerous dynamic at play that has a heavy influence on children.
When discussing these ideas in class, it would be completely acceptable — even laudable — to provide Kendi’s view as one of many different perspectives. For example, if they assigned some of Kendi’s work to read and then an essay by an intellectual with a different perspective, like John McWhorter, that would be a valuable exercise.
However, far too often, that is not how the classroom operates. Rather, under this campaign, it is all too likely that teachers will instruct Kendi’s view as the singular view — without any consideration of thoughtful dissents. That the AFT has approached the teaching of Kendi’s ideas as a moral crusade, not one perspective among many, suggests that this will be the case.
This is extraordinarily dangerous and amounts to what one could only consider indoctrination.
The reason is simple: In the classroom, teachers have a considerable amount of sway over kids. Moreover, younger kids — and even some older kids — are extraordinarily impressionable. This means campaigns like this to take a singular, radical view of race in America into the classroom can do considerable harm.
This is not a call for indoctrination on behalf of my perspective, but rather for educational pluralism.
Even greater educational pluralism would also be to afford parents and their kids more education options outside the government school system.
A Recipe To Create Racial Division
The views of Ibram X. Kendi combined with what can only be called an indoctrination process in the classroom will not result in more racial cohesion. Rather, it will inevitably result in more racial division.
One of the main reasons for this is that Kendi promotes an inherently collectivist worldview, where people are primarily defined by the color of their skin. However, this is the exact opposite of what the goals of true antiracism campaigns have always been.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech was incredibly instructive on this. He said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Dr. King’s quote offers a glimpse of what an ideal world might look like. He is advocating for people to see one another as individuals. To treat and view each other primarily as fellow human beings rather than members of different identity groups.
And doing just that is crucial because focusing only on our differences, rather than our human commonalities, is no way to create a functioning pluralistic society. This is especially true when it includes demonizing certain racial groups — claiming they are inherently oppressive or racist, for example. While Kendi does not explicitly make those claims, many others — such as Robin DiAngelo — do.
In fact, rather than creating unity, it is how you create perpetual division. In a time when America should be coming together on the back-end of a global pandemic, pushing race essentialism will do the exact opposite.
It is important that we are able to come to terms with our racist past and that kids are taught real American history — one that explores our real flaws, sins, and failures. But imposing race essentialism gives us no viable path to move forward in a constructive way.
Jack Elbaum is a Hazlitt Writing Fellow at FEE and an incoming sophomore at George Washington University. His writing has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The New York Post, and the Washington Examiner. You can contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Jack_Elbaum.