Ibrahim X. Kendi, darling of the "Everything is raaaaaaaaa-cis!" crowd, recently spoke at the launch of a new Netflix production, "Stamped from the Beginning". Here's an excerpt from his talk.
“I don’t think white people worldwide have really reckoned with how much their own personal identity is shaped by constructions of whiteness, and how much that construction of whiteness prevents white people from connecting to humanity. In other words, recognizing that — when you — when you recognize that you are part and parcel of humanity — in other words, you’re not over humanity, right? It allows you to really be able to connect to people who don’t look like you, who have kinky hair, who have dark skin, and to see yourself in them. And it’s whiteness that prevents that, right? And when you’re not able to see yourself in other human beings, that creates all sorts of problems, but not just societal problems, personal problems that I think, hopefully, this film and this work will liberate those folks from.”
I couldn't disagree more with Mr. Kendi. Let's look at a few examples of why he's so very, very wrong.
- In my experience of racism (which is, I daresay, considerably more extensive and a whole lot more violent than Mr. Kendi's), "whiteness" has little or nothing to do with the problem. It's any person who thinks in terms of his or her race versus all the others. To cite just a few examples, there's black African resentment and hatred of Indians and Asians, frequently taking violent form, as in Uganda in 1972; Chinese contempt for all gwailos, all other races, but particularly for blacks; colonial attitudes of racial superiority by whites against blacks; tribal hatreds between black groups and individuals, which can be far bloodier and deadlier than any merely interracial conflict (witness the Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe between 1982 and 1987 [which I saw for myself], or the Hutu massacre of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994 [ditto in the aftermath], or the ongoing tribal and religious conflict in Nigeria); and so on ad infinitum. Yes, white people have perpetrated such hatred and discrimination. So has almost every other race on earth, including black people. "Whiteness" as such is no more a factor than is "blackness" or "Chinese-ness" or any other "-ness".
- Mr. Kendi claims, "that construction of whiteness prevents white people from connecting to humanity". I can't help but think of the millions upon millions of white people who routinely conduct business and/or tourism with people of other races in many other countries, on many other continents, all over the world. Is that not "connecting to humanity"? If not, what is it? What about a person like myself, raised as part of a privileged white minority in a racially governed country, but able to live and work among black people of many tribes and cultures throughout sub-Saharan Africa? Am I not "connected to humanity"? I certainly don't regard myself as special, or somehow "super-connected" for any reason. I'm just an ordinary guy who recognizes a common humanity with every other regular guy (and gal) out there. I'm not conscious of any "construction of whiteness" that has prevented me from living like that. If it had been there, I daresay my (many) black colleagues, friends and fellow workers would have pointed it out over the many years we spent together. Also, I was (and am) far from unique. There were, and are, many like me.
- As for seeing myself in some others who don't look like me, that's no hardship or problem at all. We all do it, all the time, with those with whom we associate. It's not innate behavior, but learned. Look at small children - toddlers. Put them together with others of the same age group, and there's instant affinity and communication. They don't see each other as white or black or brown or yellow, but as fellow infants, and they communicate, and play, and carry on like that. So do puppies and kittens, or baby chicks and ducks. Even a predator-to-be like a lion cub can (and, in the absence of its mother, will) play gently with a prey-to-be like a fawn, and not try to kill or eat it. It's an automatic, instinctive identification of young to young. In the same way, people are good or bad regardless of the color of their skin. Their goodness or badness is the result of their own choices, the decisions they've made that have shaped their personalities. (As a prison chaplain, I had plenty of opportunity to see that up close and personal. A bad guy was a bad guy, regardless of his skin color.)
- On the other hand, I certainly don't see myself in some other people, irrespective of their skin color. Again, I have very extensive personal experience of this. When I encountered genocidal Interahamwe militia in Rwanda, or "blood in, blood out" prison gangs in the USA, you may rest assured I did not see myself in or as part of them. They had made choices and espoused views that set them apart from the rest of humanity. I had little or nothing in common with them, and apart from trying to be as polite as possible in order to facilitate communication, I didn't want to "see myself in them". I don't think any person in his or her right mind would want that. Again, my "whiteness" had damn all to do with it.
I suspect Mr. Kendi, like so many others of his ilk, has invested himself so heavily in the racism paradigm that defines his (and their) world view that he's literally incapable of seeing beyond it. The truth is, of course, far more varied than any one such perspective can encompass.
When speaking to groups about trying to see things from a wider perspective, I often use the example of white light. When it's shone through a prism, out comes the entire rainbow spectrum of colors, something with which I'm sure we're all familiar.
I usually say that each of us is standing in one of the colors on the right of the image. Someone standing in the red will exclaim, "Look! Light is red! You can see it for yourself! It's obvious!" On the other hand, someone standing in the purple segment will say precisely the same about what he sees - and both of them will accuse the other of being wrong. Only when they both realize that the light each of them sees is coming from the same source, but filtered through the prism, will they be able to accept that the light is white to begin with.
The same applies to those fixated on racism. Mr. Kendi is clearly determined to maintain that the light he sees is (pick any color). A Chinese racist might see a different color, and a Caucasian racist yet another. The reality is that humanity is a mixture of all of them. Our common humanity is the white light. Trouble is, so few of us will step out of our "comfort zone" in one of the rainbow colors, and see that for ourselves. (And if it troubles some that the source light is white, I'm sorry about that, but that's science! It's got nothing to do with the color of our skin!)