Washington, D.C. - Author Ibram X. Kendi believes Donald Trump's presidency is the result of a progressive racism in America. I know, you're familiar with this liberal talking point. But, Kendi brought some new points to the table I had not yet heard at an event in a popular Washington, D.C. bookstore Wednesday night, which a coworker and I attended.
Kendi, the author of "Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America," a title he said was in reference to a quote from Confederate President Jefferson Davis, gave the crowd a history on racism and the parallels he is seeing today. The event was standing room only, as expected after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA two weeks ago.
Many people, including himself, were guilty of "racist ideas," Kendi said. In his book, he describes a few different kinds of racism, including segregationism and assimilation. He features four characters, including Puritan minister Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison and W.E.B. Du Bois, all of whom had different views on race.
Kendi describes racist ideas as not being borne out of hatred, but of the need to justify discriminatory policies. He used the criminal justice system as an example. He rejected the notion that black neighborhoods were more dangerous than white, rich neighborhoods. Black people are not simply "inferior criminals," he explained. Black neighborhoods have a higher crime rate because the police are in those neighborhoods. Not everyone who commits a crime is arrested, he noted. The rate of crime and violence in black neighborhoods are based on "misleading statistics," he insisted.
However, Kendi then made a point you would've thought came straight from the mouth of a conservative. Some predominantly black neighborhoods are struggling and embroiled in crime because of the unemployment rate, he noted. What these men and women need are jobs, so let's help provide those.
President Trump has more or less said the same thing. Yet, don't think for a second that Kendi was promoting his policies. At one point, Kendi noted that Trump is the "personification" of racism and is providing an environment for more discriminatory policies. He even accused the president (he admitted he had a hard time even saying his name) of having the "same perspective" as the white supremacists who stormed Charlottesville. The audience nodded and agreed.
The Q&A portion gave him a chance to expand.
"What is the fate of racism under Donald John Trump?" one attendee wanted to know.
It's a "progression," Kendi said matter-of-factly. He provided his version of proof. The Trump administration, Kendi said, is actively trying to suppress voters with its voter integrity commission, created to crack down on voter fraud. Trump and his staff, Kendi explained, are under the impression that the only demographic being discriminated against today are white people, so they are enforcing policies accordingly.
Of course, I'd have to disagree with Kendi's assumptions. Donald Trump was not elected because a horde of racists ran to the polls. Americans were drawn to his political unorthodoxy and his "Make America Great Again" policies, particularly after eight years of radical ones.
I disagreed with plenty of what Kendi said, but the author deserves credit for his response to a particularly animated attendee. When it came time for the Q&A, this particular individual had a few newspaper clippings he read which described how some white neighborhoods were seceding from towns. It is proof that Europeans cannot live and work together with African-Americans, he said. It is an "illusion," he adamantly concluded, before storming back to his seat.
The attendee was too busy chatting with his neighbor to hear Kendi's answer. But, if he had listened, he'd hear the author subtly rebuke him for using anecdotal evidence to make vast generalizations and predict societal doom. There are plenty of examples of these groups working together, the author said.
Kendi offered hope for the future. How do we move forward, one attendee asked? By "realizing there's nothing wrong with people," he said. He also spoke of the need to challenge authority.
Kendi concluded the event by explaining his plans for a new anti-racist committee at American University.