Amid a hot national debate over the teaching of the controversial critical race theory (CRT), prominent CRT advocate Ibram X. Kendi on Wednesday led a discussion at a American Federation of Teachers (AFT) summit, likening Americans opposing CRT to those who campaigned against the end of racial segregation in public schools in 1954.
Kendi, a humanities professor at Boston University, was featured as a guest speaker at a discussion session on the second day of the AFT’s biennial “Together Educating America’s Children” conference. He fielded questions about racism, laws, and rules prohibiting the teaching of CRT in K-12 education, and how teachers may react to those restrictions.
When asked what the term “racist” means to him, Kendi replied that he believes a racist is an individual who “expresses an idea of racial hierarchy” or supports a policy that produces different outcomes among different racial groups. He also said that one can’t be inherently or permanently racist, contradicting what some schools who have embraced CRT are teaching.
“‘Racist’ is a descriptive term. It describes what a person is being in any given moment based on what they’re doing or not doing,” he said. “No one is inherently racist.”
That being said, Kendi later claimed it is racist for someone to not “admit” it when accused of being racist, drawing a parallel between former President Donald Trump and slave owners because they “constantly and consistently” denied such accusations.
“To be antiracist, is to admit the times which we’re being racist,” Kendi told host Fedrick Ingram, the secretary-treasurer of AFT. “To be racist, is to constantly consistently, deny, deny, deny, like Donald Trump.”
When it comes to state- and school district-level pushback against the teaching of CRT, Kendi said this trend reminds him of the opposition to Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case in which racial segregation in public schools was ruled unconstitutional.
“It really reminds me of the reaction and the response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision when there was widespread fear in certain schools and certain communities that those desegregated schools with those black children were going to be harmful to white children,” Kendi said, claiming that the anti-CRT movement seeks to ban teaching about history, racism, and slavery, rather than just CRT.
“There’s the monstrous lie that this effort to teach kids about racism is an effort to teach white children that they are inherently evil and racist,” he said, once again contradicting what is being taught in many classrooms that promote CRT. “No teacher—at least no antiracist teacher—would be teaching that.”
According to Kendi, the American society is “dangerously racist” because “darker skinned kids” are told that “there is something wrong with them because of the color of their skin,” while white children are told that “there is something right about them because of the color of their skin.” He didn’t point to any specific examples.
Kendi also urged teachers to find ways around laws limiting what can be taught to students, although he didn’t making any suggestions on how exactly they are supposed to do it.
“The courageous teachers were willing to defy the odds,” he said.
The AFT, which represents some 1.7 million current and retired public school employees, is the second largest teacher’s union in the nation. Earlier this week, AFT President Randi Weingarten dismissed the claim that public schools teachers are pushing CRT on students, but also vowed to provide legal assistance for members who get in trouble for teaching what she called “honest history.”