Ibram X. Kendi’s NYT op ed drew a strong response

Historians in the News
tags: racism, Ibram X Kendi



To the Editor:

Re “The Heartbeat of Racism Is Denial,” by Ibram X. Kendi (Sunday Review, Jan. 14):

The actor Sidney Poitier, who grew up in the Bahamas, remarked that only by coming to the United States did he begin to encounter racism. As a Virginia-born Southerner, I am sure that all Americans carry in our minds scars of racism.

Not long ago, in conversation with a good friend who happens to be black, we acknowledged to each other that we both had those scars. Who could escape them in the Jim Crow era in which both of us were raised? Check with anyone on the street who denies being a host to such scars, and I will have to suspect that he or she is not a native-born American.

A hopeful difference among us is that some of us, somehow back there, learned to fight the influence of racism in our upbringing. My allies in that fight were mostly some fellow members of the Christian Church, many of them spiritually akin to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As it says in the New Testament: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And one evidence of this truth is our common shares in the sins of racism.

The scars persist — in seminary presidents and presidents of the United States.

DONALD W. SHRIVER, NEW YORK

The writer is president emeritus of Union Theological Seminary.

To the Editor:

How sad that on a weekend when we celebrated the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, a peaceful black preacher who promoted unity and trust in our country, The New York Times afforded a black professor the opportunity to instead sow division and discord. To up the ante, Ibram X. Kendi specifically condemns as racists the American presidents Jefferson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Lyndon B. Johnson, Nixon and Trump (low-hanging fruit).

Dismissing Jefferson’s “all men are created equal,” Mr. Kendi proclaims his own self-evident truth — that (presumably white) Americans are inherently racist and carry the stain of original sin in this regard. He asserts that any denial of this truth is a “beautiful delusion of self.” And like original sin, racism can be expunged only through the admission of guilt and the “heartbeat of confession.”

Let me be clear: I didn’t vote for Donald Trump and I am sickened by his racially tinged rhetoric and policies. But let me also assert I am not, nor will confess to being, a racist. Indeed I find Mr. Kendi’s presumption that I am a racist prejudicial and insulting.

I would suggest Mr. Kendi look into his own heart and read his article from the point of view of those Americans who choose to believe in, and aspire to live by, Dr. King’s optimism, nonviolent ideals and dream of a colorblind country. Perhaps Mr. Kendi will recognize that it is he who is in denial of his racism.

TONY VENEZIA, WHITE PLAINS

To the Editor:

The truth of Ibram X. Kendi’s take on racism in the United States is hard to swallow, but he is right. Even if you count yourself among those who despise racism, you reap the benefits of whiteness or the penalties of blackness, depending on the color of your skin. Until institutional racism, legislative racism, economic racism and social racism are dismantled, we are all still drinking at the same poisoned well.

Yet, I am hopeful because, day by day, according to Nicholas Kristof, the world is getting to be a better place. As President Trump displays the ugly underbelly of American culture, other nations, unencumbered by racism at every turn, are emerging as world leaders. In time, racism will no longer have a payoff for those who hold it dear, and we will move on to other preoccupations.

INGRID FURLONG
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA.

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