PBS Guest: Those Who Deny Discrimination Think Blacks Are 'Inferior'

On the Monday edition of his eponymously named PBS show, host Tavis Smiley provided a forum with little pushback for author and American University Professor Ibram Kendi to claim that the social problems that disproportionately exist within America's black population are the result of continuing racial discrimination, and that those who do not agree with his conclusions therefore must believe blacks are "inferior" or "subhuman."

Not acknowledged was the argument common on the conservative side that federal government programs have disproportionately hit poor blacks since the 1960s -- breaking up families and exacerbating social problems -- but not making the black population "inferior" or "subhuman."

Early in the show, Professor Kendi recalled misleading claims that "young black males" in recent years have been "21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts," and that "the median wealth of white households is a staggering 13 times the median wealth of black households. And black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated than whites."

He then argued that one must have "racist" views to deny that racial discrimination is the cause of these problems:

Most Americans know these statistics. They know these disparities, and there's only ways to explain that. Either there's something inferior and wrong about black people, or there's racial discrimination. And because so many Americans refuse to acknowledge the persisting sort of legacy and enduring prominence of racial discrimination, instead they say there's something wrong or inferior about black people -- which are racist ideas.

A bit later, as he argued that there has been a resurgence of racism in response to Barack Obama being elected President, he argued that, after the Thirteenth Amendment banned most slavery, the practice was still perpetuated in the criminal justice system:

So we of course know the Thirteenth Amendment abolished chattel slavery, but then it did not abolish slavery in the prisons. And we know about the convict lease system that emerged in which basically the law and the jail cell replaced the master and the whip.

The American University professor then pointed to the high rates of incarceration for blacks and suggested that, in reality, the crime perpetration rate of the black population is about equal to that of the white population as he cited studies that allege equal rates of whites breaking drug laws in spite of lower rates of white incarceration.

Not mentioned by either Professor Kendi or host Smiley was the argument that, even though there have been studies suggesting equal drug activity by whites, white drug dealers are less likely to be arrested because they tend to be more careful about selling drugs mostly to people they know, making them less likely to be caught. Additionally blacks are more likely to have a previous criminal record, making it more likely they will receive jail time.

Additionally, he did not mention statistics for other types of crimes -- for example, findings that blacks have a much higher rate of committing homicides than whites, which is consistent with higher incarceration rates for blacks as well as a disproportionately high rate of blacks being killed by police officers. 

Kendi recalled: "And so people say, for instance, that arrest rates and incarceration rates are reflective of actual crime rates. And so, for instance, we know that our jails right now are flooded with people who committed drug offenses."

After Smiley injected, "Low-level," Kendi added:

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Yeah -- possession-related drug offenses. But then we also have studies that show that the racial groups consume and sell drugs at similar rates. And so you have this huge disparity of incarcerated black and brown people in prison for drug crimes even though the actual crime rates when it comes to drug crimes are very similar between the races. And that says to me that that's racial discrimination within the criminal justice system.

Later in the interview, Kendi argued that many of those who do not believe blacks are genetically inferior to whites still hold "racist" views. alleging that they believe blacks are "inferior" because of their environment or other factors. Referring to such whites as "assimilationists," he asserted:

But assimilationists are somewhat different. They argue that "Yes, we are all created equal -- we're biologically equal," but then they say that black people have became [sic] inferior as a result of environment. So while segregationists say black people are inferior by nature, assimilationists say black people are inferior by nurture. 

And that nurture includes "We became inferior by -- as a result of slavery. Slavery wasn't just dehumanizing, it literally made black people subhuman -- segregation, poverty, or culture. So if we, you know, we just take them out of the barbarous wilds of Africa, or the cultural pathology of African-Americans, then we'll be able to civilize them and develop them and make them equal one day."

And these ideas still suggest that black people are inferior. Now, it argues against segregationists who state that black people are permanently inferior, but they say black people are inferior nonetheless.

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Monday, July 17, Tavis Smiley Show on PBS:

IBRAM X KENDI, HISTORIAN: Young black males were 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts between 2010 and 2012, according to federal statistics. The under-recorded, under-analyzed racial disparities between female victims of lethal police force may be even greater. Federal data shows that the median wealth of white households is a staggering 13 times the median wealth of black households. And black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. But these statistics should come as no surprise.

TAVIS SMILEY: These stats should come as no surprise. Do you think they do? How is it that -- even if one doesn't understand or doesn't research the stats the way you do -- we still seem sort of collectively oblivious to the history -- the sad history that we are writing in this present moment?

KENDI: Racist ideas. Racist ideas have become our common sense. And so we -- most Americans know these statistics. They know these disparities, and there's only ways to explain that. Either there's something inferior and wrong about black people, or there's racial discrimination. And because so many Americans refuse to acknowledge the persisting sort of legacy and enduring prominence of racial discrimination, instead they say there's something wrong or inferior about black people -- which are racist ideas.

(...)

KENDI: I chronicle not just this history of racial progress that Obama and many others have spoken about in recent years, but the simultaneous progression of racism. And so American history has had both happening simultaneously because when black people break through barriers, typically new barriers are created to hold them back. And so that's how you can have racial progress and the progression of racism happening simultaneously.

SMILEY: Take that a step further for me. So give me an example of what you mean by having racial progress and the progress of racism at the same time.

KENDI: So we of course know the Thirteenth Amendment abolished chattel slavery, but then it did not abolish slavery in the prisons. And we know about the convict lease system that emerged in which basically the law and the jail cell replaced the master and the whip.

SMILEY: And to those that say that's a horrible example because those black persons wouldn't be behind bars but for the bad choices they have made. that's not racism, that's bad behavior.     

Well, yeah, and so people say, for instance, that arrest rates and incarceration rates are reflective of actual crime rates. And so, for instance, we know that our jails right now are flooded with people who committed drug offenses.

SMILEY: Low-level.

KENDI: Usually -- yeah -- possession-related drug offenses. But then we also have studies that show that the racial groups consume and sell drugs at similar rates. And so you have this huge disparity of incarcerated black and brown people in prison for drug crimes even though the actual crime rates when it comes to drug crimes are very similar between the races. And that says to me that that's racial discrimination within the criminal justice system.

SMILEY: So 500 years later who are the culprits? Who is -- put another way, complicit in the continuing advancement -- the continued march or progress of racist ideas in this country?

(...)

KENDI: Many people, including well-meaning people, have articulated racist ideas, have defended racist policies, and if we truly want to create an anti-racist America, it's important for us to come to grips with the ideas that we've consumed over the course of our lifetimes.

SMILEY: How do you get those -- to use your phrase, Professor -- well-meaning individuals who may just be ignorant but well-meaning -- how do you get them to reexamine their own assumptions? How do you help them in this text expand their inventory of ideas about what racist ideas are? Does that make sense?

KENDI: It makes perfect sense. And I think one of the ways we do it is we define their ideas as racist.  So that I think is one of the major contributions of the book --

SMILEY: Doesn't that shut down the conversation sometimes, though, at the very beginning? "That's a racist idea." "Whooaa!"

KENDI: Well, yeah, it does, but on another level I say as a black male who has three degrees in African-American Studies -- born and raised in a black home -- that I even had consumed racist ideas about black people --

SMILEY: Oh, yeah.

KENDI: -- over the course of my lifetime, so that's how powerful these ideas are . And so if I can do it, if I can admit and acknowledge that ideas that I had consumed, then anybody should be willing to do it.

(...)

KENDI: And so, this group, I classify them as assimilationists in Stamped from the Beginning --

SMILEY: There are three groups in the book. Assimilationists.

KENDI: Yes. Segregationists and anti-racists. And so, typically, segregationists are the people who have stated that black people are biologically and genetically and permanently inferior. They are the people who in American history are typically in these types of books on history of racism. But assimilationists are somewhat different. They argue that "Yes, we are all created equal -- we're biologically equal," but then they say that black people have became [sic] inferior as a result of environment. So while segregationists say black people are inferior by nature, assimilationists say black people are inferior by nurture. 

And that nurture includes "We became inferior by -- as a result of slavery. Slavery wasn't just dehumanizing, it literally made black people subhuman -- segregation, poverty, or culture. So if we, you know, we just take them out of the barbarous wilds of Africa, or the cultural pathology of African-Americans, then we'll be able to civilize them and develop them and make them equal one day." And these ideas still suggest that black people are inferior. Now, it argues against segregationists who state that black people are permanently inferior, but they say black people are inferior nonetheless.

SMILEY: Yeah. So you hit on something deep a moment ago. I mean, this is -- I can do this for two or three nights on this subject ... What is the message in this text to those persons like you once were and like -- because I'm human -- like I once was and like others who may still be --  who have bought into those notions of white supremacy. That's how insidious it is that we end up -- black people themselves end up taking on some of that white supremacy in our own DNA. What do you say to us? What's the message for us in Stamped from the Beginning?

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