Henry Rogers was born in Queens in 1982, to middle-class parents deeply involved in civil rights activism.
After completing journalism and African American Studies programs at several universities, including Temple University where he completed his Ph.D., Rogers began a career as a university lecturer, taking up various posts along the East Coast in history and African American studies departments.
In 2013, he married his Jamaican bride Sadiqa, a pediatrician, at which time they chose a new surname: Kendi.
Ibram X. Kendi first entered the national spotlight in 2020, when his book How to Be an Antiracist became a bestseller in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the protests that followed.
Ibram had long been Rogers’ pen name. “X” was a hat-tip to the tradition of using the letter X to replace a surname lost or changed during the era of slavery. It was a practice associated with figures like Malcolm X, and one intended by Rogers to symbolize his own struggle against racism.
Ibram X. Kendi’s life has taken quite a different trajectory to that of his enslaved forebears, however.
Kendi was included in Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.
In July of the same year, he became the founder and director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, which he hopefully declared would “solve these intractable racial problems of our time.”
“This is the calling of my life,” Kendi said when he was hired for the role.
In the years since, the Center for Antiracist Research has received some $55 million in grants and gifts, including $10 million from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. Tech entrepreneurs, Boston-area corporations, and thousands of small donors are among the center’s many benefactors.
So well-financed is the center that, in less than 3 years, it has acquired 45 employees, affording Kendi time to pursue lucrative personal projects, including a graphic novel focused on the history of racist ideas, a podcast, and a soon-to-debut television mini-series.
Kendi’s various projects have meant he has been recently on leave from the center for several months.
In early September, however, things began to unravel.
Kendi returned from leave and, via Zoom, dismissed a large portion of the center’s employees. Estimates of the number of layoffs range from 15 to “almost all of its staff,” according to the Daily Free Press, Boston University’s student newspaper.
Soon after, Boston University announced it would undertake an “examination” of the center’s grant management practices after ongoing complaints from employees.
However, as the Boston Globe began asking the university questions and interviewing some of the laid-off staff, BU announced it was launching a much stronger “inquiry” that would also take into account “the Center’s management culture and the faculty and staff’s experience with it.”
Ibram X. Kendi’s leadership will be a particular focus of the inquiry. The Boston Globe reports:
In interviews with the Globe this week, current and former employees described a dysfunctional work environment that made it difficult to achieve the center’s lofty goals.
The organization ‘was just being mismanaged on a really fundamental level,’ said Phillipe Copeland, a professor in BU’s School of Social Work who also worked for the center as assistant director of narrative.
Although most decision-making authority rested with Kendi, Copeland said he found it difficult to schedule meetings with him. Other staffers described paralysis in the organization because Kendi declined to delegate authority and was not often available.
The center’s financial management will also go under the microscope. The Globe continues:
The money was meant to finance a range of ambitious projects: a database to track racial disparities nationwide, a graduate degree program, a media enterprise, and research teams studying the effects of systemic racism on health and society.
Some of these projects have come to fruition, including The Emancipator, a digital publication launched with the Boston Globe’s opinion staff in 2021. …
But others have not, including the Racial Data Tracker, which one former staffer described as a ‘centerpiece’ of the organization’s goals.
The Globe quoted Saida Grundy, a BU professor who worked at the center from fall 2020 to spring 2021, as saying, “I don’t know where the money is.”
In late 2021, Grundy sent an email to BU provost Jean Morrison blowing the whistle on a “pattern of amassing grants without any commitment to producing the research.”
For his part, Kendi has taken “strong exception” to the allegations. Of course, a fuller picture will only emerge in the wake of the inquiry.
But going on the reports we have so far, Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research is looking conspicuously like BLM 2.0.
Last year, questions began swirling around the finances at the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. BLM co-founder Patrisse Kahn-Cullors abruptly quit following a dubious four-house real estate buying binge, leaving no one in charge of the remaining $60 million in the organization’s coffers.
What I wrote about that scandal at the time would also seem to have relevance in the case of Ibram X. Kendi:
Black Lives Matter appears to be confused as to its purpose. Or is it?
In seeking to clarify BLM’s underlying philosophy—that of Critical Race Theory—author and cultural critic James Lindsay has recently offered two succinct definitions: ‘Calling everything you want to control “racist” until it is fully under your control,’ and, ‘A Marxian conflict theory of race; i.e., Race Marxism’.
While somewhat sardonic, Lindsay’s definitions—and particularly his identifying them with Marxism—help account for the otherwise disparate philosophies and behaviours of the movement. As the BLM At Schools website announces, ‘We have nothing to lose but our chains’—quoting Karl Marx.
All this begs the question: How many other “anti-racist” groups are grifts wrapped in popular ideology?