Cognitive Diversity: Ibram X. Kendi Meets Thomas Sowell

We should be reading the work of Ibram X. Kendi right now. BUT… not exclusively, as if he’s the only Black expert on race. Black America is not a monolithic group, and so we should be very careful not to adopt his totalizing language as White people who read him with respect and a heart to know and understand, which is how I read Kendi. When Kendi writes about Black people collectively, he does that as a Black man speaking from personal experience and therefore makes generalizations that make sense given his personhood. It behooves us to listen, and given his amazing training and vast scholarship, we should listen at full attention.

But there are also other experts on race. I’m going to bring in Thomas Sowell and his thinking into this blog, too, lest I commit the White sin of treating Ibram X. Kendi as the only Black expert on Black experience. What makes me comfortable with bringing a conservative Black voice into the picture? I’m moving away from White Fragility as I said, but when I said so I worried that this might make me a passive racist White person as I shed my hyper-vigilance and entered into the realm of cognitive diversity once more. But then I read this in The Atlantic – and not a moment too soon. John McWhorter, a Black man, published an article four days ago entitled The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragility. (Link)

I think to only teach race or reflect on it from Ibram X. Kendi’s perspective would be racist of me, treating Black people as a monolith, and disrespectful to other Black voices that might prefer to call themselves, for example, African American and not Black. (Link to article about Black versus African American).

Here’s the thing about antiracist work – it’s anti, which means it’s by definition exclusionary. And what is called racist is growing by the day. One antiracist group that I was a part of insisted that antiracist work happen in relationship and that people of color lead. Now, I happen to think that this is 100% correct. My concern, however, is that when I expressed a contrary view I was expelled from the group, even though I was a member of an organization who was interested in being led. I couldn’t even be in the group because I didn’t think like the leaders – even if I said I wanted to follow them. I’m embracing cognitive diversity. Kendi, yes – but also Sowell. And many, many others.

Published by Seahurst Wellness and Education Center

I’m a skill-building, proficiency-obsessed tutor and consultant who puts relationships first. I am also a certificated teacher with over a decade of classroom experience. Everything I do is geared to facilitate students’ familial and scholarly wellness and their sense of meaningful contribution to society..

5 thoughts on “Cognitive Diversity: Ibram X. Kendi Meets Thomas Sowell

  1. Hi Erin, Here is Erika Ginsberg-Klemmt. First off you have great initials. Second, I’ve been reading Kendi’s How to be an anti-racist and in the mean time my daughter send me some “real history of slavery” link that a friend of hers was sharing. I looked it up: and there was discussion of Thomas Sowell. I googled Kendi/ Sowell and that led me to you. I will be following you in the next days weeks years. Erika


  2. So glad I found your thoughts on these two prominent writers and thoughtful men. I first read Kendi’s book, then came across the very scholarly work of Sowell. And I agree with him and with your statement: Cognitive diversity is very important. Not that there’s no work to be done in the sphere of race relations but as Sowell points out in 100 ways, people and cultures also need to look at their own values, efforts and cultural norms to explain success or failure or mediocrity. This goes for all people and all societies. Taking sides closes the mind to diversity.


  3. I have just been turned on to Kendi, so I am not familiar with this material. I am a big fan of Sowell as he places things in an intelligent researched perspective. I will investigate Kendi and see if he is not just another Jessie Jackson.


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