Ibram Kendi Asks Fundamental Question about Disproportionate Black Deaths to COVID, Focusing Research on Anti-Racism


By Linh Nguyen

One is either a racist or an anti-racist, Professor Ibram Kendi argued this week at a talk at Harvard University. There is no middle ground.

Kendi began his discussion by posing a “fundamental research question,” asking, “Why are Black people dying at 2.3 times the rate of white people due to COVID-19?”

Ibram Kendi discussed, in a video lecture, racist biases in scientific research questions and how to reframe research to be antiracist as it relates to Black people in their health, behavior and culture and COVID-19.

Ibram Kendi is a prominent speaker on race and American discriminatory policy. He has authored numerous books on antiracism and is outspoken on correctional policy to denounce racism. In July 2020, Kendi assumed the position of director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 41,583 Black people have lost their lives to the virus. According to research done in mid September, 1 in 1,000 Black people have lost their lives to COVID-19. Without action, that statistic could change to 1 in 500 Black people losing their lives to the virus.

In contrast, 45 in 100,000 white people lose their lives to COVID-19.

Kendi then asked, “Why is there a racial pandemic in this wider, viral pandemic?”

Kendi stated that Black people in America have always experienced a pandemic in this country, given the population’s history, from slavery to discriminatory policies to modern day racism.

Back in March, when the pandemic most prominently emerged in America, there was no racial data to display the racial discrepancies between the races and their impact from the virus. Racial demographic data would show who was being infected and who was dying from COVID-19.

A month later in mid April, the racial disparity patterns became apparent when the data was released.

The data showed that Black people and people of color were becoming infected, hospitalized and dying at a higher rate than white people.

When Americans were asked about this discrepancy, a common answer was poverty. However, they were unable to make the distinction between white poverty and black poverty. Kendi said that “black poverty is more vulnerable to lethal contagion.”

Similarly, politicians said that Black people are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 because they have “more underlying health conditions.” Still, these politicians were unable to answer why Black people are suffering from “more underlying health conditions” than white people.

Kendi even cited what Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy said in an interview with NPR, stating that Black people have diabetes, obesity and hypertension, which “COVID-19 likes.”

Kendi’s underlying statement is that Black people are consistently blamed for their problems, including their health issues and COVID-19 issues.

According to this logic, Kendi stated, “Black people are killing themselves like Breonna Taylor killed herself” and “being Black in America is like being suicidal.”

To correct this mindset and the research that follows it, Kendi said that racial researchers must reform their assumptions prior to posing a question. The three basic racial assumptions that Kendi mentions are that there is something wrong with a particular racial group, that there could be something wrong with a particular racial group, and that there is nothing wrong with any particular racial group.

Kendi said that the first assumption is racist because it assumes that a racial group is superior or inferior to another. The third assumption is antiracist because it suggests that all racial groups are equal despite differences in culture and phenotypes. The second assumption is also racist because it subjectively seeks to identify something wrong with a racial group, whether the fault is in that group’s biology or culture. Still, racial researchers have not abandoned that assumption and call themselves neutral.

Kendi said that those researchers are similar to the ones still researching whether the earth is round or if the climate is changing or if dinosaurs are extinct, essentially calling their research assumptions outdated.

“There is nothing culturally wrong with Black people,” Kendi said. “There has always been something wrong with subjectively standardizing cultures among researchers who call themselves ‘not racist’ and claim that they are objective.”

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The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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21 thoughts on “Ibram Kendi Asks Fundamental Question about Disproportionate Black Deaths to COVID, Focusing Research on Anti-Racism”

  1. Ron Oertel

    This professor seems to view theories regarding possible causes as “racism”.  Such as the following:

    When Americans were asked about this discrepancy, a common answer was poverty.

    The professor then goes on to provide a theory of his own:

    However, they were unable to make the distinction between white poverty and black poverty.  Kendi said that “black poverty is more vulnerable to lethal contagion.”

    Does that mean (using the professor’s definition) that he, himself is a “racist”?

      1. Ron Oertel

        I watched his opening statement and saw the point he was making, which I found to be valid.

        Looks like the entire video is about an hour long, so I won’t watch the rest right now.


      2. Eric Gelber

        The video is definitely thought-provoking and worth watching. The concept of anti-racism provides an important framework for recognizing and meaningfully addressing racism.

  2. Ron Oertel

    One is either a racist or an anti-racist, Professor Ibram Kendi argued this week at a talk at Harvard University.  There is no middle ground.

    Didn’t George W. Bush say something like this, in another context (e.g., “you’re either with us, or against us”)?

  3. Alan Miller

    One is either a racist or an anti-racist, Professor Ibram Kendi argued this week at a talk at Harvard University. There is no middle ground.

    “There are two kinds of people, those that label people in binary extremes, and those that don’t.” 
    — Alan C. Miller, 2020

        1. Alan Miller

          Alan reduces one of the most preeminent Black scholars in the nation to a line that he misunderstands.

          No actually I’m going to call you on what you mean by this.  In what way am I ‘reducing’ someone ‘to a line’ ?   What does that mean?  Reducing how?  What line?  In what way am I misunderstanding some line that you claim I am reducing someone to?  I have no idea what any of that means or what you are implying — but you sure make it sound like I’ve done something horrible.

          1. David Greenwald

            If we are going to have a discussion on this – watch the video, read one of his essays, and then we can do it intelligently. We can’t half clown this.

            But here’s a hint – he’s not making a binary argument.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Actally it was a double binary (binary squared?… four outcomes) direction/instruction, Alan…

        Whether you watch the video, or not.

        If the first, whether you’d let him know… or not…

        I suggest, “don’t watch, don’t tell”…

    1. Eric Gelber

      With all due respect to Alan C. Miller, he missed being original by a mere century.

      “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t.” — Robert Benchley, Vanity Fair, February 1920.


        1. Bill Marshall

          Alan… statute of limitations ran out 50 years ago on plagiarism … you’re golden…

          Besides, think the original thought, dividing people into two kinds, goes back thousands of years… sheep and goats, hunters/hunted, etc.

          Binary, yes, original, no…

  4. Bill Marshall

    So… with a little over a week to go…

    Is prop 16 Racist or Anti-racist?  Think long and hard… easy to make arguments (cogent arguments) either way… good luck in coming up with a good “yes/no” answer and justifying it… yes/no are our only choices, as to the Prop 16…

    Or, is racist/anti-racist a false dichotomy used to sell books, and get lecture fees?

    I do not claim to have the answer(s), but think those are cogent questions…

    1. Bill Marshall

      Also, keep in mind, according to the author of the piece, to the professor…

      There is no middle ground.

      Only two choices, by which to be ‘judged’…

    2. David Greenwald

      I think you are also not understanding or have not studied his point. But I think the answer to your question is embedded in MLK’s comment from 1967: ”
      It is, however, important to understand that giving a man his due may often mean giving him special treatment. I am aware of the fact that this has been a troublesome concept for many liberals, since it conflicts with their traditional ideal of equal opportunity and equal treatment of people according to their individual merits. But this is a day which demands new thinking and the reevaluation of old concepts. A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, in order to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis.”

    3. Eric Gelber

      Is prop 16 Racist or Anti-racist?

      I think it’s pretty clear where Professor Kendi would come out on this question. To maintain a ban on affirmative action is to preserve racial inequality and white privilege.

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