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Antiracist Intellectual Leader Kendi Wins MacArthur “Genius” Grant

To no one’s surprise, Governor Kristi Noem has not won a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. But one of the targets of her bullying on social media has:

Ibram X. Kendi, MacArthur Fellow 2021.
Ibram X. Kendi, MacArthur Fellow 2021.

Boston University’s Ibram X. Kendi, the National Book Award–winning historian, professor, and scholar whose research and gift for communicating his ideas with policymakers as well as with everyday people have made him a leader of a national movement around antiracism and the structural changes needed to create a more equitable world, has been selected as a 2021 MacArthur Fellow.

Kendi, who came to BU in 2020 from American University to found the BU Center for Antiracist Research, is a College of Arts & Sciences professor of history and the University’s Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities. His name, along with the other 24 fellows, was announced Tuesday morning by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Each winner receives a no-strings-attached $625,000 so-called “genius grant” spread over five years, in recognition of their exceptional creativity, significant achievements, and promise for future contributions. The grants are intended to “enable recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society,” according to the foundation [Sara Rimer, “Ibram Kendi, BU Center for Antiracist Research Founding Director, Wins 2021 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant,” Boston University, 2021.09.28].

The harassment stoked by political opportunists and ignorami like Noem created a minor delay in Kendi’s getting the good news:

Kendi told BU Today he learned the news when the MacArthur Foundation called him at the end of August. Kendi, who was being barraged with anonymous hate calls related to his work, didn’t recognize the number so he didn’t pick up. Then came a text from the same number, with the name of the caller, and by googling the name, Kendi figured out the caller was with the MacArthur Foundation. “So I told them they could call me, and they [Marlies Carruth, director of the MacArthur Fellows program] called and told me…” [Rimer, 2021.09.28].

The MacArthur Foundation recognizes Kendi for skills and aspirations entirely absent from Noem’s CV:

Ibram X. Kendi is an American historian and writer drawing on an in-depth understanding of racist ideology to present a framework for building a more equitable society. He is adept at communicating to a wide range of audiences, and his body of work includes traditional academic scholarship, non-profit leadership, writing for mainstream audiences, and public appearances and lectures. From this unique platform, he advances national conversations around anti-Black racism and the possibilities for accountability and repair grounded in historical context [MacArthur Foundation, “Ibram X. Kendi,” 2021.09.28].

National Review criticizes Kendi’s receipt of the award, complaining, it seems, that Kendi is already too successful:

The idea that Kendi is in any way a risky figure, or that his work needs financial support, is ridiculous. Last year, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gave $10 million to Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research, Kendi’s academic perch. In September, Fairfax County, Va., public schools paid$20,000 for a one-hour speech by Kendi. This is a little lower than his typical one-hour speaking fee of $25,000, according to the Washington Free Beacon (whose reporting on Kendi has been sterling). In January of this year, he made a deal with Netflix, which agreed to adapt two of his books as programs for the streaming service. In July, the Free Beacon reported that Amazon spent thousands of dollars giving Kendi books to Virginia-area schools. Not to mention that his books have been best-sellers. He is not exactly cash-starved [Jack Butler, “The Absurdity of Ibram X. Kendi’s Receiving a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant,” National Review, 2021.09.28].

But hey, National Review just writes hit pieces on sensible leaders, so never mind their grousing.


  1. Donald Pay 2021-09-30 09:03

    The National Review by Jack Butler says, “The idea that Kendi is in any way a risky figure, or that his work needs financial support, is ridiculous.” Yet Noem and National Review anti-intellectuals have engaged on a jihad against Kendi and other black intellectuals, trying to ban their books and any mention of them in high school or college courses. To an intellectual, banning books and erasing ideas is about as risky as it gets, except in Kendi’s case, it’s even worse. Noem’s friends in the White Nationalist right have targeted Kendi and others for extermination, just for writing a few books, teaching at a universities and giving a few speeches about racism. I might think Noem and the National Review authors are a bit jealous. Where is their best-selling books? If Noem wrote one, it would read “See Spot run!” Kendi is a best-selling author, . His ideas are really positive in nature. He’s optimistic that people can change, but he’s just not so sure that people can make systems and structures change. And that’s where he an the right depart, because the right has always supported racist structure.

    It’s fine to critique Kendi’s writing and his conclusions, but be honest about it. Trying to ban stuff because you have no argument against it, other than your racism, is cowardly.

    Noem will never write a book that I will want to read, but if she has some ghost writer toss off a few pages of lies, well, I’ll be happy to critique it anyway, just for the giggles. But no one here on Cory’s blog has wanted to ban her genuinely bad writing, or keep it out of high school or college curriculum. It’s educational to have such poor critical thinking as we see with Noem taken up and analysed, You have to slog through Mein Kampf to understand Hitler’s “thought.” Hitler, though, didn’t use a ghost writer, like Trump did. Noem also will have to have her thoughts ghost written. Maybe she could hire Jack Butler to do the job. He’s got the knack for lying.

  2. Mark Anderson 2021-09-30 12:59

    This is excellent, but what really needs to happen in America is parents, sane parents need to confront all the Steve Bannon inspired wing nuts who are trying to take over schools and school boards, banning books and ideas. Moms for liberty, no they aren’t a pro-choice organization, want to ban virtually any true history or discussion that might make their babies feel bad. It was so easy to predict and I did that, of all this putting people back in their place would happen after all the BLM protests. Get to your local school board and fight back, let them know that nobody is going to be put in their place anymore.

  3. ArloBlundt 2021-09-30 16:36

    Well..please be assured that Governor Noem has not read 2 pages of Professor Kendi’s writing…maybe she had an aide read a summary of his work and a critique from Hillsboro College, tell her about what she’d read while in a limo from the airport to the hotel, and watched a Tucker Carlson video on the subject…that’s a maybe…there are mud puddles deeper than the Governor’s intellectual curiosity.

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