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White Supremacist in the White House: Ibram X. Kendi on Trump’s Calls for “Law & Order” in Kenosha

StoryAugust 31, 2020
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In Part 2 of our interview with Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, we air excerpts from the families of Jacob Blake and George Floyd at the massive protest marking the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, and discuss President Trump’s planned visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, as he blames Democrats for violence during protests there and in Portland, Oregon. “Racism has spread to every part of the body,” says Kendi, comparing U.S. racism to cancer, “and then we have a president who is claiming that it doesn’t exist.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re spending the hour with now Boston University professor Ibram X. Kendi, founding director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research, contributing writer at The Atlantic, author of many books, including Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, and How to Be an Antiracist.

Well, as we said, on Friday, thousands gathered for the 57th March on Washington on the National Mall for an event organized by the National Action Network. Among those who spoke were family members of victims of police violence. This is Jacob Blake Sr., the father of Jacob Blake, followed by George Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd and the mother of Breonna Taylor, Tamika Palmer.

JACOB BLAKE SR.: We’re going to hold court today. We’re going to hold court on systematic racism. We’re going to have court right now. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Racism against all of us. Guilty! Guilty! Racism against Trayvon Martin. We find them guilty! Racism against George Floyd. We find them guilty! Racism against Jacob Blake, Abdul Duwala [phon.]. If I said the name wrong, Allah forgive me. Guilty! And we’re not taking it anymore!

PHILONISE FLOYD: I wish George were here to see this right now. That’s who I’m marching for. I’m marching for George, for Breonna, for Ahmaud.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there you have the march on August 28th, the anniversary of the March on Washington. We are going to turn right now to Ibram X. Kendi to talk about the significance of what has been taking place and President Trump promising to go to Kenosha, Wisconsin, despite the pleading of the governor of Wisconsin, Evers, the lieutenant governor, the first African American lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes. He says he’s going to Kenosha, Wisconsin, tomorrow. Can you talk about the latest, Professor Kendi, from Kenosha to Portland to the Republican convention to the issue of white supremacy in this country? You have used the metaphor of cancer to describe what we are confronting in America today.

IBRAM X. KENDI: Yeah. So, I mean, the United States is facing a form of metastatic cancer, a form of metastatic racism, in which, literally, racism has spread to every part of the body politic. And how do we know that? We know that because racial inequities and injustices are all around us. And we see the pain that is stemming from that metastatic racism. We see the people whose lives are being lost.

And then we have a president who is claiming that it doesn’t exist. You know, just as Jacob Blake Sr. sort of charges America with guilty, America, particularly Americans like Trump, are saying, “No, not guilty, not racist.” And meanwhile, so many people are dying of COVID-19 because of the administration, of course, trying to look the other way, while so many Black and Brown and Indigenous people are dying at disproportionate rates. All the while, people are saying “Not racist.” All the while, people are denying the existence of this spread.

And what happens when you deny the existence of cancer, of the spread of cancer, of even certainly the spread of racism? It’s only going to get worse. And we see what we’ve been seeing this summer, is it’s only going to get worse, and it’s only going to continue to get worse until we face it, until we admit it, until we acknowledge that indeed we have racism that spread to every part of the body politic. But then you have people who are aware of it, but then they don’t want to get the treatment, because the treatment is painful, the treatment is uncomfortable. Yes, the treatment is going to be painful or uncomfortable, but it’s the only thing that’s going to give us, as a nation and as a people, the chance to live.

AMY GOODMAN: You have the situation in Kenosha where a white police officer at point-blank range last Sunday shoots Jacob Blake at least seven times. Jacob Blake, whose father is also Jacob Blake, and whose grandfather is also Jacob Blake. He is the well-known — he was the well-known pastor in Chicago who led the housing desegregation movement in an organization that he co-founded called NOW, has a housing complex named for him, the Jacob Blake Manor. The young 29-year-old, now paralyzed, Jacob Blake, grew up, went to high school and middle school in Evanston, where his grandfather did his ministry and his civil rights work.

And then you have Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old, who turned himself in. I emphasize this because he was on the streets of Kenosha. He gunned down — allegedly gunned down two Black Lives Matter protesters, murdered them on Tuesday night. This is during the Republican convention. The Trump administration, neither Pence nor President Trump mentioned this. He’s illegally carrying a long gun, an AR-15, through the streets with his hands up in the air. The police do not stop him as so many protesters are saying, “He just murdered people.” Now he’s been accused of first-degree — charged with first-degree intentional homicide. But he drove home to Illinois and turned himself in. That’s what it took to get him to stop. Your thoughts? He’s a white militia member, 17 years old, wannabe cop.

IBRAM X. KENDI: Well, first, the fact that he’s a wannabe cop demonstrates the types of folks, particularly the types of white men, who are currently attracted to American policing. And so, then the question becomes: Why are so many white disaffected, racist young men who want to shoot and kill and get away with it being attracted to American policing?

But I think what’s also fascinating is that it is improbable — it is impossible for a Black person to be holding an AR-15 and walking towards the police and walking away from people who are saying they just shot someone, and for the police to let him go on by. I mean, that is impossible. But it’s possible when it comes to white people, because even when white people are armed, they seem unarmed even to police officers. But when Black people are unarmed, they’re armed and dangerous. And I think that’s fundamentally the sickness of racist ideas, that it allows for so many people who are unarmed and certainly not dangerous to die, while so many people who are white who are armed and dangerous and just shot people to go to their home and sleep in their bed and certainly to not be harassed by the police.

AMY GOODMAN: In response to Jacob Kendi [sic] being handcuffed to his hospital bed, you tweeted, Professor Kendi — Jacob Blake being handcuffed to his hospital bed, you tweeted, “An allegory of what racism has done to Black communities. Paralyzed economically and politically. Fighting hard to recover. But inexplicably still shackled.”

IBRAM X. KENDI: Yeah. I mean, like so many people, I was just outraged. Jacob had not committed a crime. He was shot seven times in the back. He was paralyzed. And then, on top of that, he is being sort of chained to a bed as if he’s the criminal. And again, that’s part of the problem, is the Black victim, the person who was unarmed and shot in the back seven times, is still being framed by America or by the state or by police officers as the criminal, and because of Blackness. It doesn’t really matter. And I think that’s what people are so outraged by, you know, because his life does not matter. Even when he’s the victim of a hail of gunfire and he’s paralyzed, he still is viewed as somebody who’s dangerous that needs to be shackled.

AMY GOODMAN: How has the work of antiracist protesters over the last decades, over the last centuries — what do you think people should be doing now in this absolutely critical period, what some call the most important moment, especially this election, in U.S. history?

IBRAM X. KENDI: Well, I think, first and foremost, no one should be fooled by law-and-order rhetoric that’s coming from the Trump administration. When they speak of law and order, they’re talking about the law and order of racism and Black death. That’s what they want. And if you support law and order, then you support the order of Black death and racism.

But I think, more importantly, we should be joining organizations and supporting organizations that are challenging racism and racist policy and white supremacy. You know, we should certainly be thinking very seriously about voting for folks who are striving to be antiracist. But even more than that, we should figure out ways to be civically engaged.

Every single one of us has power. We have the power to resist. We have the power to resist policy. We have the power to resist policymakers. And one of the sort of guiding principles that antiracist activists have sort of lived by for centuries, for decades, for years, for months, is that they have the power, because racist power has been trying to convince us that we don’t have power, whether it’s enslaved people or even people today who are trying to figure out what can they do in the face of this juggernaut of racism. Don’t think ever that you don’t have the power. And the way we have power is by coming together, is by organizing together, is by challenging through our organizational strength.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you call President Trump a white supremacist?

IBRAM X. KENDI: Oh, without question. And, I mean, anyone who in any way can make a case that he is not a white supremacist, based on what he says and based on what he does, and that he’s not a racist — and again, I’m only stating this — if someone is —

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

IBRAM X. KENDI: — is pushing policies that lead to white supremacy, they’re a white supremacist.

AMY GOODMAN: Ibram X. Kendi, we thank you so much for spending this hour with us, Andrew W. Mellon professor in the humanities at Boston University, founding director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research. To see all our coverage of Black Panther, of Afrofuturism —

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