Prominent scholar and activist Dr. Ibram X. Kendi has claimed, “To oppose reparations is to be racist. To support reparations is to be anti-racist.” But is Kendi right? One way to tell is to apply signal detection theory (SDT). SDT is a decision-making framework that attempts to distinguish between truthful signals and noise.
Let’s imagine two distributions: racists and anti-racists. In each, any randomly chosen individual generates, with some probability, unique responses to questions about whether she is racist. Each question is designed to elicit a signal about the person’s racist or anti-racist status. The answer is then compared to a “true” criterion that distinguishes between racist and anti-racist. One could imagine a spectrum of responses to such questions, responses that provide information allowing us to designate the person racist or anti-racist. We could then compare these with Kendi’s binary criterion of whether the person supports reparations.
Presumably, whether a randomly selected person supports or opposes reparations can depend on the individual circumstances of the case presented, such as whether the reparations policy is based on corrective or distributive justice. Anti-racists might all support reparations to some degree. They might become pro-reparations activists, or merely vote for a candidate who supports reparations. Racists might all oppose reparations, but to extents ranging from arguing against them on the news to simply voting for a candidate who opposes them.
The existence of this spectrum of responses suggests that support for reparations is not a foolproof criterion demarcating a clear division between racists and anti-racists. What if our racist and anti-racist groups overlap? For example, is a person who votes for a pro-reparation candidate, but declines to engage in direct activism racist—or insufficiently anti-racist? What about a person who chooses not to vote for a pro-reparation candidate for reasons unrelated to the politician’s stance on reparations, but joins a political organization that advocates for reparations?
If the distributions of racists and anti-racists overlap, Kendi’s binary might become a quadrant comprising of hits, misses, false alarms and correct rejects in the following way.
(1) A person both joins a pro-reparations organization and votes for a pro-reparations candidate. This is a hit. The person is correctly identified as anti-racist.
(2) A person does not join a pro-reparations organization but votes for a pro-reparations candidate for reasons unrelated to the politician’s position on reparations. This is a miss. A racist is falsely designated as an anti-racist.
(3) A person joins a pro-reparations organization but does not vote for a pro-reparations candidate for reasons unrelated to the politician’s position on reparations. This is a false alarm. An anti-racist is falsely designated as a racist.
(4) A person does not join a a pro-reparations organization or vote for a pro-reparations candidate. This is a correct reject. A racist is correctly designated as a racist, i.e. correctly rejected from the anti-racist category.
|Supports politician who advocates reparations||Joins organization that advocates for reparations||Designation||Truth|
So what do we mean when we say we support or oppose reparations and is supporting or opposing reparations a function of racism or anti-racism? This partly depends on how we define racism, a term whose meaning has expanded a great deal. But it also probably depends on a full assessment of the reasons why people support or oppose reparations. Kendi’s binary framework may obscure a more complex interplay between facts, principles and motives.
A number of theoretical and practical questions can influence public support or opposition to reparations. Should reparations be based on corrective or distributive justice? Does support stem from a sense of victimisation, disingenuous victimhood signaling, self-interest or impartial moral conviction? Does opposition reflect principled doubts about the validity of the claims of the descendants of the victims, especially since a lot of time has elapsed? Does it reflect system justifications or endowment effects of white privilege? Does it depend on the race, class or gender of the victims or perpetrators?
Are any of these postures rooted in political or ethical beliefs about some of the trade-offs involved, such as higher taxes? Are the supporters or opponents unaware of or reticent about their real motives?
Opinions on reparations may also be influenced by beliefs about the extent to which US society is or should be a meritocracy that provides equality of opportunity. Opinions may also vary over the course of time. They may be affected by the race or gender of the victims. There may also be more (or less) support for a reparations policy based on a tort model derived from the principle of corrective justice, as opposed to one based on an atonement model derived from the principle of distributive justice.
Support for any given reparations program, then, may depend on many factors that Kendi’s binary framework obscures.
I am puzzled by this article and the claim by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi because the argument for reparations is quite clearly racist. There is a presumption that one group of people should pay money to another group of people based on their racial background and assumption about what that means about the actions and treatment of their ancestors. It is difficult to think of anything more blatantly racist. Those advocating fro reparations are thereofr advocating a racist policy, I don’t think that necessarily makes them racists, but opposing it certainly does not make one a racist. The reality is that African slavers used to not only prey on othetr Africans but also on europeans. Even if we restrict those concerned to FAAfrican slaves shipped to America as part of the Atalantic slave trade then the chances are that ths eslaves were in fact captured by Africans and then sold… Read more »
Several questions occur:
1) who owes and who gets reparations? If most blacks have some white blood, or even half white, what then? What about blacks who came as immigrants?
2) How can we be liable for something our ancestors did? This is a pernicious idea. Should blacks pay reparations for all the black crime?
3) I doubt that any amount of $ would be enough for Kendi.
4) If you give cash and 20 yrs later blacks are still behind, is more required?
5) It is impossible to untangle all the injustices of history. We can only try to be more just now.
For these reasons, even blacks often oppose reparations.
ok. if whites are to paid reparations to blacks, then whites should sue the descendants of those Africans who engaged in slave trade and sold other blacks. this way it will be just.
and what about black slaves owned by black owners… what about them.. who will pay reparations to whom.
In some ways the meaning of racism “has expanded a great deal” but in other ways it has contracted. So yes smaller and smaller acts can define a person as racist. On the other hand it has now become difficult for many to recognize the racism inherent in several conflicts around the world simply because they occur between diverse ‘persons of color’ without any involvement of ‘whites’. This is because ‘racism’ and ‘white supremacy’ are conflated rather than understanding that the latter is only one variety of the former, and an extreme one at that.
The article seems to presuppose the main conclusion that needs to be argued for, which is that if one does not support ‘reparations’ (a white people guilt tax?) then one is “racist”. Many people who are not racists disagree with the notion that progeny should have to pay for the sins of their forefathers, and anyway, who is to say that my white forefathers were not abolitionists? The whole concept of collective guilt needs to be questioned. The article, in assuming what needs to be proved, is loaded, similar to the question “How ought we to punish blasphemers?”
The problem with this piece and with most of the comments is it misses the point.
The designation ‘racist’ ‘anti racist’ is not based on any normal criteria of actions, ideas or even thoughts.
It’s a religious position. I’m convinced John McWhorter is right on this.
To that end there is literally no point asking what one means by reparations or whether one can be anti racist and oppose reparations any more than a true believer could be convinced by a non believer walking them through the bible or what it really means to be a Christian.
Kendi was describing racist and anti-racist *actions*.
“But it is a litmus test for whether a person is being a racist or anti-racist when it comes to one of the most damaging racial inequities of our time, of all American time—the racial wealth gap.”
“The anti-racist approach requires standing up for the policies, like reparations, that can create racial equity.”
Is this action racist or anti-racist? Not “Is this person a racist?” But if you interpret it correctly I guess you don’t have anything to write here.
To disagree with anything I say is to be racist. To agree with everything I say is to be anti-racist.” -Ibram X. Kendi
Not really. But really. The guy is a narcissist on stilts.
It’s a gimmick to keep people feeling like they can only be victims. What about those from free black communities? Do they get money? Do they have to pay money? If they supported the formation of the country are they part of the systemic racism that purportedly hurts other African Americans? Do they still qualify as black even though their experience is somewhat different? And WHO gets to decide these questions? And NONE of it will solve the problems.
Mr. Church did not define just exactly what specific policies would or would not constitute “reparations,” and, without having read Mr. Kendi’s book myself, I do not know just precisely how he has defined “reparations,” either. In any case, it seems to me that both Mr. Church and Ms. Hennings have given reasons to suppose a quite wide range of various different correlations between racism or anti-racism on the one hand and support or opposition for reparations, on the other.
Kendi is mistaken. A person can be opposed to reparations as being impracticable without being a racist. He is mixing limes and eggplant.