Dr. Ibram X. Kendi speaks for the University Lecture Series

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi explained that racism pervades Americans' thinking and emphasized that Americans are still far from achieving racial equality in a question-and-answer session for Carnegie Mellon University's University Lecture Series.

Kendi, the 2016 National Book Award winner for Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and the founding director of Boston University's Center for Antiracist Research, spoke for the university's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Lecture. He expressed hopefulness for the future since a majority of Americans believe racism is a problem.

Still, Kendi highlighted areas where he believes Americans are not ready to support "big solutions" to end racism. He recalled the history of gradual abolitionists, saying "They advocated for a more gradual emancipation just as you have Americans today advocating for a more gradual equality."

Kendi further discussed the divide between awareness of, and action against, racism in a discussion on the racial wealth gap. He claimed that reparations, the policy of giving money to the descendants of slaves, "is the only policy that has been put forth in recent memory that has the capacity to eliminate the racial wealth gap." Kendi said Americans who are aware of racism but oppose reparations "say they're committed to racial equality but against the only policy that has the chance to create racial equality."

Kendi said that many Americans do not challenge racism because they are "fooled." He argued that many Americans, including himself, have at times been fooled into thinking "the problem is indeed Black people."

Kendi distinguished between policies that use this racist idea that something is "wrong" with others. He contrasted "segregationist" policies, which he said include deporting and killing marginalized groups, and "assimilationist" policies, which he described as policies that aim to "civilize" people and "make them white." Meanwhile, for the people targeted by these policies, "those Latinx folks, those Black folks, those indigenous folks are like, 'there's actually nothing wrong with us,'" he said.

One question from a viewer asked whether universities should condemn or penalize racist rhetoric, recalling Carnegie Mellon's own struggles over free speech. Kendi responded, "I think that public officials should not have the freedom to dangerously lie to the public." However, he cautioned that restricting dangerous speech "opens the door for others to say that 'there's nothing wrong or inferior about Black people' is a dangerous lie."

Another viewer asked whether Kendi views himself as an "ideological successor" to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "I'm hopefully carrying on King's Legacy," Kendi replied, continuing, "especially the King who, by the time of his death, was indeed recognizing just how systemically pervasive not only racism was, but also poverty." As an example, Kendi highlighted MLK's statement in 1967 that America "must undergo a radical revolution of its values."