No doubt he means well. They always mean well when they passionately push for righteousness, even if this time it comes from the college president of the University of Southern Maine, located in the other Portland. It’s not a well-known school. It’s not highly rated. But if Glenn Cummings has anything to say about it, it will be in violation of the law.
The University of Southern Maine has asked all members of the community to sign a “Black Lives Matter Statement and Antiracism Pledge.” The pledge cites Ibram Kendi, who popularized the concept of “antiracism.”
We stand in solidarity with those who are working for justice and change. And we invite you to join us in pledging to be a practicing antiracist at the University of Southern Maine and in all aspects of your life. We believe, as Ibram Kendi writes, that “the only way to undo racism is to constantly identify it and describe it — and then dismantle it.”
The University will publish the list of antiracists. There very well may be retaliation against those who do not sign the pledge.
If you sign the pledge, you commit to being Kendi’s flavor of anti-racist. If your name isn’t on the list of anti-racists, guess what you are? Unpopular, at best, I suppose. As Brian Leiter notes, there’s a huge gap between swearing allegiance to anti-racism and believing that black lives matter. The foremost reason, as Josh Blackman points out, is that not being racist is, under Kendi’s definition which Cummings’ cites, still being racist.
This phrase doesn’t mean you simply oppose racism. Kendi writes in his book, How To Be an Antiracist:
The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.
Josh compares it to the rift between C.J. Roberts and Justice Sotomayor:
In Parents Involved, Roberts wrote “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” In Schuette, Justice Sotomayor wrote, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.” Kendi wrote what Sotomayor was thinking.
While I lack the ability to read Justice Sotomayor’s mind, I think Josh overshot the mark a bit. It struck me that Justice Sotomayor wants to apply disparate impact theory beyond Title VII employment discrimination into Equal Justice analysis, and elevate it from a rebuttable presumption to irrefutable proof. This isn’t what Kendi is saying.
The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.
If you’re going to swear allegiance to Black Lives Matter and follow the path of anti-racist righteousness, and your college receives federal monies, you will be in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
In the minds of critical race theory adherents, Title VI doesn’t apply because only the oppressors can discriminate against the oppressed, thus precluding any view that discriminating in favor of the oppressed, as Kendi would require as the “only remedy,” wouldn’t be discrimination.
Whether you accept the notion that “power asymmetry” should be grafted onto the definition of discrimination, such that a marginalized person is incapable of discriminating against a non-marginalized person, it’s not the law.
There are a great many problems raised by this well-intended effort by college admins to create a university dedicated to principles of diversity and inclusion, as discussed by Josh, Brian, Keith Whittington and others, this is also another example of the push for well-intended outcomes that would compel unlawful conduct.
It may be that the law will change, and perhaps not too far into the next administration, such that the definition of discrimination will incorporate shifts that are now facially unlawful. But circumventing the means by which society determines what conduct is unlawful, whether by legislation or lawfare, and using loyalty oaths and public shaming to accomplish what a Republic has refused to allow is a recipe for disaster.
Of course, the oath proffered by Glenn Cummings might well be more performative than anything else, another show of virtue signalling with nothing of substance behind it or expected of those who swear to it. Oaths aren’t necessarily what they used to be. Further, the oath does not explicitly demand that students and staff do anything in particular to execute on their oath. Much as he references Kendi, there’s a whiff of vagary to the call to “dismantle” racism.
We believe, as Ibram Kendi writes, that “the only way to undo racism is to constantly identify it and describe it — and then dismantle it.”
But then, if someone fails to do so, fails to take some action that gives rise to an accusation of not only being racist, but violating one’s oath, what will happen?
Please consider signifying your commitment to practicing antiracist behaviors by adding your name to the list below.
Are the options to violate Title VI or be a pariah at the University of Southern Maine? Will professors be fired and students expelled, not for being racist but for being inadequately anti-racist? If nothing else, will the USM community know better than to question what the “wannabe authoritarian” Ibrim Kendi tells them? Unless, of course, they’re racists.