‘Secrecy and paranoid behavior’: New report details how Ibram Kendi’s ‘antiracism’ center imploded

(Daily Caller News Foundation) – Interviews conducted by The New York Times with former staff at Ibram X. Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University paint a picture of poor…

(Daily Caller News Foundation) – Interviews conducted by The New York Times with former staff at Ibram X. Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University paint a picture of poor financial decisions and “paranoia” that hamstrung the center’s success.

Kendi, an academic routinely criticized for his radical left-wing views on race, founded the Center for Antiracist Research in June 2020 following the death of George Floyd and, concurrent with a wave of activism sweeping the country, his center was showered with tens of millions of dollars from liberal philanthropists to fulfill its mission. Just a year later, however, fundraising dried up, staffers were voicing discontent and the center was in a state of administrative disarray, paving the way for its decline, the NYT reported.

Before founding the center, Kendi rose to prominence for popularizing the idea that all actions are either racist or “anti-racist,” positing that indifference to purportedly racist policies is itself a form of racism. Kendi says he founded the Center for Antiracist Research to address the “seemingly intractable problems of racial inequity and injustice” in the United States, according to the NYT.

Kendi marketed a bold vision, seeking to create a comprehensive repository of data tracking the impact of purportedly racist policies across the country, the NYT reported. Donors flocked to Kendi and his ideas, dumping $40 million into his center in 2020.

Counted among donors to Kendi’s project were big players like George Soros’ Foundation to Promote Open Society, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Faith in Kendi’s project dried up fast however, with donations dropping to just $420,000 in 2021 as the willingness of donors to pay for racial justice initiatives dropped sharply after 2020, according to the NYT.

By 2021, Kendi was feeling like a failure, a sentiment he shared with Yanique Redwood as he was interviewing her to become the center’s executive director, the NYT reported.

Kendi ultimately gave Redwood the job, according to the NYT. Prior to starting her new role, Redwood conducted a series of interviews with the center’s staff, after the end of which she reported being worn out by all the frustration she encountered.

Staff, for instance, complained about being required to take on jobs they were neither hired to do nor qualified to complete.

“Everyone was overwhelmed,” Redwood told the NYT. “There were too many promises being made to funders. Products were being promised that could never be delivered.”

Staffers also told Redwood they were unsure of what the center’s specific mission even was. Once she actually started her job, Redwood uncovered total disorganization when examining the center’s finances.

“Nothing was in place,” she told the NYT. “It was unbelievable that an institution like that, with so much spotlight on it, just did not have systems. I understood why I was being brought in.”

In an attempt to rectify the confusion and frustration brewing at his center, Redwood advised Kendi to hold a retreat so his staff could air their grievances, the NYT reported.

During the retreat, Saida Grundy, a sociologist, accused Kendi’s vision of social change of being “a mile wide and an inch deep” and argued that the center needed a more specific goal than just “fighting racism,” according to the NYT. Several staff members agreed.

Early in the center’s history, stakeholders had attempted to dissuade Kendi from creating an all-encompassing repository of anti-racist data, urging him instead to constrain his focus to avoid sloppy data, overburdened staff and unoriginal work, the NYT reported. Kendi ignored their advice.

Research output at Kendi’s antiracism center was low, having produced just two pieces of original academic research between its founding and November 2023.

In addition to his inability to put forward a coherent vision for the center, staff also complained about what they viewed as paranoia on part of Kendi.

When the center began the 2021 academic year on Boston University’s campus, for instance, Kendi sent staff an email detailing “security protocols,” one of which instructed employees to not disclose the location of the center, according to the NYT. The email even included a script staffers were to use when asked about the center’s address.

“The paranoia is INSANE,” Grundy wrote to colleagues after forwarding them Kendi’s security email.

Redwood told the NYT that Kendi had been engaging in “secrecy and paranoid behavior.”

Kendi viewed himself as the primary target of right-wing activists and white supremacists, making him feel the security protocols were necessary.

Kendi was also apprehensive about information about the center leaking to the press, leading to some friction with staff, according to the NYT. One staffer, for instance, claims that he put off giving her information about the center’s finances for six months. Other staffers also reported that Kendi tended to withhold information to avoid conflicts.

Many of these conflicts came to a head when Kendi agreed on behalf of the center to partner with the diversity, equity and inclusion arms of the consulting firm Deloitte, according to the NYT. Staff were upset due to not being consulted over the decision and because Deloitte contracts for police departments and prisons.

“Why wasn’t this shared with the broader staff sooner, as a potential high-risk partnership that could impact the relationships we are forging with movement leaders?” one staffer said. “Why are we contemplating this partnership that arguably goes against our values?”

Kendi pushed back against these concerns by characterizing payments from corporations as a “form of reparations” and claiming that they would have total control over the products delivered to the consulting firm, according to the NYT. He called his detractors at the center “performative radicals.”

Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research has since pivoted away from its initially lofty goals to serve primarily as a conduit for academic fellowships, firing 19 of its 36 employees in September 2023, according to the NYT.

“In hindsight, and with the fuller knowledge of the organizational problems that arose, the university should have done more to insist on additional oversight,” a Boston University spokesperson told the NYT.

Boston University investigated the Center for Antiracist Research for mismanagement in 2023 though ultimately found no issues regarding its finances. The center faces an ongoing cultural inquiry, the NYT reported.

Boston University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.