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Ibram Kendi denounces black linguist for defending standardized tests
Ibram Kendi

Professor John McWhorter allows readers to escape their racist guilt, Kendi said

Boston University humanities professor and “antiracism” entrepreneur Ibram Kendi took to Twitter August 28 to denounce a defense of standardized testing by John McWhorter, a New York Times columnist and a linguist at Columbia University.

“[McWhorter] offers readers an escape from the discomfort of antiracism for the pleasure of demeaning Black folk as they deny they are demeaning Black folk,” Kendi tweeted.

It is “crude” to call a standardized test racist because the accusation “flies past issues more nuanced and complex,” McWhorter, who is black, argued in his August 27 New York Times op-ed.

McWhorter pointed to the possibility that different cultures have had varied histories which have produced contemporary test-takers with different abilities on average.

He cited research by linguistic anthropologist Shirley Brice Heath to explain how more affluent families, disproportionately white, have tended to ask their children “disembodied, information-seeking questions” which trained them in the kind of thinking that prepares for success on standardized tests.

Alternatively, “working-class Black culture was born amid hard-working people in segregated America for whom higher education was, in many, if not most cases, a distant prospect, and language was used to operate in the here and now,” McWhorter wrote.

“To the extent that we still have a wealth gap and an education gap, and that the poverty rate is disproportionately high for Black, Latino and Indigenous people, we might expect these groups, in the aggregate, to be affected by this aspect of language and its legacies,” McWhorter stated.

McWhorter recommended that we “might absorb the reality that circumstances will leave some people better poised to take tests than others, and that will mean pass rates on such tests will differ according to race at least for a while.”

Kendi responded by accusing McWhorter of hypocrisy:

“[McWhorter] challenges antiracism. He denies there’s something wrong and inferior about Black people. He claims there’s something wrong and inferior about Black people. He denies he said there’s something wrong and inferior about Black people.”

“The same McWhorter merry-go-round of denial…McWhorter has reduced himself to a popular amusement ride,” Kendi tweeted. “He’s an embarrassment.”

In response, McWhorter denounced Kendi’s refusal to engage with his argument.

“This, from someone with the formal credentials of an academic, is buzzwords and rhetoric in the guise of reasoned engagement,” McWhorter tweeted.

MORE: Ibram Kendi likens CRT opposition to backlash against school desegregation 

IMAGE: DrIbram/Twitter

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