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Black History, Uncensored: Ibram X. Kendi knows what true patriotism looks like

Before publishing his hit book "Antiracist Baby," author Ibram X. Kendi stated his belief that America has historically gotten patriotism all wrong.


Ibram X. Kendi is among the names that white conservatives have homed in on in their yearslong crusade against Black educators and authors who address systemic inequality. 

His book “Antiracist Baby” has reached the upper echelon of racist, angst-ridden politics, with its frequent citations by right-wing lawmakers perturbed that Kendi has the audacity to advise parents on how to avoid raising bigots. 

But Kendi doesn’t merely address the racist indoctrination of America’s children. His work strips down the mythology built around the United States’ Founding Fathers to reveal injurious self-interested men, and he nails down why it is that adults are so motivated to invest in this mythology.

That’s why, for today’s installment of “Black History, Uncensored,” our series celebrating Black authors targeted by right-wing bans, I wanted to highlight another work of Kendi’s that speaks to the ethos underlying his writing. In his 2019 piece “What to an American Is the Fourth of July?” we’re treated to all the things conservatives fear in the author.

Kendi begins the piece framing the Founding Fathers’ ambitions of creating a republic as inherently exclusionary. He notes that John Adams’ use of “our Struggle” in a 1776 letter to his wife, Abigail, suggested that the white guys who fought against British imperialism weren’t concerned with many freedoms aside from their own as white men. In doing this, Kendi immediately contradicts efforts to portray these men as framers of true democracy. 

He wrote: “As we know all too well today, wealthy white American men did not stop rebelling when they won the American Revolution, when they gained the power to protect their declared independence. They continued to rebel to keep their power. They, ‘the Patriots.’ The rest of us have continued our rebellions because we have yet to gain the power to be free. The resisting rest of us, ‘the unpatriotic.’”

And whereas many people — particularly, those who want to ban his work — conflate patriotism with silence about historical and ongoing mistreatment by U.S. institutions, Kendi encourages a different tact.

In his 2019 piece for The Atlantic, posted on the Fourth of July, he wrote: 

On this Fourth of July, the rest of us — and our wealthy white male allies — should be celebrating our ongoing struggles for freedom and not celebrating as if we are free. We should be celebrating our disobedience, turbulence, insolence, and discontent about inequities and injustices in all forms. We should be celebrating our form of patriotism that they call unpatriotic, our historic struggle to extend power and freedom to every single American. This is our American project.

Remember that this piece predates the 2020 publication of “Antiracist Baby,” which is to say, by the time Kendi’s work became familiar to many conservatives, he had already established a body of work that strikes at the heart of right-wing pseudo-patriotism. 

And his reference to freedom as “our American project” indicates that Kendi and others have their heels dug in for an enduring fight. Given that, there’s no mystery why many Republicans want his work hidden from American students.

Read previous “Black History, Uncensored” posts about Mikki KendallRalph EllisonZora Neale HurstonMaya AngelouRichard WrightJames Baldwin and more.