I want to start with an admission that I was wrong. Ibram X. Kendi does indeed provide documentation for his claims in his book on Antiracism. I was expecting a notation in the text after he quotes someone, with the proper documentation proving the point at the bottom of the page. That does not exist throughout the text of the book. However, I accidentally discovered endnotes in the appendix when I opened the book the other day–and there were copious endnotes for each chapter!
I am surprised that Mr. Kendi has been a history professor at numerous universities when I read his careless and pejorative documentation. For example, on page 8 he declares that “Long before he became president, Donald Trump liked to say, ‘Laziness is a trait in Blacks.'”
Kendi provides no documentation to prove this “quote”; until you arrive in the back of the book. There the very first endnote tells us that this supposed quote comes from John O’Donnell’s book “Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump–His Cunning and Spectacular Fall” (1991). Kendi does not cite the page number.
Nevertheless, Mr. Kendi also quotes a Playboy article from May 1991 in which Trump says, “the stuff O’Donnell wrote about me is probably true.” For Kendi, apparently, this is a blanket admission of guilt from a man who is not known for being a reader. Therefore, according to Kendi, even though there are no recordings of Trump saying such an obvious racist statement, it must be true and Trump is a racist. O’Donnell says it, Kendi believes it, so it is true.
My point is not to defend or attack Trump or to prove/disprove that he is a racist. My point is to question sloppy historical analysis. Over the past 40 years of studying historical disciplines, I have learned to be very suspicious of second hand “quotes” from sources who may have an axe to grind. I have also learned to be suspicious of “quotes” that fit a political template “too well.”
Do we have actual proof (like a video/audio recording or some signed note) outside of O’Donnell’s contention in his book? We do not. Even Snopes has stated that there is no proof that Trump said this outrageous statement. In fact, when asked if he ever said that racist comment, Trump has flat out denied it.
Did Mr. Kendi include that bit of information in his documentation? No. Is it because it does not fit his narrative? We don’t know.
As historians, are we to promote as fact, second hand accounts that cannot be corroborated? I did not think using hearsay was part of the historical method.
One more example will suffice for now. Mr. Kendi on the same page alleges that Trump was “praising white supremacists as ‘very fine people’ in the summer of 2017.” No sir, Trump did not say that about white supremacists in 2017. An article in USA Today from October 17 2017, and even Snopes, both affirm that Trump said that the Charlottesville crowd that had people who wanted to remove Lee’s statue or keep it for historical reasons, contained some “very fine people.” There were good people who said it was time to take it down, and there were good people who were not white supremacists who said it should stay for historical purposes. Trump consistently at that time condemned white supremacy. Does Mr. Kendi mention that? He does not.
So far, my take on Kendi’s book is that if historical analysis and documentation from the beginning is so twisted and prejudiced toward one view without showing any easily-found documentation to the contrary, how can we trust anything else he declares to be factual?