Ibram X. Kendi Wins 2021 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant, and Is 1 of 11 African American Recipients

Image: Jason Mendez/Getty Images

New York Times bestselling author and historian Ibram X Kendi has been awarded a MacArthur “genius grant” for his work on anti-racism, the New York Times reports.

Kendi, the author of How to Be an Antiracist, is one of 25 new fellows to receive a $625,000 grant to be awarded over five years from the MacArthur Foundation. The grants go to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” Candidates are chosen by a selection committee after being nominated by a group of experts in various fields. 

Kendi not only expressed his gratitude but his surprise when he received the call about his selection.

“My first words were ‘Are you serious?’” he recalled. 

“It’s very meaningful—I think to anyone who studies a topic where there’s a lot of acrimony and a lot of pain—to be recognized and to get love mail sometimes,” he said. “And this is one of the greatest forms of that I have ever received.”

According to the foundation, Kendi was selected for his “dynamic and unusual constellation of scholarship, social entrepreneurship, and public engagement”, with which he is “transforming how many people understand, discuss and attempt to redress America’s longstanding racial challenges.”

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“When inequality is normal, and you’re doing nothing to challenge that inequality, you’re complicit in its maintenance,” Kendi told The Guardian. “To be anti-racist is to actively challenge the structures of racism in this country. If we’re truly serious about dismantling racism, we have to figure out a way to both analyze and study the structure of racism, while also providing a pathway for individuals to dismantle that very structure that we’re seeking to eliminate. Some people would call this idealistic; I don’t think it’s idealistic. I think it’s the world that we should be focused on creating.”

Along with Kendi, the 10 other Black fellows are artist Daniel Lind-Ramos; poet and lawyer Reginald Dwayne Betts; writer Hanif Abdurraqib; writer and curator Nicole R. Fleetwood; civil rights activist Desmond Meade; biological physicist Ibrahim Cissé; historian and writer Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and film scholar, archivist, and curator Jacqueline Stewart.

At 32, painter Jordan Casteel is the youngest fellow and at 70, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founder of Urban Bush Women is the eldest.

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