Prof Kendi anger over US academic book

By Anna Baddeley

BBC News, Lincoln, Nebraska

Key words: “[Lincoln] is one of the most complex places in the world”

A university in Nebraska has come under fire for a staff meeting that appeared to remove a reference to writer and activist Ibram Kendi.

At the meeting it was announced that the institution was joining an international campaign against racism and that Lincoln was “one of the most complex places in the world”.

It was also said to have followed this up with a new map showing the different cultures and languages in Lincoln.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln now says the title of the meeting was not meant to disparage Ibram Kendi and that the campaign would be carried out “with every individual’s full and unfettered commitment”.

Bridging cultures

It is reported that Mr Kendi, who lives in Lincoln, made a tearful presentation at the meeting which had focused on the idea of Bridge the Gap: A Multicultural Agenda, which aims to help people bridge cultural and social divides.

In a blog post, Mr Kendi explained he felt a “great loss of trust” after the meeting and posted a lengthy email addressed to the university president, responding to his doubts over the Anti-Racism Campaign being carried out in this way.

Mr Kendi wrote: “There is no way to bridge a gap you can’t acknowledge, and there is no way to acknowledge the diversity of our culture and allow it to be dismissed with a title that appropriates sacred language without cultural sensitivity.”

Mr Kendi has made a name for himself by tackling issues of racial and religious discrimination in his controversial academic work.

In 2008, his book The Accidental Monks, a non-fiction novel, about Christian missionaries in the Darfur region of Sudan, was the first American book to win the prestigious Man Booker International Prize.

Ethnic origins

In the past, he has also made a name for himself in US academia for producing groundbreaking studies of American identity and the movement of which he is a part.

In 2014, at a conference in Philadelphia in connection with the conclusion of his new book – an account of his experience as a jewish-Muslim attending college in rural Nebraska – Mr Kendi used a tense inter-religious platform to address the “symptom of white supremacy” that exists in the cultural mind.

In a post on social media, Mr Kendi responded to his concern about the implications of the meeting by suggesting that the title, “Lincoln is one of the most complex places in the world” could have been interpreted as dismissive of Lincoln’s ethnocultural heritage.

The university has now said the online version of the conference did refer to the city’s “diverse ethnic origins” and those were in fact meant to be celebrated.

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