Are you an intellectual?

If you answered “no,” I ask you to reconsider.

At his commencement address to newly-graduated doctoral students at the University of Florida, National Book Award Winner and History Professor Ibram X Kendi asks us to look at intelligence differently.

If you have a desire to know, if you’re open-minded, if you have a tremendous capacity to change your mind, if you are self-reflective and self-critical, and above all, if you’re always willing to face reality, then you’re an intellectual, according to Kendi.

At his December 16, 2016 address to the University of Florida’s newly-minted Ph.Ds., Kendi challenges traditional notions of who is considered smart and who is not: “This is an inclusive academy with all types of people with all types of backgrounds. There are people with only a GED in this intellectual academy. There are incarcerated people in this intellectual academy. There are homeless people in this intellectual academy. There are poor people in this intellectual academy,” says Kendi.

Here’s the really startling piece: you can have a Ph.D., know a lot, and actually be an anti-intellectual.

How do you recognize if you’re an anti-intellectual?  “Anti-intellectuals plant themselves so deeply in a position that no hurricane of truth could uproot them,” says Kendi. “They develop convincing lies that ensure pseudoscience is well funded, corrupt politicians are elected, harmful products are sold,  facts are discredited, and bigots are exonerated for their crimes against humanity.”

Kendi’s award-winning Stamped from the Beginning explains how and why the history of racist ideas in America is really the history of anti-intellectualism. “I show in Stamped from the Beginning that ignorance and hate did not lead to racist ideas as we have been commonly told, but the production and circulation of racist ideas led to ignorance and hate,” says Kendi. “We hate because we are ignorant about other groups. Our nation is a racially divided because we attack groups of people instead of the policies that harms us all.”

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