Ibram X. Kendi‘s book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America recently won the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Last week he delivered the doctoral commencement address at the University of Florida where he teaches in the history department. His address, titled “Are You Intellectual,” is worth reading in full. He has posted it to the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society.
Here is a taste:
The point of my address is to ask you a simple question: are you an intellectual?
I am asking this question because you need to know that having a doctorate does not make you an intellectual. It is so embarrassing, but there are doctorates who are not intellectuals. Just like there are MDs who are not healers. Just like there are JDs who are not about justice. Just like there are Reverends who are not about God. Isn’t that a tragedy walking: a Reverend who is not about God? Isn’t that a tragedy walking: a JD who is not about justice. Isn’t that a tragedy walking: a MD who is not a healer? Isn’t that a tragedy walking: a doctorate holder who is not an intellectual?
Today you are joining the illustrious academy of doctoral recipients. But I want to talk to you today about joining the even more illustrious academy of intellectuals. No doctorate degree is required to join the intellectual academy. 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.
When I say intellectual, I am not referring to someone who knows a wealth of information. How much you know has no bearing on how much you are in intellectual.
I define—and many others define an intellectual as someone with a tremendous desire to know. Intellectuals are open-minded. Intellectuals have a tremendous capacity to change their mind on matters, to self-reflect, to self-critique. Intellectuals are governed by only one special interest that is rarely self-serving—the special interest of finding and revealing the truth.
Read the entire address here.