Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday would not say whether he thought capitalism was racist during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) questioned Gilday about adding Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be an Antiracist, on the recommended reading list for every sailor, and asked Gilday if he agreed with its primary assumptions, including that capitalism is racist.
Cotton said: “You’re saying as a senior leader of the Navy that you want 18-year-old sailors and 22-year-old ensigns to read a book that asserts that capitalism is essentially racist. Do you agree that capitalism is essentially racist?”
Gilday responded: “Sir, with all due respect, I’m not going to engage without understanding the context of statements like that.”
Cotton: “In what context could the claim that capitalism is essentially racist possibly be something with which you agree?”
Gilday responded: “Sir I’d have to go back to the book to take a look at that… I believe we can trust them to read books like that and draw reasonable conclusions.”
Cotton then retorted it was not a matter of trust, but a matter of time. “You, as the chief of naval operations, are suggesting in your professional reading that it’s a worthwhile endeavor for our sailors and ensigns to spend the time reading books like these as opposed to reading books on maritime strategy or basic seafaring skills.”
In a Time interview in 2019, Kendi argued that racism and capitalism are inseparable and will “die together.” He said:
What’s really happening, particularly among the left, is a debate over how we define capitalism. What I tried to show in [Antiracist] is that you can’t separate capitalism from racism, that they were birthed during the same period in the same area and have grown together, damaged together and will one day die together.
Cotton also cited other assertions made by Kendi in his book, including that the only remedy for past discrimination is present discrimination, the only remedy for present discrimination is future discrimination; that some individuals by virtue of his or her race are inherently oppressive or privileged while others are victimized or oppressed; and that individuals can bear some kind of collective responsibility or collective guilt of actions committed by his or her race.
He asked Gilday how the book ended up on his reading list.
Gilday defended his decision, saying that he wanted sailors to read about internal threats and think critically in a world of misinformation. He said:
Sir, I chose a variety of books. There are over 50 books on my reading list to give my sailors a wide range of information from which I hope they can make facts-based decisions on both their ability to look outwardly at potential aggressors like China and Russia, as well as looking inwardly and being honest with themselves in areas they need to improve. In talking to sailors over the past year, it’s clearly obvious to me and others that the murder of George Floyd and the events surrounding that and the discussions in this country about racism which go back for years and years and years are still a painful part of our culture and that talking about them, understanding them is the best approach.
And that offering books like Kendi’s for people to read — and they don’t have to agree with every assertion that Kendi makes — I don’t agree with every assertion that Kendi makes, I would think that all sailors would as well, but they need to be exposed to it, so that they’re making facts-based — we need critical thinkers in the Navy and throughout the military, and our enlisted force, again, we don’t only think outwardly but inwardly so they make objective, hopefully objective, facts-based, decisions, or draw conclusions in a world that is increasingly more difficult to get an unbiased view of a really tough problem. Even if they’re looking at things on social media, artificial intelligence associated with those platforms feeds them more of whatever they tend to look at. I’m offering them one book among 53 as a different perspective.
Cotton then chided Gilday on other “genuine cultural problems” he considered more pressing, including collisions at sea, a ship catching fire in port, and the Fat Leonard scandal that involved massive corruption among sailors in the Asia Pacific.
“Assigning books like these and encouraging your sailors to take the time to do so is not a way for the Navy to regain its focus, Admiral,” he told Gilday.
Last week, Gilday testified to the House Armed Services Committee that he read Kendi’s book. He also dodged questions on whether he agreed with Kendi’s past statements.