Greg Thomas – A Future for Black Tradition
Normally I would post one of my bi-weekly conversations with John McWhorter today, but John and I had too many scheduling conflicts to find time to talk this week (he’ll return in two weeks). So in his stead, I’m talking with Greg Thomas, co-founder of the Jazz Leadership Project and senior fellow at the Institute for Cultural Evolution.
We begin by discussing Greg’s work with the Jazz Leadership Project, which uses the principles of jazz to train leaders within businesses and organizations. He’s got some big-league clients, so I was interested to know how Greg implements ideas and strategies from an originally African American art form within a corporate environment. Greg was a friend of the great critic, poet, and novelist Stanley Crouch, and I ask him about how they came to know each other. This leads us to discuss the intellectual lineage that runs from Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray through Crouch. These thinkers were deeply rooted in black art, culture, and politics, but they were also, to varying degrees, skeptical of race as a foundational concept. Is there anyone now continuing this tradition? Greg talks about his own efforts in that direction, but he also notes that the modern Enlightenment tradition, which sought a scientific foundation for knowledge and institutions, has been at least partially displaced by postmodern thought, which seeks to critique the Enlightenment. Greg argues that such a critique is fine, so long as we don’t abandon modernity’s gains. He then introduces some ideas from integral theory and from the philosopher Anthony Appiah that he believes can help reconcile the need both to preserve culturally specific traditions and to claim membership in a broader cosmopolitan community. And finally, Greg tells me about some of his daughter’s impressive accomplishments, including building the We Read Too app.
I really enjoyed having Greg on as a guest, and I hope to have him back on for an episode with both John and I soon.
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0:00 Greg’s work with the Jazz Leadership Project
12:35 How does a “black” art form operate within a corporate environment?
17:27 What’s left of the legacy of Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray, and Stanley Crouch?
25:04 Black culture after the postmodern turn
32:45 Greg’s work with the Institute for Cultural Evolution
36:40 Greg’s critique of Black Lives Matter
40:48 Rooted cosmopolitanism and the “Faustian bargain” of whiteness
50:46 Greg’s very accomplished daughter