I’m back with John McWhorter once again. We’ve got a rich conversation for you today, so let’s get into it.
We get straight to the hot button issue of the day: John wants to know why people are still talking about Kanye West’s antisemitic comments. Sure, they’re reprehensible, but shouldn’t we all just move on instead of keeping West in the headlines? But the issue is not just Kanye West. On the one hand, Jewish groups in the US justifiably worry that public figures promoting antisemitic ideas and tropes could embolden others to follow their lead. We’ve seen what happens when antisemitism becomes a “respectable” position in an otherwise civilized society, and it’s not good. On the other hand, clamping down hard on blatant antisemitism could have the unintended consequence of silencing innocent but complicated avenues of inquiry concerning history and identity.
Jewish history extends five thousand years into the past. Where can African Americans look to find our own deep history? The search for a black identity rooted in the deep past has led to both rigorous historical investigation and fantastical mythologizing. John wonders why so many people feel the need to root their identity in the deep past when the modern world allows ample opportunity for us to make and remake ourselves. What consequences follow when a racial conception of rootedness becomes the primary source of our identity?
We’re grappling with some complex questions here, and we don’t have all the answers. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with, commenters.
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0:00 Why are we paying so much attention to Kanye West’s antisemitism?
14:02 The two words you never say together
23:28 Could widespread antisemitism take hold in the US?
36:53 The mythological black past and the realities of the present
48:12 How necessary is rootedness to the modern human experience?
56:54 How we make race, how race makes us
Recorded on December 10, 2022