On this episode of the Glenn Show, I am very proud to present a debate on “The Ethics of Black Identity” involving me, Kmele Foster, Shelby Steele, and Robert Woodson and moderated by Reihan Salam. This distinguished group of writers and thinkers convened (some of us remotely) in the studios of the Manhattan Institute on October 25. We discussed how we ought to think about the role of
Undoubtedly, the best discussion of race in America I have ever heard! I find Team Shelby’s arguments compelling. Nevertheless, Team Glenn’s set an exceptionally high bar, more please!
Perhaps it's useful to think of identity based on some sort of immutable characteristic (whether that be a set of phenotypes or the fact of a shared history - anything which those who have it, have it because they were born into it) as a set of training wheels. The goal of any particular population, which for whatever reason (usually persecution by other groups) are not flourishing as a group, is to change that state of affairs. While the level of situational obstructions they face is high (such as living in a country with institutionalized slavery and a large population of others who treat them as less than human), this group has no tools other than this shared identity of victim; and so they must use that to pull together to achieve that which none can accomplish alone. However, once the practical obstructions are sufficiently reduced (and there's where the scientific method, the reliance on evidence and dispassionate reason, and the maturity to dispassionately face up to the realities of this unfair material world) these training wheels of group identity - particularly when based on physical markers that used to serve as reliable evidence of most any given individual's situation but are no longer as reliable - must be abandoned . . . all they do is impede the individual's ability to reach the higher speeds that his or her other qualities in the presence of the right opportunities make possible.
Glenn Loury, I confess I didn’t listen to the entire podcast but I think I got the gist of it and agree. The goal is color blindless but, to get there from here, we may have to exploit color consciousness.
I can’t speak directly to this because I’m not black. But I am female, which is another thing but poses some of the same questions.
I’m about to do a session for my intro phil course, end of semester fun, on ‘hot topics’—after having slogged through Descartes and Berkeley, Locke, Quine, Parfit, and David Lewis, I decided to do ‘trans’ as one of the hot topics. Reading through the literature on gender ‘identity’ I’d argue for identity nihilism, as regards both race and gender: there are biological and historical facts of physiology and ancestry, and there are the social roles, expectations, obligations, and constraints, but ‘identity’ beyond that, is a fiction. And a pernicious fiction.
So, I’m going to fly this at Thursday’s class, and I’m contemplating the possibility of working it up for a paper. Though I doubt that it would be worth my while because I don’t see any realistic possibility of it’s getting published. And I have other things to do—in my professional specialty area. Like doping out non-classical logics to get a plausible account of certain cases of indeterminacy. I’m irritated by this crap but I need to do work in my field and not get sidetracked.
Most irritating, much as I hate the stuff on ‘identity’—racial, ethnic, or gendered—and all the other ‘woke’ garbage, when I’ve joined the protest I find myself in a small minority amongst people on the right, whose views on a range of issues I cannot stomach. I have very specific priorities in virtue of which I am a committed to the left. Broadly and crudely: big government, and high taxes to fund social programs and income transfers, and affirmative action to ameliorate ongoing discrimination in employment and the allocation of other benefits. Without government intervention my prospects would have been, at best, secretarial. I’m an FDR/LBJ Democrat. In the current political scene I am orphaned.
Whoah, this was THE heaviest conversation amongst a quad-fecta of brilliant minds! I’m finding merit in all your positions. Each time one of you made a scintillating point, the other would come back with a veritable dismantling of that very argument.....I admire all of you so much for showing each other such dignity and respect knowing that you’re all valiantly aiming for the same result. Bravo, gentleman!
And to you Glenn, an extra huge thanks for consistently putting together these gut-wrenching but necessary debates. Without question, yours is one of the top podcasts available today.
Great minds converged and all have positions I agree with.
Phenomenal! This is very much what I was after when I posed related questions for the September Q&A. The moment that sticks with me is Shelby Steele's point that reinvention is essential to survival, and "we're going to have to change what it means to black." Naturally, this entails a kind of sacrifice in the form of the loss of individual connections to a cultural legacy, but when framed this way, it also evokes great potential for the future.
Kmele is also correct to point out that invoking "we" and "us" often involves a sleight of hand, as it were. As someone who isn't neatly captured by the US census, I can't imagine ever using those words in a coherent way myself, except perhaps in reference to my family or my softball team.
Thank you for pulling together a wonderful panel and amazing, thought-provoking, conversation. So much food for thought.
Fantastic podcast! Good points made by all. I agree with Glenn and Bob that there are some issues that require a direct challenge by, but not exclusively, black people to oppose some of the pathology perpetuated by the left. The only importance this holds is to help diminish the myopic view that all blacks think alike, and the corrosive effect it has in mainstream society. Some of us have grown weary of the same old victim commentary given by so-called black intellectuals in the main stream media rarely without the benefit and push back of factual and opposing thought.
Although I may not be alive to see it, I hope that blacks will shake off the shackles of race consciousness as Kemele so brilliantly discussed prior to reaching the next century. I remain hopeful.
It sounds as though we're no closer to coming to a unanimous conclusion on where to go from here. However, I can't help but ponder Glenn closing with a sentiment he echoed throughout the discussion ".... we're not there yet.". It has me doubting if "you'll" ever be there.
I listened to this episode after reading an article about the 4-star QB recruit losing his scholarship to the University of Florida because he live streamed a video of him singing along to rap music and got "caught". His crime? Using a "racial slur" repeated within the song many times over.
So, yes. I have deep doubts about when or if it will ever be time.
Please have Kemele on more often.
I loved every second of this episode. It was just as powerful as the Old Parkland conference conversation with Peter Robinson during this past summer.
Everyone made great points. Bob is right. You're in a war with people on the Left who will use race as a tool and weapon for power. So you have to fight them head on because they have perverse incentives that cause many problems in society.
But it is important for young blacks to know that they are more than what they see when they look in the mirror. That is what people taught me. Therefore, today I do not limit myself because of the way I look. I love stepping out of the box to read and watch things that have nothing to do with black people. This philosophy has helped me grow as a person on many levels. And I am also very comfortable being different. But I do understand that there are many blacks who are not comfortable stepping out of the box, because there will always be a price to pay from certain people in their circle. It is a cross they prefer not to bear.
It's sad that the war of which Bob speaks about is not only on the adult level. It begins at the adolescent level. Shelby mentions it at the mark of 1:12:17. I call it the vendetta.
I welcome my fellow subscribers to agree or disagree.
A very interesting discussion, much to think about!
This conversation should be required listening for all high school students. Thank you.
Shelby Steele, I am a new member in your fan base.
Glen's hypothetical counter argument - Irish and jews don't get asked to deface or abandon their heritage in order to take their place in the US order - is actually plainly incorrect on its face! Every other white ethnic group in fact did have to go through a very painful ful process of amalgation and acculturation to the "mainstream." Norman Podhoretz called it "the brutal bargain" - abandon your history, language, heritage and holidays (aside from what anemic shadows and foodways can be assimilated into the common vernacular) and you can be as American as someone with an unbroken line of descent back to the Mayflower! White ethnics are massively deracinated, even including Jews, who are massively distinct from their prichly, traditionalist forebears (haredim notwithstanding, as the exception that proves the rule).
The punchline is, this process is also well-described by the modern race-theorists who describe the process of how "whiteness" as an identity separate from Britishness, Frenchness, Germanness, etc. was created. They have bonkers ideological priors, but not all of their historical analysis is bad. Wouldn't the ultimate irony be assimilating "blackness" - the ultimate "enemy" of this "white" concept - to a general "Americanness" which supersedes and subsumes "whiteness" as well?
Well that was GREAT!!
Thank you all.
So many great minds and perspectives in one conversation! The only way this conversation could have been improved is if it had included one or more heterodox thinkers to the political left or left of center such as Adolph Reed, Cornel West, and/or our very own John McWhorter.