Thanks for fine steelmanning arguments in favor of racial identities - keeping them, but wearing them more lightly. We all have multiple identities. I in Slovakia, like John, am very much an American. I came in 1991 as a Free Marketeer (Libertarian from Silicon Valley) to help with the market transition from communism, especially coupon privatization. I don't know if John speaks mostly German or English in Germany, but when I visit, there's no problem finding Germans with excellent English - my main language identity; I can also converse with grammar errors in Slovak (hovorim po Slovensky). Spanish / English is one of the key identity questions for many Hispanics, especially first generation born from Spanish speaking immigrants. (Unless one is gifted in languages, it's really hard to learn a new one as an adult.)

Most of "White privilege" in America is, actually, "American privilege" - and there seem to be very very few Blacks who think any African Black majority country is actually a better place to live, today, than America.

Your prior talk on the Bass Motherf**ker problem points out the male identity, rather than female.

The elite today have the "college educated" identity, as well as far too much college indoctrination.

All humans have multiple identities - each person is an individual. Racism is a subset of Tribalism - like the Hutu tribe murdering over a million Tutsis in Rwanda. Not racism, tribalism. Individualism is the proper goal to avoid tribalism.

In Slovakia I was often asked what I missed most about America: Mexican food. The good future of race in America will be like ethnic food - everybody can try what they like, and choose. My wife doesn't like spicy food, but also loves guacamole (now that we can import avocados. Some from Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Peru, and Israel - price tags say the country of origin).

One racial inheritance factor not mentioned is slavery in Africa. Most Blacks who became slaves were caught by other Blacks and then sold as slaves. It's quite likely that Obama, with no American slave ancestors, probably had African slave-owning ancestors. Similarly, most Blacks who became slaves had relatives and ancestors who were slave owners. The point of mentioning this is that so many humans, probably most, but certainly including most American Blacks, have slave owning ancestors. Slavery is a real, and often significant, part of human history. And all races are guilty.

Finally, thanks for using the n-word (which-must-not-be-said by whites). The fact that Blacks can say it be Whites can not is, itself, a part of a racist culture. I was hoping, since Blazing Saddles, that making fun of racists would get rid of most of it, which it has, but also reduce the ability of demagogues to invoke it, which it hasn't. By using it, you both reduce its power, and bring us closer a time of lighter racial, ethnic, sexual, linguistic, educational, and national identities.

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An extra wrinkle when considering former president Barack Obama's identity is that he may be descended from American slaves via his white mother. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barack_Obama#Early_life_and_career

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Loury and McWhorter seem to believe that a government-imposed "black" racial category is necessary to maintain their racial/ethnic or whatever identity. Gee, how do so many other ethnic groups such as Irish, Jews, Poles, Norwegians, Greeks, etc. still maintain ethnic institutions and affiliations WITHOUT GOVERNMENT HELP? Blacks have far greater numbers than the groups I've named AND also base their identity on physical racial differences that make them stand out from the majority of the American population. Yet, Loury and McWhorter seem to think that American blacks will quickly disappear without government-imposed racial classifications. I've heard this before. During the 1990's there was a political movement to force the Census Bureau to add a "multiracial" category and abandon the official position that "races" are mutually exclusive and people cannot have ancestors in more than one racial category. Black academics and Democratic politicians howled with rage, with the NAACP leading the charge for maintaining the myth of the "one drop rule." If your group identity depends on FORCE and STATE POWER, then there is something very wrong with it. Unfortunately, too many blacks seem to like this idea. Google the term "pass for white" and you will be deluged with black-authored denunciations of part-black whites and others who refuse to let themselves be bullied into pretending to be "black." I'm for freedom, not government-imposed racial or ethnic categories.

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Are you responding to a different discussion? I don't see anything in the above discussion about government defining what it means to be Black. AFAICT, John and Glenn are discussing the importance of existing communities and institutions that consider themselves to be Black.

They also express skepticism that most people can be persuaded that "Black" is not a meaningful category. The concept is a pretty deep-seated aspect of American society that has persisted with or without government support.

My idealistic side is attracted to Kmele's rejection of race, but my pessimistic side acknowledges the issues John and Glenn bring up.

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"The concept is a pretty deep-seated aspect of American society that has persisted with or without government support." "Black" identity has NEVER been without government support at both the state and federal levels. Government power has been used to impose racial categories on people since the earliest days of the republic.

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I suppose it may depend what you mean by "support." How would you say governments in the United States supported Black identity at the founding of the United States? There certainly wasn't anything about it at the Federal level.

There would later be state and local laws explicitly discriminating against "negros," especially after slavery was outlawed. During the period when such laws were in force, governments did necessarily define what it meant to be what we now refer to as "Black," though that word wasn't in common use yet.

Later, there were court decisions and laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on race. Are those prohibitions examples of government supporting Black identity? My understanding is that courts can decide that someone was discriminated against because of the attitude of the person doing the discrimination. Government doesn't have to define what it means to be Black, but simply to show that someone discriminated against someone else because of her idea of what it means to be Black.

While all of the above is interesting, I still don't think it has much to do with what John and Glenn discussed. What specifically did either of them say indicating that they think government should define what it means to be Black?

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"Support" is NOT a positive word here when applied to "black" identity. Most people called "black" are legitimately "black" in racial terms and a significant minority has been forced to bear the word and its synonyms against their will. It's like the Third Reich's definition of "Jews." Most of the people called "Jews" were indeed Jewish but many others had the identity forced on them.

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I'm having difficulty following your argument. You stated that "Black" identity has NEVER been without government support at both the state and federal levels. What support are you referring to? Additionally, you don't seem to have explained how either John or Glenn has argued for government-imposed racial definitions. AFAICT, they discussed voluntary identification with Black identity.

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Are you saying that you have NEVER heard of state or federal laws governing who is a "Negro"? Are you saying that you have never heard of people being forced into the "Negro race"?





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This is a fascinating discussion, thank you for sharing. Comparing the Black identity to, say, and Irish one is informative, in the ways they are different. An Irish identity would be more like a Jamaican or African or even ADOS identity. It’s tied to a specific ancestry and the history and traditions thereof. Couldn’t one argue that a Black identity be more on par with a “white” one, which is to say it’s a forcibly broad brush? It gets to what you were saying about the identity being contingent on how you are seen by others, specifically white people. This problem is most salient with the “Asian” racial identity, which encompasses an absurd number of actually distinct cultural groups. It only makes sense to group them together if you say “well to white people, we’re all the same, so we have to stick together.” Which reinforces the perception among white people that all Asians are alike. It does seem like a circular trap. Turning down the dial on race and turning up the dial on ethnicity does seem like it could help break things up a bit. But I’m an Irish-y mutt so what do I know?

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Yeah, "Black" suffers from the ambiguity of referring both to an ethnicity and to a set of physical characteristics. A good example of this ambiguity is former president Barak Obama being seen as Black. During his childhood, neither Barak's nor his parents' experiences had much to do with Black American culture.

AFAICT, Barak didn't have any connection to Black American culture until he moved to the contiguous US as a young man and decided to identify as Black. Because of his appearance, he was able to adopt that identity. OTOH, people with white skin attempting to identify as "Black" are never accepted. Ironically, Obama may have an ancestral connection to slavery through his white mother rather than his Black father.

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(I should have been way more specific than “African”- Nigerian, Keyan, Ethiopian... I’m not aware of any pan-African immigrant culture to speak of in the US but maybe in some communities?)

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As always, you and John are insightful and articulate. I enjoy listening to both of you.

Admittedly, I'm an outsider to the issue of Black identity, being an old white guy. But, having grown up in the Jewish community, I think I have a sense of what you're talking about.

And my sense is this - Black culture is tied to the black race, just as Jewish culture is tied to the Jewish religion. For Blacks and Jews, those ties were forced on their communities by the rejection of the majority communities. But it resulted in strong cultures that sustained their communities.

But those ties become less strong as discrimination disappears. Cultural differences fade. Young people spend time with young people from other racial and religious communities. And intermarriage results in families having to work out how they will share their different cultural backgrounds.

Ahad Ha'am, an important Jewish philosopher in Russia at the beginning of the 20th Century commented that he would prefer to live in a strong Jewish community in oppressive, Czarist Russia than the assimilationist Jewish community in the free US. Frankly, I'm very glad my grandparents didn't agree with him! But his point is correct - when people are free to associate with people other cultures, assimilation weakens the original culture.

Real social change occurs with the change in generational attitudes. My guess is that the Black community will go through the same changes that the Jewish community experienced over the past 30 years where synagogues have to decide how they are going to deal with families of mixed religion. I commented to a discussion group that 'racism' will disappear when Blacks see themselves more as an ethnic minority and begin intermarrying at the same rate as other ethnic minorities, including Jews. One of the women responded - "But we didn't want our children to intermarry. Both of our children married non-Jews." So it goes.

Young people in their 30s today are far more open to living interracially. What we will gain is a far more tolerant society less driven by racial discrimination. What we lose is a weakening of a culture that sustained the Black community in good times and bad. This is the same dilemma facing every ethnic minority.

I'm not in a position to judge for you whether the gain is worth the cost. But I'm pretty sure it's going to happen.

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You raised a point I often wonder about, which is how much of the current set is of attitudes on race be attributed with the assimilation of black Americans into the mainstream? It’s as if no one ever bothers to ask what the ultimate rout of racism in America might look like, I.e. messy and fraught.

Also, building on the inter-marriage thing, it’s convenient to disregard that people mixed together, for whatever reasons, will find ways to love each other in spite of all the reasons not to. Black people and white people in America are deeply fascinated with each other. Octavia Butler nailed this in in Kindred: we’re actually in love with each other and deeply connected. Frankly, this woke stuff might be the fad that gets the next generation of mixed race kids born, like anti-war was for the hippies, wherein all the demonstrators and student unions start hooking up and have grumpy, interracial gen-x^2 babies.

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It seems to be a vicious feedback loop. Perceived oppression (real or not) motivates a group to stay insular and culturally segregated. But the stark division between cultures feeds distance, distrust and discrimination. Everyone feels uneasy when exposed to an unfamiliar culture. It does seem like a relaxation of the identity, norms, and segregation (aka assimilation, which has a ton of negative connotations, for understandable reasons) will have to be a piece of the puzzle to bring down the ambient temperature of racism in our society. (Ideally that assimilation is mutual, with the lines between subcultures getting blurrier and friendlier, not one group wholly consuming the other, which is what assimilation usually implies.)

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Thanks for your note! Being totally assimilated myself, I see great value in the blurring of lines among sub-cultures and the ability of individuals to create their lives outside the strict bounds of traditional communities. But I recognize that this freedom comes at a cost - the loss of previously well-defined communities and their cultures.

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I've heard of K. Foster before and today I like him even more. I'll have to follow up. The elephant in this room is the extent to which there exists, without even trying, a set of nominally black Americans whose black experience is so easily and casually outside of the mainstream understanding of blackness that it is a great relief to give up the existential burden of claiming whatever racial inheritance is granted by default. Imagine you were born in Denver, CO and grew up loving Western movies, and then you grew up with no identifiable 'black' accent and portrayed an Army officer on The Cosby Show. This is in fact the story of my friend Joseph A Phillips, a Christian Republican. He has constantly struggled with exemplifying the standup kind of person who wants to be judged by his scrupulously maintained character, but he must always face the 'black' benchmarks of Hollywood. How likely is it going to be that he could assert his black tradition as exemplified in the John A Williams book 'Captain Blackman' and be deemed authentic.

We all inherit a racial identity. It *must* be ours to choose how much to accept it, just as we inherit our American citizenship whether or not we 'represent' America as did those who suffered the irrational wrath of 9/11 attacks against 'the Great Satan'.

It seems to me patently obvious that the reality of black diversity always suffers the troublesome inheritance, and this is especially true of those who actually know their own family trees and thus are under no obligation to substitute anyone's definitions of blackness because they suffer no 'native alienation'. Whereas those who lack 'knowledge of self' always fall prey to hucksters. If the life of Malcolm X is not instructive of this then we have missed the entire plot.

McWhorter's elegaic praise of the first time he heard Porgy & Bess, I think very well illustrates how much of black culture suffers a postmodern memory hole. That's not considered black music any longer. If the black race cannot transcend its racial identity even as real black culture is buried and shallow ripoffs abound, what indeed are you anchored to, and how real is your struggle against the constraints of race itself? Why do atheists get this and you do not?

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