Coleman Hughes' New Blasphemies
My Conversation with Coleman on Philosophy, Reparations, Police, and Acting White
Interview / essay
COLEMAN HUGHES’ NEW BLASPHEMIES
My Conversation with Coleman on Philosophy, Reparations, Police, and Acting White
Heather Shayne Blakeslee
It’s a blessing that we’re not living in the days of Leviticus, when a sentence of blasphemy would have come with enough stones to the head to permanently relieve us of our ability to further transgress.
The culture war has been at a fever pitch the past several years, but some cool-headed critics, 27-year-old Coleman Hughes among them, have survived attempts to cast them as heretics and to silence their ideas.
For the progressive left, Hughes’ blasphemies are many. He has testified in front of Congress against reparations for his generation of black Americans, and can patiently explain why he’s not afraid of being shot by cops. He has roundly criticized the work of other black intellectuals such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the seminal essay “The Case for Reparations” and the bestselling book Between the World and Me (which I have gifted to at least one girlfriend and to my parents). Hughes has also thrown down the gauntlet to How to Be an Antiracist author Ibram X. Kendi in an open letter challenging him to a public debate, but the glove has been laying on the ground unanswered.Hughes’ satisfaction will have to come in the form of an audience that continues to grow and through amassing other accolades, such as being named a 30-under-30 of Americans to watch by Forbes magazine.
The podcaster, writer, rapper, and Juilliard-trained jazz trombonist—who is also the direct descendent of slaves on Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and is also of Puerto Rican descent—says the punishment for his blasphemies has been “severe,” but survivable. “It mostly came in the form of online abuse, and a few threats. A few very unpleasant and tense interactions with people, acquaintances—even friends,” Hughes calmly explains. It helps that he can laugh at his more anonymous haters. He’s taken to reading and reacting to the mean tweets that people send him as part of his ongoing Conversations with Coleman podcast.
He’s obviously having some degree of fun with this freedom, and he’s fired back at his critics with the track “Blasphemy” and a striking video for the song, set in a Congress-like venue where he’s seated to testify. Hughes raps, “I’m unapologetically from the ‘burbs, but like Apostle Paul, I bring the word.”
The larger questions that Hughes’ provocations pose are these: What are we allowed to think about and to talk about in public as we collectively work through important, complicated issues? What philosophical frameworks are we allowed to use to understand the world, and when must we jettison frameworks that don’t serve us? And who gets to decide?
The fear of losing social capital or employment opportunities is affecting the way that Americans think, the way students learn, and what we all feel we can say out loud, even when it’s a deeply held value or idea. Hughes, who says he is “a person who can’t easily be canceled”—he doesn’t have a boss but rather a fanbase who supports him—has no such worries. And so he continues to talk with podcasters such as Joe Rogan, also the target of culturally meted punishment that has not yet managed to silence him.
But in talking with other arts administrators, artists, and advocates (as well as people from more STEM-related careers), I’ve observed that many people in 9-5 jobs do have such worries. It’s clear to me that self-censorship, especially on issues of race and gender, is rampant. In one discussion group over a year ago, I listened to a participant from Australia tell us Americans that we sounded like Soviet dissidents, whispering and worrying about who might know what books we were reading, and which ones we disagreed with. It seemed that bringing up Russia’s history of authoritarianism was fitting.
Hughes’ “Blasphemy” video was shot in Ukraine. About 5 million people have now fled the country. Its military is mounting a revolt against unprovoked aggression from Russia—ordinary citizens have taken up arms and are digging trenches and establishing checkpoints. Americans, especially young ones, are seeing in real time how regimes such as Russia control information, speech, and, eventually, thought. It may be the right moment to really consider how dearly we hold the ability to freely discuss ideas, ask questions, and make mistakes. Right now, even in the U.S., many of the conversations about topics Hughes addresses only happen after voices are lowered at the pub or when the office door is quietly shut.
Consider that Russian artists and journalists face the prospect of fifteen years in prison for merely describing what they see happening. You may not carry so much as a tote bag that says “Stop the War’’ without getting arrested. The worry, for some stateside, is that there is a smaller distance than we might imagine between the place we stand—an America in which people do not feel free to speak the truth—and one in which the government or education systems compel or silence speech and thought.
On Twitter, after the invasion of Ukraine, Hughes wrote, “Make no mistake: if totalitarianism comes to the West, it won’t be the fascism or communism of the 20th century, it will be the ‘anti-racism’ of folks like Kendi.”
Blasphemer or Philosopher King?
Hughes says he’s had a mostly positive response to his “Blasphemy” video, the lyrics for which he wrote in a fit of creative resistance after processing the blowback from his argument against reparations. “Make it official, charge me with thinkin’ and put me in prison / Serving a sentence for sentences written / Shoulda known better than havin’ opinions,” he invects near the beginning of the video to a panel of corrupt, disinterested bureaucrats and an audience that’s ready for bloodsport.
I ask for his thoughts about how people are receiving this particular message about race, in the form of rap lyrics, which he’s previously articulated in essay format in various publications and orally on his podcast and in public appearances.
“That’s a great question,” Hughes answers. “There are many cognitive roadblocks that we all have when we’re hearing an argument, especially an argument that engages our identity. If you’re a Democrat or Republican; if you identify as white, black, Hispanic; if any of these identities are important to you, the moment we start talking about an issue related to it, we have all of these roadblocks that come up—confirmation bias, the tendency to seek out evidence that agrees with your position, and to just ignore evidence that disagrees with it. I mean, there’s a laundry list of these kinds of biases that it’s been shown we all have to some degree.” There is some evidence that says that when these kinds of core identities are threatened, some of us (but not all) perceive an existential threat.
Artistic representations may get past those defenses. “I think it speaks to people in different ways,” he says. “There could be people that don’t really agree with my underlying politics or philosophy that still like the video because they can think of an example where they felt like a blasphemer in some other context. Or they just liked the song, or they just liked the video.” It’s racked up over 190,000 views on YouTube.
As compared with some of his thinkpieces, lectures, or podcasts, which tend to light up the extreme flank of the social-justice left on Twitter for countering their narratives about race, white supremacy, and other more recent progressive orthodoxies, Hughes says, “I think the video has been way more uniformly well-received.”
Hughes, typically low-key and emotionally restrained—his stage name as a hip hop artist is Coldxman—cracks a bit of a smile thinking about the positive reaction to the video, which he dropped on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2022. “It makes me consider why I don’t just release music,” he says. (Since the “Blasphemy” video release, that’s exactly what he continues to do. His video “Forward,” featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, is the latest.)
In the lyrics and narrative of the “Blasphemy” video, Hughes, who graduated with a degree in philosophy from Columbia University, constructs a rap battle with himself. An alter ego delivers the other side of his arguments to demonstrate that Hughes knows them, and yet isn’t convinced. His alter ego stands up to accuse him: “You just saying shit for white people, n***a, you ain’t hangin’ with the right people,” and goes on to further accuse him of having his hands out for “Koch dollars,” instead of up for the “pigs.”
“I’ve always thought it was really powerful to show someone that you understand their perspective almost better than they do,” says Hughes.
He adds that the conceit of anticipation of criticism might have been an unconscious reference to a scene in the Eminem movie 8-Mile. “He basically says everything that his opponent in a rap battle is going to say against him and says it first, preemptively, so that there’s nothing left for his opponent to say. I think it’s a powerful technique rhetorically; it’s also an important technique intellectually, because you want to understand what it is that people are going to think about you, what it is that people are going to critique you for.”
That’s not just a strategy for winning, says Hughes, but of intellectual humility and growth.
“First and foremost, because they might be right,” he says. “In the end, you have to figure out if they’re right—or, if they’re right, then you should change what you think. Right? But if they’re not right, it’s still very useful to know how they think—what they think—so that you can better persuade them of your perspective.”
For a bit, we geek out and talk about philosophy, in which I also have a degree, and how useful it is in understanding the world in ways that not everyone wants to explore.
Hughes believes philosophy sits at the foundation in the hierarchy of disciplines. “Everything we think of as economics, biology, physics, chemistry, sociology—all of the questions that those fields answer—used to belong to philosophy,” he says. “You picture the field of all possible questions about anything, and little pieces get broken off. ... Basically what’s left—philosophy—sort of gets smaller and smaller, and more and more sticks to questions which are not easily answerable empirically.”
“Ethics, among them,” I interject.
“Ethics among them,” he says. “Philosophy deals with the fundamentals of every other area of inquiry, like, the most basic first principles starting from, ‘How do I know any of this is real? How do I know that I exist?’ And building up to other questions.”
Philosophy is not for the faint of heart, but these existential questions are more relevant than ever in our ever more connected, tech-tangled, and precarious world.
“I mean, fundamentally, what I think philosophy is about...it’s our fundamental intuitions about what’s true, and what follows from them logically,” he says. “So it’s really useful to have that training for any other profession, because there’s no area of academic inquiry that isn’t at a basic level concerned with what propositions follow from what other propositions—and why. So to have that training is to have the fundamentals of thought. And I think that’s probably why I was so attracted to it.”
Right. On to the blasphemies.
Blasphemy I: Reparations
Hughes’ “Blasphemy” video was conceived by auteur director Ian Pons Jewell and was shot in a freezing cold circus space in Ukraine in December 2020, just over a year before the February 24 invasion by Russian forces in 2022. The scene evokes the Congressional setting and testimony against reparations that launched Hughes into the national spotlight in 2019. In short: He doesn’t believe that young descendants of slaves, including himself, should receive financial payments from the government. “For my lowest fee, Uncle Sam couldn’t pay for me,” he raps.
At the time, Hughes sought advice about whether to even engage publicly on the issue of reparations: “I remember, I was asking my friend Kmele Fosterwhether I should testify. And he said, ‘You know, those things tend to be circuses. So I wouldn’t recommend it.’ And then we ended up filming a video based on it in an actual circus, by chance. So I think there’s some kind of divine poetic resonance going on there.”
Jewell says that while wrapping up another shoot at the “Blasphemy” video location in Ukraine, unknown caged animals in the space were growling in the dark—“not elephants” he assures. It created an ominous atmosphere that fit with the tone of the video, in which he was trying to “take away the veneer of officialdom,” and to expose “the ugly reality and darkness that exists in political systems.” At one point, a digitally produced, hairless rat, tattooed with the names of U.S. intelligence agencies, is crushed under a woman’s stiletto heel. Jewell is vocal about the notion that we’re not getting good information on anything, and that disinformation abounds.
We discuss the lack of straightforward media coverage about, for instance, the Canadian truck convoy protest that, at the time of our interview, had shut down some of the busiest routes between the U.S. and Canada, as well as downtown Ottawa. Class issues may have prevented many commentators and journalists, including avowed Marxists and socialists, from conceiving of the convoy as a worker strike, even while ordering their Whole Foods deliveries on Amazon. “The normalization of classism is really sad,” Jewell says.
He also weighed in on the “Blasphemy” video being a bridge between audiences who know Hughes as a rapper and musician, and others who know him as a commentator.
“Artists have an opportunity to reflect issues which might be completely unreflected in the mainstream media,” Jewell says. He’s particularly agitated about the coverage of Covid news, and the seeming arbitrariness of lockdown protocols around the world.
Jewell is a highly sought-after director, used to dealing with the big personalities that come with marquee names and international brands. When I ask him what Hughes was like on the shoot in Ukraine, he deadpans that Hughes was “a complete diva,” before laughing and explaining that he was just as down-to-earth as you would expect.
Apparently, Jewell and his crew made sure that Hughes didn’t get lost in Kyiv, for which Hughes is grateful.
The Ukrainian team included longtime collaborators of Jewell’s from the production company Radioaktive, the name a nod to the Chernobyl reactor explosion that left a massive, no-go zone in Ukraine and Belarus that will be uninhabitable for hundreds of years. It is now the site of active battle. About two weeks before the Russian invasion, I asked Jewell how his friends were doing, and he said that they weren’t yet panic-buying, or fleeing, but that they’d been out of work—they couldn’t secure insurance for shoots because of the political uncertainty.
“What’s sad is that it’s pretty clear Ukraine’s this football between Russia and the USA,” says Jewell, who was born in Menorca, Spain, and lives a peripatetic life as a director. “The idea that the USA really cares about [Ukraine’s] democracy is laughable, of course.” The world, however, has come together to aid Ukraine in ways that have stopped short of actively participating in the fighting, a line that might yet be crossed.
In my conversation with Hughes, I bring up the distinctions between different kinds of speech within our own democracy, and the idea of blasphemy as speech that is culturally or religiously outlawed, as opposed to legally outlawed. Here, Hughes references his recent interview with Danish advocate Jacob Mchangama, author of the book Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media.
“Even as far back as the Greeks, they had two separate concepts of free speech, one for the formal free speech in the assembly, and another for the idea that when you go to the marketplace, you can just chat about stuff with whoever’s there,” says Hughes. “And there’s an expectation that you can say what you think, even if it’s controversial, and that that’s good for society. As far back as we have a concept of free speech, we have this concept that there’s more to the value of it than just the formal exercise of it. And that definitely is what I’m more directing the song about.”
Current debate about podcast hosts like Hughes, or those with an even higher profile, such as Joe Rogan, seems to center on a confusion of these two realms. Rogan believes (and I personally find the argument compelling) that he’s operating in the marketplace—Diogenes having it out with his friends among the barking dogs.
When I ask Hughes about his original testimony against reparations three years ago—very much in the formal realm of the assembly but also subject to the court of common opinion—he says he still believes his argument to be sound.
“My basic position was that it makes sense to pay reparations to someone like my grandfather, who grew up enduring Jim Crow segregation, during a legal regime that we now look back on with shame as unconstitutional and immoral,” Hughes says. “Whenever you have something like that, it makes perfect sense to pay reparations—that’s what the concept of reparations is for. But it doesn’t make sense to pay reparations to someone’s grandchild that did not directly experience any sort of harms as a result of the particular injustice in question.”
When discussing the ways some younger black Americans relate to the country’s history of slavery, Hughes is bare-knuckled.
“There is this way in which people identify with slavery and Jim Crow as a personal injury to them,” he says, “rather than a national tragedy to be learned about and dwelled upon. There’s a very big difference between learning about—understanding—history and becoming obsessed with it, or becoming personally attached to it in a way that places you in a position of victimhood that is not really yours to claim. And I was trying to make that point, among others.”
In the “Blasphemy” video (spoiler alert), Hughes’ character is assassinated by a clown in the audience. The bullet, engraved with the word “Blasphemy,” goes through Hughes’ head in spectacular slow motion and leaves him bled out on the dias, the audience splattered with brains. He is eventually revived, and as the blood from the table floats up and back into his head to the beat of the song, he intones, “Slavey, slavery, slavery,” until his senses fully return, closing with, “You dwell on the past, but lettin’ it go, that requires more bravery.”
Blasphemy II: The Police
In playing the “Blasphemy” video for various friends and colleagues to see if they had questions, one—a young black man—questioned whether Hughes really believes in the lyric, “I don’t fear getting shot by a cop, I fear my mind getting brainwashed by a mob.”
Is it true, I ask Hughes, and—if so—what advice would he give to young black men who are afraid of being shot? He gives what he clearly sees as a public service announcement.
“Well, I would give the caveat that everybody should comply with the police strategically, because you don’t know if you’re dealing with a good cop, a bad cop, a cop in a bad mood. And the time to complain and resist is after you’ve safely had your interaction with a cop,” Hughes says. “That’s what I would teach my children, if I had children; that’s what my dad taught me. And it’s a point that holds regardless of race, you know?”
He goes on to say, “There’s this idea about ‘The Talk,’ which is that black parents at some point have to tell their kids how to deal with the cops. And the idea is that black parents have to do this, while white parents don’t. I think that’s a false, manufactured impression—manufactured by the national media.”
I confirm with him that I did, in fact, receive “The Talk,” even as a white kid, and a girl at that, from rural Pennsylvania. My parents gave the same argument that Hughes does: You never know who you’re dealing with, or on what day, and so “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am” is the only safe approach, no matter what you did or didn’t do.
“The idea would be that your parents didn’t need to do that, but my parents did,” Hughes says. “I think this is as important as teaching your kids to wear their seatbelt, or wash their hands. And in this country, every year there are unarmed black people and unarmed white people killed by the cops. And pretty much only the unarmed black people ever get put on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc. In the past ten years, there is a laundry list of unarmed white people, including some unarmed white children, that have been shot and killed by the police, on camera in some cases, and tragically—brutally—in some cases. ... We can’t really name the names for white people because they never make it to the national media.”
In the song, he raps, “Y’all heard of Floyd, but you ain’t heard of Timpa.” In 2016, Tony Timpa, a white man who was suffering from a mental health emergency, called 911 for help because he had not taken his medication. In the response to his distress call, he was killed on video in a manner strikingly similar to George Floyd: pleading for help as a cop pressed his knee on Timpa’s upper back and neck, while the officers mocked him, for over twelve long minutes.
“If people want to be made aware, just go to the Washington Post database,” Hughes says. “They keep track of every person shot by the police every year. And, I mean, one time I just took one year, and listed fifteen different white people shot and killed by the police, unarmed, one of whom was a six-year-old boy. ... So, two things are true. One is that this kind of thing can happen—to anyone. And everyone should be aware of that possibility when you’re dealing with a cop. So it’s not that you should have no fear—you should.” But, he says, you should also avail yourself of “reasonable guidelines [as] to how you should behave in order to avoid this happening.” Fear needs to be balanced with perspective.
“The second thing is also true, which is that this is about as likely to happen to you as getting struck by lightning,” he says. “So, it’s extremely rare.” Hughes again acknowledges that police officers do sometimes murder people, and that criminal justice reform should be a priority in American policy; it’s something that he advocated for when he appeared before Congress. But he emphasized in our conversation that the number of unarmed black people shot and killed by the police each year averages in the single digits, and therefore many other, less-politicized risks, should be of larger concern.
“This will seem flippant to people, but, you know, how many people die of bee stings every year, or slips in the bathtub?” (Hornet, wasp, and bee stings average about 62 deaths per year in the U.S.; slips and falls cause around 40,000 deaths per year in total and are the second-most common cause of unintentional deaths at home, after poisoning.)
“It’s not the same, because it’s not somebody killing you. I get that,” says Hughes. He’s clearly practiced at this point with the ethics of caveats and “to be sure” paragraphs, and “it goes without saying” preambles.
“But if we’re talking about how much I should fear things in life, whether I should walk through the world with fear?” he asks. “It’s not an appropriate fear, unless there’s a certain baseline chance of it actually happening to you, and getting shot by the cops really does not rise to that threshold.”
Again, Hughes blames the media for scaremongering. “One of the main drawbacks of the media is how it pumps fear into people for things they should not be afraid of. And I think one of the worst offenders in that vein has been to create a fear among black people that racism and white supremacy is so all encompassing that we should fear for our lives when we walk outside our home. What kind of way is that to live?” he asks.
“I mean, if you’re encouraging me to live that way, it better be justified by my life actually being on the line every time, or else you’re doing me a super disservice by creating that level of fear and that level of alienation—that when I walk out into my own country, I’m basically in enemy territory? Like, I should behave as if I’m behind enemy lines? That’s not a basis for any kind of racial harmony or common humanity.”
Hughes, who is also an advisor to the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (at which I am a volunteer and FAIR Arts Fellow), believes in working toward a world where our skin color is acknowledged, but less and less a factor in our lives. He doesn’t advocate for a lazy interpretation of colorblindness, but also realizes that a heuristic based on skin color should become less and less accurate over time, if we’re all working toward that end.
Blasphemy III: ‘Acting White’
Hughes tells me that he started playing music at the age of three, and that as a young kid, he had both Yo-Yo Ma and Lil Wayne on his iPod, finally becoming obsessed with jazz as a teen, when he began to master the trombone. He figured out how to discern chord changes quickly in songs on the radio and play them on piano.
“I learned that kind of skill set through jazz,” he says. “I learned how to play grooves on the drums, different kinds of grooves through jazz. And jazz is great that way. It really cultivates and incentivizes people to become all-around musicians, multi-instrumentalists, that understand music intuitively. That’s one of my gripes with how classical music is taught … it didn’t always encourage people to learn things by ear or learn things by themselves. It wasn’t until I started learning jazz that my teacher would be like, ‘Oh, you like that song? Okay, figure it out.’ And when you do that to 200, 300 songs, you start to internalize these patterns of how all songs work.” Hughes used to play regularly at the Jazz Standard in New York with the Mingus Big Band.
He also started to obsess over rap and hip hop as a teen, and has performed on the underground scene in Brooklyn and Manhattan as a young adult.
I ask him about the current conception among some in the extreme progressive left that punctuality, math, and rigor should be coded as “white.” Famously, this framing was promoted by the National Museum of African American History and Culture of the Smithsonian Institution in materials that were meant to help the public better understand the history of race in the country, but their assertions were retracted after public outcry. Nonetheless, it remains a conceptual framework in some circles and in some diversity, equity, and inclusion training. I ask if there’s tension between this specific take on what gets coded as white, and the extreme technical proficiency required by jazz, an art form that came primarily from America’s black musicians.
He thinks for a second, and then says, to restate, “The sort of hardest core of the critical race theory people will say things—like Richard Carranza, when he was briefly chancellor of New York City public schools—like, ‘Perfectionism is a part of white supremacy culture. Emphasis on grammar is a part of white supremacy culture.’ ... You know, like the notion that there’s only one right answer to a math problem is a white thing—right?—and therefore racist to apply to black students.
“Okay, so, your idea is that this kind of rigor and technicality is viewed by some as a white thing,” he continues. “Yet, on the other hand, there’s this genre of music, which is jazz, which is highly technical, and requires a high level of skill and practice, and many of the things that the critical race theory folks might sort of categorize as ‘white’ things. And doesn’t that stand as sort of a rebuke to the notion that blackness is all about intuition?”
“Yes,” I say. What are his thoughts?
“Well, you know, what’s interesting—I think—about jazz is that it’s a blend of technicality and precision and intuition. It really is. That really is actually one of the best things about it. There are musicians that never practice technique, and they suffer for it. And then there are musicians that only practice technique, and perhaps suffer for it,” he says.
“And I think the greatest jazz musicians, such as Charlie Parker, said, you learn the changes, then you forget them, right? People forget. There’s a lot of people that don’t pay attention to either half of that formula, right? The formula is: Practice your ass off. Practice like a machine, you know, like, really practice technique, slowly and perfectly, and demand absolute perfection of yourself. And then when you go to play, relax, and play intuitively. ... What you’re doing when you practice something, is building your intuitions. You’re changing your intuitions so that they become better and stronger. ... I guess the point is, all the things that critical race theory folks want to associate with whiteness—technique and perfectionism and so forth—the point of all of that, whether it’s math or chess or music, is to get to the point where your gut intuitions are extremely reliable.”
Fundamentally, Hughes is coming from a positive place. “I got love for the world in my soul, man / I am black, I am white, I am all man,” he offers at the end of “Blasphemy.” For the time being, Hughes will continue to be a blasphemer to some, unapologetically offending while he makes his art as an “Omni-American” in a country where—despite the chilled atmosphere—we still prize freedom of speech and artistic expression.
NOTE: A version of this article appeared previously in Root Quarterly: Art & Ideas from Philadelphia. Single issues and subscriptions are available online.
Heather Shayne Blakeslee is the founding publisher and editor of the print magazine Root Quarterly: Art & Ideas from Philadelphia, a proudly regional magazine with a national audience. She is leader of the folk-noir band Sweetbriar Rose, an Arts Fellow with the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, and a grantee of the Mercatus Center's Pluralism and Civil Exchange program. Check out her website and follow her on Instagram.
Hughes takes issue with Kendi’s assertion that, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” Hughes also critiques Kendi’s assertion that racial inequities are always the result of racist policies, and his suggestion that America create a new “Department of Anti-racism.” Kendi writes in Politico that such a DOA should be “comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.” Kendi opens this op-ed with, “To fix the original sin of racism, Americans should pass an anti-racist amendment to the U.S. Constitution that enshrines two guiding anti-racist principals: Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals.” You can see Hughes’ critique in a City Journal article, “How to Be an Anti-Intellectual,” where he writes, “At times, it’s hard to know whether to interpret Kendi’s arguments as factual claims subject to empirical scrutiny or as diary entries to be accepted as personal truths. Indeed, much of the book reads like a seeker’s memoir or a conversion story in the mold of Augustine’s Confessions.”
Bill 67, which was just introduced in Ontario, Canada, is meant to be an anti-racist bill that would govern Ontario’s school system. It would require that when it comes to school boards, “all members must have a proven commitment to racial equity or take anti-racism training” and it provides for fines for those that disrupt school board meetings with “racist” language. Critics of the bill believe that because “proven commitment to racial equity” is a hard concept to pin down (proven how, and to whom?), and that because voicing criticism of critical-theory-based accounts of the world is itself construed by some as “racist,” that the bill, in effect, compels the entire school system of Ontario to adopt an ideology based in Marxist and postmodernist philosophy. Similar ideas and policies are being introduced in U.S. school systems, where there has been more resistance from parents.
See, for example, “How Is Existential Threat Related to Intergroup Conflict? Introducing the Multidimensional Existential Threat (MET) Model,” Frontiers in Psychology, 2016.
Kmele Foster, a fellow blasphemer from the news outlet Freethink, is ringmaster in his own circus, The Fifth Column, a podcast co-hosted with Matt Welch from Reason magazine and Michael Moynihan from Vice News. The podcast is an irreverent, occasionally substance-fueled take on behind-the-scenes drama from the media world. Drenched in old-fashioneds, they dissect bizzare media moments in an atmosphere that is blessedly devoid of the smell of BS from sacred cows.
Charges against the officers were dropped in 2019; an excessive force civil lawsuit was dismissed in 2020 on the basis of qualified immunity, a legal protection for public officials and officers that some criminal justice reformers argue should be done away with. This latter decision was reversed in 2021, and the case is under appeal.
According to the Washington Post “Fatal Force” database, 34 unarmed people were shot and killed by police in the United States in 2021. Six were black, eight were white, three were Hispanic, and seventeen were recorded as “unknown” in the category of “race.” It’s important to note that police officers sometimes kill people via means other than shooting, such as asphyxiation. It’s also relevant to acknowledge that armed people are sometimes killed unjustly by police.
Hughes' star is just rising. He is a gifted, courageous man and bravely reflects his own direct experience. He is the antithesis to the Kendi poison. This young man has a glorious future, but not without radical challenge. I showed his rap video to my college freshmen in February. There's no end to his capacity to inspire.
Lots to ponder. I might add that I also studied philosophy at Columbia. CC65. One prof said my questions were interesting but not very philosophical. So, I became an anthropologist. I appreciate the essay opening with philosophy and then moving from those quanderies into those of a more empirical frame. And music is my channel into being able to hop from one standpoint epistemology to another. Wonderful essay.