Welcome to another episode of Conversations with Coleman. The purpose of this episode is twofold. First, I'd like to update you all on the status of my attempted conversation with Eber Max Kennedy, the author of How to be an anti-racist and arguably the leading antiracist public intellectual in America at the moment. And second, I want to respond to the most common critiques I receive regarding my views on race. So first things first, Candy. As many of you will remember, a few months ago, I wrote an open letter to Kennedy asking him to have a conversation in a venue of his choosing.
And I wanted to connect this conversation to a charitable cause, so I set up a go fund me to raise money for the United Negro College Fund, which many of you donated to. I wanted to talk to Candy because he's a thought leader in the modern antiracist movement and because his work is often pointed to as the solution to America's ongoing race problem. The CEO of Twitter donated 10 million dollars to Kennedy Center for Antiracist Research. So many important and influential people seem to think that Kennedy's work is enormously valuable and that his ideas should be spread as widely as possible.
Yet Kennedy has never engaged with his critics. And that's why I wanted to talk to him if he was in the habit of engaging with alternative viewpoints with folks like John McWhorter, Glenn Loury or Thomas Chatterton Williams, really anybody? Then I wouldn't have made such a big deal of this, but he doesn't engage with any criticism of his views, which is a cardinal sin if you're claiming to be a serious thinker. And this is a wider problem among so-called anti-racist intellectuals, it's difficult to find a single prominent antiracist that will talk to the people I've mentioned.
There are exceptions, of course. Tallahasse codes, for instance, would frequently get into back and forth commentary with people like Andrew Sullivan back in their blogging days. And he had a conversation with John McWhorter at blogging heads as well. And that gave the public an opportunity to see his ideas in competition with alternatives. But he's the exception that proves the rule here, great intellectuals, left, right or center, never engaging with their most prominent critics. Can you picture Baldwin or Buckley or Chomsky or Hitchens going their entire careers without engaging their critics?
Well, Candy is being praised on that level by our culture right now, so it's time that someone holds him to account for his ideas. Whether that person is me or not is irrelevant. I'd be just as happy to see him go on Glenn Lowry show, for instance. In fact, I'd be happier. But it seems he won't do it, and that's his right, but it's my right to reveal to the public the kind of opportunities that he's turned down so far.
I've had several different universities, including the university that Kennedy works at, offer to host a conversation between myself and him. I've also had Ted, as in TED talks, offer to host a conversation between us. And it seems he's turned all of these opportunities down. And there have now been two or three times where he's been asked publicly why he won't engage with his critics and my name has come up. And his response has been, I won't engage with Coleman Hughes because he is misrepresented my views, and then he proceeds to give exactly zero examples of me misrepresenting his views because I haven't.
Here's what he said when he was asked about debating me by Biz Journal Dotcom. Quote, I'm not going to debate someone who consistently and constantly misrepresents what I'm saying and then argues against their misrepresentation. The whole debate will be like, I didn't say that, I didn't say that. That's going to be the whole debate, so why would I waste my time, I'd be more likely to debate an actual faculty member. OK, so this is hilarious.
Notice the non sequitur there at the end, first it was about me allegedly misrepresenting his views. Then all of the sudden it's about me not being a faculty member. I'm not sure what he meant by that other than to allude to the fact that I don't have a PhD. Of course, Tallahasse Coats didn't even finish undergrad, but I assume Candy wouldn't dismiss him for that reason. In any event, it should be trivially easy to show an example of me misrepresenting him, since I do it consistently and constantly, but he hasn't come up with a single example because I haven't misrepresented him at all.
His ideas are so explicitly radical that I'm not even tempted to misrepresent them. For example, he's written in Politico and The Washington Post that there should be a federal agency composed of antiracist experts that have the power to reject any local, state or federal law that they deem to be racist. Really? Think about that. Imagine the town you live in wants to change some local law. I don't know, raise or lower property taxes or something in Kennedy's America, this local decision would have to be precleared by a panel of federal bureaucrats to ensure that it doesn't have a disparate impact on people of color.
And the folks making this decision would be people like Kennedy, people who have a frankly insane definition of the word racist. Candy said on Ezra Klein's podcast that he considers cutting the capital gains tax to be racist because there's a racial disproportion in who would benefit for Kennedy. It doesn't matter if a policy clearly benefits the entire nation, black people included, if it benefits white people slightly more than it's racist. So imagine a group of people with that sort of definition of racism who have the power to reject any local, state or federal policy in the entire nation and who can't be fired even by the president.
So they're completely unaccountable to you. There's nothing you can do to check their excesses that would be far more powerful than the Supreme Court. She has said that he wants all of this explicitly and if you doubt this, just read his article called Pass Antiracist Constitutional Amendment on Politico Dotcom.
So this is the mind that Jack has endorsed with a ten million dollar donation, although I have to think that many of the people nominally endorsing him are too smart not to notice how strange and simplistic and totalitarian his worldview is.
But they're afraid to say it because the culture of American elite spaces right now has cemented a taboo against criticizing any idea that successfully brands itself as anti-racist societies often form sacred spaces in which criticism is socially punished to such an extent that almost nobody is willing to speak up. And religion has historically been the prime example of this and still is in many places in the world. But in America, an elite culture by which I mean universities, corporations, Silicon Valley and major social media platforms, the main taboo that exists now is against criticizing any aspect of so-called anti-racism.
That's the deepest ideological taboo that exists in the era.
We happen to be living in and just like previous societies, have walked into horrible ideas and policies as a result of taboos on criticizing religion, we risk walking into terrible ideas and policies as a result of the taboo on criticizing anti-racist dogmas. Today I saw an article on Oregon Live Dotcom, which said that the Oregon State Committee, in charge of determining who gets the covid-19 vaccine first, is on the verge of recommending that people of color get the vaccine before people with underlying conditions.
It having an underlying condition is a far better measure of who needs the vaccine, which means prioritizing people of color will certainly lead to more deaths, perhaps even more deaths of people of color. This decision hasn't been made yet at the time I'm recording this and it may yet reverse. I certainly hope it does. But the mere fact that the people in charge of this decision could decide in a way that is logically guaranteed to kill more people is terrifying.
This is the kind of bad policy we could walk into by having a taboo around criticizing anti-racism and the notion of racial equity. So anyway, that's my update about the Kennedy situation, unfortunately, it seems that the event won't happen despite the offer from Ted and from several universities, and that's a shame. But I like to thank everyone who donated to charity in the name of the ill fated event, we ended up raising over twenty three thousand dollars for the UN USCF, which will help somebody or maybe several people go to college.
So it's not a complete loss. Now, for the rest of this episode, I want to talk about some of the most common criticisms I've received over the last few years. I had my team choose these by looking at the most common arguments people make on Twitter and Reddit and Instagram, as well as articles and videos. So the first one I want to deal with is one of the most common I have received, so I'll just read this. People have the perception that your background in education is preventing you from understanding race related issues at a grassroots level.
Some people say that because of your upbringing, you're not aware of what happens in poor neighborhoods. On the other side of the coin, you've been criticized for only having an undergraduate degree in philosophy. So do you think your upbringing and education level influences your understanding of these issues? So this is actually two issues rolled into one. The first one is the argument from lived experience, and the second is the argument from credentials. So first, yes, I didn't grow up in the hood, which is hardly uncommon.
Most black people don't grow up in high crime neighborhoods where everyone is below the poverty line. Still, I grew up with tons of privilege. The only proximity to poverty I had were the stories my mother would tell me about growing up in the South Bronx in the 60s and 70s, and for those who know, the South Bronx in that era was a national symbol of chaos, crime and poverty, not so different from the way the south side of Chicago is spoken about today.
So she grew up with that and escaped it and created a much more privileged and sheltered life for me and my sisters, and I always had immense respect for her for being able to do that. So then the question becomes, what attitude should I take toward the fact of my own privilege? The criticism of me here suggests that I should discount my own thoughts and opinions about, say, the police, because I didn't grow up in the sort of neighborhood where it would make sense to fear the police because I don't have that lived experience.
My opinions on the subject are less informed. That's one attitude you could take toward the fact of privilege. But I would argue it's the wrong attitude to take the problem here is that lived experience does not guarantee that you get the right answers to difficult questions. Yes, sometimes your lived experience with an issue gives you practical knowledge that's very difficult to obtain in the absence of experience, there are just so many things to learn about in the world that aren't in books and aren't online.
So I'd call that practical knowledge, and I fully acknowledge it in many cases, it makes sense to weigh people's opinions more highly if they've had direct experience with something. But there's also a potential downside to having lived experience, one that's rarely discussed. Namely, being too close to an issue to see it clearly. Just think about how a courtroom works when somebody is robbed or killed or raped, who has the most direct lived experience of the crime in question?
Obviously, the plaintiff does. In many cases, they're the only one who has the relevant lived experience. But imagine if we therefore let the plaintiff unilaterally decide what happened and what the punishment for the crime should be. No need for a jury or a judge, after all, they don't have the lived experience, just let the person who actually experienced the trauma decide. Now, I imagine you can all see the problem with this. Very often the plaintiff is angry or they're traumatized or they succumb to the all too human urge to exaggerate or to take revenge.
So our entire justice system is premised on the idea that it's better to let a neutral third parties like juries and judges have the final say after the witnesses have been heard. Of course. The lesson to draw from this is not that lived experience never matters, it's that lived experience can cloud your judgment just as often as it can make your judgment clearer. And it's difficult to tell in any particular case whether a person's lived experience is making them more accurate, less accurate or not affecting their judgment at all.
The lazy assumption that's often made here is that anyone who thinks white supremacy is no longer a huge problem, they must not be experiencing racism, whether that's because they're white or because they're black, but if somehow insulated themselves from the typical black experience. Now, this is one of those lazy armchair ideas that sounds good on paper, but falls apart under scrutiny. One of my favorite points to make here is that James Baldwin and Thomas Sowell, arguably the two greatest black intellectuals on the left and the right, respectively, in the 20th century, grew up in the same neighborhood a few years apart.
They both grew up in Harlem at the same time, yet came to totally different conclusions on the issues of racism and inequality. In fact, for what it's worth, so will the conservative of the two was probably poorer than Baldwin. In fact, you can look at any number of prominent black conservatives and you often find they've had exactly the kinds of experiences that are supposed to make you sound like Ibram Kennedy. Glenn Lowry is from the south side of Chicago, as is Shelby Steele.
Walter Williams, a great economist who recently passed away, was from the Philadelphia projects and so grew up in the segregated South without electricity before moving to Harlem and briefly living in a homeless shelter as a teen. And all of these people became very skeptical of the narrative that racism remains ubiquitous and pernicious. So the same lived experience can yield totally different moral and intellectual conclusions. Just in the last year, I had the experience of dating my now ex girlfriend, who I had been dating for over a year, whose parents were so bigoted against black people that they made every threat they possibly could to get her to break up with me.
And they had never met me. They were aware that I was the kind of person who could testify before Congress, but the shame of having their daughter date a black person trumped all other considerations. So from lived experience, I'm well aware that racism is real. Still, I hesitate to even mention these personal stories, not only because they're personal, but also because they should be irrelevant to the validity of my opinions. Even if that hadn't happened to me, my opinions on race would still be as valid or invalid as they are.
So this idea that your opinions are simply a function of your lived experience is just not true. It's a powerful illusion. And then the second part of this question I've already partly addressed, this is the issue of my only having an undergrad degree and not a Ph.D. As I said earlier, this never seems to be a problem for someone like Tallahasse Coates, who doesn't even have an undergrad degree. There's often a whiff of political bias about credentials and arguments like this.
For some strange reason, lacking credentials is only a problem in the people you already dislike, and the reverse is also true. How many of Jordan Peterson's harshest critics give him credit because he has a Ph.D. none. So credentialism is basically a political football and a boring one at that. There are some PhDs that are total idiots and some brilliant people who didn't even finish high school. So it's a non-issue as far as I'm concerned. OK, next question.
You've been criticized for insinuating that black poverty is linked to black culture. Do you stand by this notion or does further clarification need to be made? Furthermore, if we assume that black culture is partially linked to black poverty, who bears the responsibility for this? Can this cultural development be fully blamed on slavery and racism, or does the individual bear responsibility? OK, so this is a fraught question, of course, and it steps directly into one of the deepest taboos in intellectual life right now, namely cultural explanations of poverty and of disparity in general.
The flip side of this is the less controversial question of cultural explanations of success. So let's start with the less controversial point. Culture matters and influences how many people become successful at any given skill, take chess, for example. I was recently looking at the top 10 chess players of all time on chess dotcom and five of 10 of them were Russian. In fact, six out of 10 were from territories of the former Soviet Union. That's an enormous disparity.
So why is there such a huge disparity there? The most plausible explanation in this case is not special Eastern European genetics or some system of discrimination against non Russian chess players. It's the culture of 20th century Russia valorizing achievement in chess or perhaps a subculture within Russia, if you want to be more precise. If China or America had such a culture, you'd expect a different result. There are a million examples I could give here. The Economist magazine has estimated that around 80 percent of the piano players in the world at any level are Chinese.
Again, why is that there's no gene for liking to play the piano. It's culture. And when the best piano players in the world are overwhelmingly Chinese, you can draw a straight line between the cultural interest in piano and the dominance of Chinese people at the top levels of piano playing. And that could all change in 50 years, of course, culture is always changing. Another example, if you look at the best stand up comedians of the past half century, you're going to see huge overachievement among black Americans and Jewish Americans relative to population share.
And culture in the widest possible sense of the term has to be the most plausible explanation in this case as well. This is not to say that there's no racial discrimination, of course there is. But it's simply impossible to understand disparities in achievement between ethnic groups or races without paying attention to the role of culture.