Welcome to another episode of Conversations with Coleman, just one announcement, I'll be hosting a members only Q&A on Sunday, March twenty eighth at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on YouTube. So if you're a member, you'll have access to that. Today's episode is a bit different than usual, it's actually a recording of a talk I gave at Harvard's program on constitutional government three months ago entitled The Case for Colorblindness. My talk is about 30 minutes, and it's followed by an audience Q&A.
Just a warning. The video quality on this is pretty poor, but I liked how the talk went, so I'm releasing it anyway, and I hope you enjoy it. So without further ado, the case for colorblindness.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the program Unconstitutional Government at Harvard and the Department of Government. I'm Harvey Mansfield and our guest today is Kohlman Hughes. Coleman Hughes is an American writer. He's 24 years old, he's a recent graduate of Columbia where he majored in philosophy. And I first met him on the blog. Or is it an online journal, collect from Australia? And I was so impressed that I immediately became a fan and I've been looking for all his productions ever since then.
He also is associated with the Manhattan Institute and he writes for City Journal is, I should mention, a jazz trombonist and studied at Juilliard. He's a man who's both philosophical and political and perhaps both those in the best sense. Is calm, he sees both sides of the issue. Yes, as a philosopher, you could say and as a person interested in politics is not a party man, and yet he sees the necessity of coming to a conclusion, not just in dealing with both sides.
He is in between more comprises both of our parties, the Democrats want to equalize all inequalities and the Republicans who want to somehow respect inequalities, even in a Democratic country with a Democratic age.
He has given testimony to Congress on reparations and he conducts what he calls conversations with Coleman. I recommend the recent one with Andrew Sullivan on the election. So he's going to talk today on the case for color blindness. So, Coleman, thank you so much for that introduction.
And let me just first say it's an honor to speak here or metaphorically here in this virtual space that we've created. I will try to keep my comments to twenty five or thirty minutes and preserve the majority of the time for questions and conversation. So the topic for today is colorblindness, and I always feel a talk with the word colorblind in the title should begin by explaining what that word does not mean. We all see race, we can't help it. What's more, race can influence how we're treated and how we treat others.
In that sense, nobody is truly colorblind. Even people who are literally colorblind because their eyes lack the right number of cones can still effortlessly distinguish between people of different races. But to interpret the word colourblind literally is to misunderstand it. Colourblind is a word like Warm-hearted, but uses a physical metaphor to illustrate an abstract idea to describe a person is warm-hearted is not to make a claim about the temperature of their heart, but about the kindness of their spirit.
And in the same way, to advocate for colorblindness is not to pretend that you don't see race, but you don't notice race. It's to argue for an ethical principle that we should treat people without regard to race in our personal lives and in our public policy. That's the principle I'm talking about when I talk about colorblindness.
Admittedly, the confusion around this word is partly the fault of those who support it. For instance, the common phrase I don't see color is practically designed to produce the sort of confusion I've just guarded against. Whenever one is tempted to say that, I think one should instead say I try to treat people without regard to race because that's really what one should mean. And if the thesis of this talk could be stripped down to four words, it would be those four without regard to race.
The point isn't to avoid noticing race, which is impossible. The point is to notice race and then disregard it as a reason to treat people differently and as a category on which to base public policy. Another source of confusion that I try to avoid and will avoid in this talk is the misleading word, post-racial. The post in Post-Racial suggests that there are two separate eras, a racial era characterized by the presence of racism and a post-racial era characterized by its absence.
And the only question is which era we are currently living in, because colorblindness in this framework would only make sense during the second racism free era. Many critics of colorblindness have dismissed it on the grounds that we're not there yet, which is to say we have not yet eliminated racial prejudice. And they're right about that. Racism still exists. Racial prejudice still exists and probably will always exist to some extent. But they frame the issue upside down. Colorblindness is not a synonym for the absence of racism.
It's an ideology created to fight racism. If I had more time, I could go through the long history of anti-racist writers and activists from those that are well known, such as such as Martin Luther King, to those that are less well known, like A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and many others who wielded the colorblind principle to great effect in the days of Jim Crow and even in the days of slavery without any sense of contradiction, because the validity of colorblindness doesn't depend on how much racism exists or what alleged era we're living in.
It stands or falls based on the soundness of the principle itself. Colorblindness is rarely heard these days unless it's being attacked. I find when I Googled colorblindness race to distinguish it from the the ocular condition. Nine of the 10 articles that appear immediately explain why colorblindness is wrongheaded, counterproductive or racist, and the tent is a Wikipedia page.
Public figures have learned the hard way that supporting colorblindness invites a wave of punishment in the public sphere. Consider, for example, Senator Bernie Sanders, who when he announced his presidential bid in twenty nineteen one on the radio and had the audacity to suggest that voters to choose candidates and I quote, not by the color of their skin, but by their abilities and what they stand for. This was in response to the criticism that he is a white male, so this was a classic expression of the colorblind principle and to my ears, an expression of basic sanity and years ago would have been lauded as a progressive statement.
But instead of being praised for it, he was mocked most significantly by Stephen Colbert on America's most popular late night TV show, who sarcastically quipped, yes, like Dr. King, I have a dream, a dream where this diverse nation can come together and be led by an old white guy. To laughter and applause by the audience now, had Colbert read what Martin Luther King actually had to say on the subject of voting? He probably would have held his tongue.
This is what Dr. King wrote in his final book, Where Do We Go from Here? The basic thing in determining the best candidate is not his color, but his integrity. Almost word for word what Bernie Sanders said. It's a curious feature of our national discourse that the resonance of Dr. King's message now depends entirely upon the identity of the messenger. In one study that has not yet been published, the behavioral scientist from Brown, Michael Bernstein, asked people to read a quote squarely in the colorblind tradition on a racism scale from one to five.
And here is the quote. Black supremacy is as dangerous as white supremacy, and God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and Yellowman, God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race. So one group in this study was told that the quote was by Dr. King, which is true, and the second group was told it was by Donald Trump in the first group, roughly two percent of people said said the quote was racist.
In the second group, some 50 percent of people said the quote was racist.
So when it comes to colorblindness, we are we've become very much in the habit of judging a statement not by the merits of the message, but by our estimation of the messenger. Even when the messenger is a complete unknown, it can still be dangerous to utter the word colourblind approvingly. Consider the case of the novelist Emily when Joe. Zhao was raised in China before immigrating to America as a young woman, and she had dreamed of writing a young adult fiction since she was a child in twenty fourteen.
She formulated the idea for writing her first novel, which was to be based on the tale of Anastasia and included a noble struggle against a brutal system of indentured servitude. Actually helped with this novel to draw attention to the real issue of human trafficking, especially as it existed in her home country of China. In a saner world, you might imagine this book would have been celebrated, but in hours it was denounced. The reason is that in describing the system of indentured servitude she portrayed in her novel, she had unwittingly committed the sin of colorblindness.
The blurb for her book began like so in a world where the princess is the monster, oppression is blind to skin color and good and evil exists in shades of grey comes. Blah, blah, blah, blah. The book. So the idea that non racial oppression might exist, even hypothetically in a book, offended the online fiction community and overwhelmed by the criticism she received, she received for everything from white supremacy to the lesser but still damning charge of tone deafness.
She canceled the publication of her novel until further notice. So if you're just scanning the Internet or if you if you're on a college campus or in corporate America, it would appear that virtually everyone has unanimously rejected colorblindness as a backwards value, old fashioned out of date, a way of maintaining the white supremacist status quo. Yet even that, as it has become virtually taboo among elites, colorblind policies continue to dominate and the court of public opinion, especially on the issues of hiring and college admissions.
So in twenty nineteen, the Pew Research Center asked people whether employers should only take a person's qualifications into account, even if it results in less racial diversity. And seventy four percent of Americans agree with that statement. And not only did a majority of Americans as a whole agree with this statement of colorblind hiring, even at the expense of diversity, a majority of each individual racial group, whites, blacks and Hispanics also agree with this message. It's roughly the same percentage agreed that colleges should not consider race in admissions.
In elite circles, the debate over colorblindness does fall along party lines, essentially pitting Democrats against Republicans. But in the wider public, colorblind policy enjoys considerable bipartisan support. For one example, that same Pew poll found that over 60 percent of Democrats opposed racial preferences in hiring and admissions even at the expense of diversity. And probably an even stronger indicator of the bipartisan support for colorblind policies is the recent vote on Proposition 16 in California. About a month ago, Proposition 16 was a referendum on.
Re allowing affirmative action in public universities and employment after those have been banned in nineteen ninety six, and I think the backers of reinstating racial preferences figure that with all of the hatred of President Trump, with the the diversification and browning of America, that they had an an excellent chance to reinstate racial preferences at the state level. In a state like California, which is notoriously blue, has gone blue in every presidential election for the past three decades and a majority non-white state.
They were wrong, of course, Prop 16 was was voted down by a margin of over two million votes. Not only that, every majority Latino county in the state sided with colorblind policy over racial preferences. That is state like California upheld the ban on racial preferences by such a large margin is all the more significant given the enormous disparity in corporate backing for each side. Among the supporters of racial preferences were Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Lyft, Yelp, Dropbox, Patreon, Reddit, United Airlines, Wells Fargo and four major California sports teams.
On the other side was simply the will of the majority of Californians without a single comparable corporation. And this brings me to the heart of the colorblind ideal. Though whites and conservatives are more likely to support colorblind policies than minorities and liberals, the racial and political divides are tiny when compared to the vast chasm between highly educated elites of all colors in corporate America journalism, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, academia on the one hand and everybody else on the other. So in order to understand the critique of colorblindness, the hatred of colorblindness among the elites, we have to understand an ideology that has swept university campuses and much, many other elite spaces over the past five to 10 years.
The ideology I speak of goes by many names, some people call it social justice, there's intersectionality localness, political correctness, the successor ideology left modernism. The journalist Dan Hitchens simply calls it the thing because he considers it to be so recognizable but difficult to describe. For the purposes of this talk, since I'm not dealing with the gender or sexuality aspects of the ideology, I'm just going to call it race consciousness as opposed to colorblindness. Race consciousness refers to a family of ideas partly derived from the black nationalist movements of the nineteen sixties and partly from a post 1980 trend in legal studies called Critical Race Theory.
And what unites these ideas is their rejection of colorblindness. Colorblindness, in this view, is a cop out. It's a way of maintaining the status quo of white supremacy that pervades the country. We're colorblindness insists that race is ultimately meaningless, race consciousness contends that race is an inescapable fact of life and an important shaper of our perspectives. We're colorblindness sees race as something we should want to transcend race consciousness sees it as something we should want to affirm and build upon.
Where the colourblind IDL holds that public policy should be race neutral, race consciousness holds that racial disparities caused by the sum of past racist policies can only be solved by means of public policy that takes race into account. So these two ideologies are natural enemies, and it's therefore hardly surprising that advocates of race conscious, the race conscious style of anti-racism have zeroed in on colorblindness as the enemy. Still, the extent of the attacks on colorblindness is sometimes surprising. So, for example, the best selling author, E X Kennedy and his latest book, How to Be an Antiracist, says, quote, The most threatening racist movement, the most threatening racist movement is not the right's unlikely drive for a white ethnos days, but the regular Americans drive for a race neutral one.
So to say that colorblindness is wrong headed is one thing to say it is worse than the right is quite another. It's impossible to understand the hatred directed at colorblindness without first understanding critical race theory. This was an intellectual movement that originated at Harvard Law School in the nineteen eighties, so we partly have. You all to thank for that or your institution, rather. Understanding critical race theory can seem daunting because it's many of the crucial texts are written in.
UNINTELLIGIBLE academies, that is. Only accessible to those who have been steeped in it for years, but in order to understand it can be explained in plain English and it can be boiled down to two core principles. So the two core principles are the neutrality principle and the power principle. The neutrality principle is best explained by analogy. As children, most of us grow up in a home where everyone speaks the same language and roughly the same way. We encounter a person who speaks our language in a strange and different way, we learn to say that such a person has something we don't.
They have an accent. They speak with an accent and we speak without one. At some point, most children have an epiphany. There's no such thing as speaking without an accent. Everyone has an accent because the word accent just refers to any particular way of speaking, including ours. What's more, we realised that our accent must sound strange to others as their accents due to us. In other words, we learn that there's no neutral zone from which to judge other accents as deviations, there's no such thing as a view from nowhere.
Critical race theory holds that most of us are in the same position as the child who has not yet had this epiphany. But instead of accents, the sight of our confusion is the value structure of society itself. By which I mean the standards we use to separate right from wrong legality, from crime, excellence, from failure and truth from falsehood. Though the dominant, dominant inherited value structure may look objective and neutral. Critical race theory reveals it to be a white value structure garbed in the clothes of neutrality.
Take, for instance, affirmative action. With a colorblind principle and the use of race neutral standards in college admissions, critical race theory holds that these standards are not, in fact, neutral, even if a college admissions officer could not see the race of an applicant. The standards they would use to they would apply neutrally were originally created in and therefore shaped by a society that excluded black people so far from being universal or objective or meritocratic. These standards are thought to have no validity outside of the particular culture in which they evolved.
The neutrality principle extends to things as fundamental as the pursuit of truth itself, according to critical race theory thinkers who claim the mantle of reason, impartiality and scholarly detachment. Thinkers who make it their goal to transcend all truth distorting biases, even if they understand that they can never perfectly do that.
Thinkers like this failed to realize that their cherished values of reason and impartiality are not themselves universal, but were created by a particular white European culture and are therefore stamped with the parochial biases of that culture. As a prominent critical race theory puts it, critical race theorists, objective reason or knowledge cannot exist because one's position in the social structure of race relations influence is what you would call knowledge or rationality. For instance, cultural differences between black people and white people can't be studied through a neutral frame of reference because any frame of reference assumes the perspective of either the oppressed or the oppressor.
What's crucial to recognize about critical race theory is that it does not just allege that some particular neutral standards are really biased, it makes a deeper claim that neutrality, like speaking without an accent, is not possible to begin with, along with the related ideas like objectivity, universal validity and impartiality, the concept of neutrality is considered to be an illusion. Every value structure, every set of standards used to judge the world to judge people has its own arbitrary bias, just like every person has an accent.
So that's the neutrality principle, the second principle of CRT is called the power principle. And so so if you think of the neutrality principle by itself, the claim that no value structure is neutral would not constitute a reason to reject any particular value structure. That's where the second core principle of CRT enters it, although every value structure has its own bias. They are not all equally powerful in the West. CRT alleges that with the white European value structure characterized by notions like reasoned, objective, truth and individualism dominates all the rest.
So the purpose of critical race theory is not simply to understand the neutrality principle for its own sake. But to use that understanding to dismantle the power hierarchy that places white values and white people on top. The power principle motivates critical race theory, special definition of racism as distinguished from mere prejudice. Under the neutrality principle alone, it would not make sense to single out any particular value structure or any particular culture for prejudice, because every value structure is considered to be prejudiced.
But the power principle makes a distinction between value structures that exert power and those that do not. According to critical race theory, only those that exert power can be called racist, hence the common formula. Racism equals prejudice, plus power.
Compare this to the colorblind worldview, which defines racism as a deviation from race neutral treatment, to treat someone without regard to their race is to treat them according to rational, objective standards. To treat them with regard to race is to give in to your irrational biases, to stray outside the goalposts of impartial treatment. Framed in this way, racism can flow in any direction, whites can be racist towards blacks, blacks towards whites, Asians towards Hispanics, so forth.
Unlike A.R.T., racism is symmetrical and omnidirectional. Anyone can perpetrated anyone can be victimized by it. In critical race theory. Racism is asymmetrical and unidirectional, it only flows from the top of the power hierarchy downward. In critical race theory, racism is like a river, is an ongoing process flowing all the time? It's not a discrete act or individual, it's a dynamic system. As a result, the proper response to racism is not to content yourself with acting in a race neutral manner, because to act neutrally is to allow the system to continue to let the river flow, pulling everything inside with its current.
The proper response is to interrupt racism, to put your hand in the river metaphorically, to actively attack the dominant white value structure. With the ultimate goal of dismantling the racial hierarchy. A key implication of critical race theory's definition of racism is that it eliminates the need to discover particular racist individuals or particular racist acts in order to prove broader allegations of societal racism. Racism in this view doesn't refer to people or to racist acts, but to an ever present state of affairs in which white people sit at the top of a hierarchy.
So particular acts of racism don't need to be cited to prove the existence of systemic racism any more than particular atoms of water must be cited to prove the existence of a river. Racism surrounds us all the time in this view, but we're like the proverbial fish in water. The truth remains invisible to us until we learn how to look. So then that's the news, that's the power principle, and combined with the neutrality principle, it constitutes the core of critical race theory.
Now, I'm nearing the end of my time here, but let me just say a few things and critique of critical race theory and then a few things in defense of colorblindness. In philosophy, the neutrality principle has a history of advocacy and criticism dating back millennia and to be clear, critical race theory, though it started in legal studies, really belongs in the philosophy department because it's making claims that are much wider than merely the law at its best, the the notion that neutrality is an illusion.
Is is just an acknowledgement of the role that culture plays in shaping our values. If you grow up listening to hip hop exclusively because of where you come from, you might find it to be more beautiful than country music and vice versa. And it's unclear that there's any objective or neutral place to stand from which to judge one as better than another. Well, what's better, Indian cuisine or Chinese cuisine? Well, that might depend on whether you were reared eating one or the other.
And it's unclear that any person's subjective preferences are objectively wrong. So you can make a strong case for this kind of this relativity if you're talking about fashion or cuisine or music preferences. But any time you're talking about the pursuit of knowledge, the principle becomes incoherent. Philosophers have long observed that it's possible to make claims that can't be scored as true or false because they're they contain an internal contradiction. To take a simple example, consider the paradoxical claim this sentence is false.
If you think about that claim, if it's true, then it must be false. But if it's false, then it must be true. In other words, it's an incoherent statement, it refutes itself and critical race theory is played by the same problem. The neutrality principle rules out the possibility that any set of principles could apply universally. But critical race theory advertises itself as a set of principles that applies universally, a set of principles you ought to accept regardless of your particular racial or cultural background.
So, in other words, critical race theory presents itself as exactly the sort of thought system that it says cannot exist. So that's the fundamental contradiction of critical race theory. And as I said, I'm nearing my time, so I would just like to end by saying a few words in defense of the notion of of colorblindness. I read yesterday in The Washington Post that. Facebook is now changing its hate speech algorithm, it used to have a race blind hate speech algorithm such that it would ban it would treat equally the comments.
I hate black people and I hate white people and I hate Asians. And to the extent that this algorithm would score one of those as inadmissible, it would score all of the others as inadmissible. Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that Facebook is changing its algorithm in one way, which is to to ease up on anti white hate speech so the standards for anti black hate speech are staying the same. But it's now going to allow more. More statements is going to have a weaker filter for anti white statements because it's.
It's received some criticism, apparently, for treating those as the same. This is a classic point of conflict in public policy or in private policy, in this case, between the colorblind vision and the race conscious vision, the colorblind vision ultimately treats all statements of racism the same, notwithstanding the deep historical differences in anti black racism and anti white racism. You can perfectly well understand why the statements I hate black people and I hate white people don't actually hit people, the average person in the same way because of the history of slavery and Jim Crow and white supremacy and whatnot.
Still, the colorblind vision insists that as Martin Luther King put it, black supremacy is ultimately as dangerous as white supremacy. The notion of reverse racism, for instance, the scholar Kimberle Crenshaw has said that is something that was invented in the right wing think tanks. This is simply historically inaccurate, the A. Philip Randolph, who founded the March on Washington movement, he used the term reverse racism and warned against it. One of the virtues of the colorblind principle.
Is that in the long run, you have no idea how the power and balances of society are going to shake out. There are already places in America, such as Atlanta, Detroit, where almost everyone in a position of power is black. Places that have had five or six consecutive black mayors, for instance. And in the long run, the principle that all racial discrimination is ultimately equivalent, it's ultimately making the same mistake of attributing value to something meaningless, like skin color.
It's a principle that is exportable over long times and distances because or rather it's applicable over long time spans and in many different spaces because it always sides with the victim of racial discrimination, regardless of what the specific power imbalance is of a locality entail. The one of the. Lazy assumptions of critical race theory. Is that why people are everywhere and always in power? I think the truth is considerably more and more nuanced than that, for instance, is it a form of power to be able to make Facebook, which is almost a public utility at this point?
Treat your group special. Is it a form or is it a form of power? Why people in the cultural space at this moment are seeing places like Facebook devalue their feelings and other feelings higher, and ultimately the signal that sends for a revolutionary movement, say Black Lives Matter or critical race theory, is that you signal how you're going to treat the enemy by how you conduct your own movement. This is why Martin Luther King would so often say, well, we don't wish to triumph over the white community or anything like that.
It would be very clear about that because he understood that the way you conduct yourself when you don't have power is an indication of how you conduct yourself when you do. This is one of the important virtues of colorblindness. It's not an idea that was invented in the conservative think tanks to maintain the white supremacist status quo, as it's often caricatured. It was an idea that was formed in the crucible of the civil rights movement. To avert the chaos that has plagued most multi-ethnic societies throughout history.
And it's a technology for averting that chaos, for guaranteeing that we're going to move closer and closer to a nation. That doesn't discriminate against anyone on the basis of skin color. I'll finish with an op ed I read a few months ago in The New York Times, there was an op ed which addressed the notion of color of orchestral auditions behind a blindfold, the way they conduct. Orchestral auditions, if you're auditioning for the New York Philharmonic, is the judges hear you behind a blindfold.
They can't tell if you're a man or woman. If you're black or white, all they can hear is the sound you're producing. And this is an innovation that came about, I believe, in the 70s in order to combat the bias of judges. You see a. Small woman playing the tuba, and you hear her differently than you would if she were a large man because your bias plays tricks on you, right? It's also a perfect metaphor for colorblindness in the purest sense.
It's you literally cannot see the person and you're enshrining that value in how you choose people. Moreover, a black musician who goes to such an audition can be absolutely guaranteed that he didn't lose the job because of race and that he didn't gain it because of race. So this op ed suggested despite all of these virtues, we need to get rid of this, get rid of the blindfold, why? Because there aren't enough black musicians in classical orchestras. Now, the notion that there are cultural differences between the music that black people and white people are raised on that could account for the the lower amount of black musicians that get into orchestras.
Is dismissed out of hand. All that matters is the end result and any amount of racial discrimination to get there is what justified. So what's at stake in this conversation about colorblindness? Is the following question, are we creating a nation, however imperfectly? That is inching closer and closer towards making every space more like a blind audition, or are we inching closer and closer to a nation where the veil has been taken away and your race is relevant everywhere you walk?
I think we ought to think very long and hard before we take the second of those options. So with that, I'll conclude my talk and open it up for questions. On I'd like to start with the first question, if I may. I can't help I don't want to violate the principle of colorblindness, but I can't help noticing that the main defender of color blindness is a black man, Martin Luther King, and the main critics. The critical racer's a bunch of white guys at the Harvard Law School.
Now, what has happened to the standing of Martin Luther King in our country, the black man for whom we have a national holiday or for whom many streets and boulevards parks are named? Well, why is it that blacks have ever going to be imprisoned by a theory that comes out of the air, to put it mildly, Nazi Germany? Well, there's a few things to say about. About Martin Luther King, I think someone recently said Wesley, a great writer, recently said something about Obama that I think applied it applied to Obama, but it also applied to Dr.
King, which is that he has managed to avoid cancellation. Like I said at the beginning, if you take a Martin Luther King quote and you just say that, say it verbatim. You may get canceled if you're white, even if you're black, frankly. So the strange thing about Dr. King is we all venerate him. Nobody ever speaks of him. But also, he's basically ignored. So he's in this he's in this uncanny valley where he is not exactly canceled, but he's also not listen to.
Which is a strange place to be in. It speaks to the the moral authority and credibility that we feel. His message has the awkwardness of acknowledging that the main thrust of anti-racist activism is exactly the opposite of what he stood for. That's a that's a very awkward thing for the antiracist movement to acknowledge, because they would lose some moral credibility if they outright said what is true, which is that we reject Dr King's goal. That's the truth. That can't be said out loud.
The other thing about what's often said about Martin Luther King, if you look up, if you look at Martin Luther King radical, you will get 20 to 50 of the same exact article. And what that article says is you can read one of you and you've read them all. Martin Luther King was really radical. And all of the centrists and conservatives claiming his message and claiming that BLM is perverting it. Well, they haven't really read Dr. King and they're quoting him out of context.
And Martin Luther King really would have been for everything we're doing, making everything about race and reparations and affirmative action and so forth. The strange thing about this is that I've read hundreds of pages of Martin Luther King's speeches and writings. And virtually every three or four pages, there is something that is said today you would be canceled for. That's just the truth is trivially easy to find 20 Martin Luther King quotes expressing color, the colorblind ethic in the simplest terms.
And very difficult to find any quotes of him expressing that race is is a crucial aspect of your identity to dwell upon and affirm. And the grain of truth to him, being a quote unquote radical was squarely in the domain of economics and foreign policy. Martin Luther King was a pacifist. He wanted out of the Vietnam War at a time when it was very difficult to say that publicly. And he was discouraged from saying so publicly. He was considered a radical at the time because of that, of course, the Vietnam War, in retrospect, is not such a radical opinion today to have to judge that to have been a mistake.
Right. And he was also for things like full employment and universal health care. Which, again, are not considered so radical today, but at the time were considered radical, so the domains in which he was radical had nothing to do with the ultimate goal with respect to racial identity. They had to do with economics and foreign policy. Thank you, sir. To remind you people, if you want to ask a question, click on Participants' at the bottom and then you can raise your little blue hand.
But stay muted, please, until I can see that and I can call on you then. So. And the young people, Harvey, students, our students just just go for it. I didn't mean to intimidate anybody. I have a question too, and this is why. Why do you think the elites feel so secure in their positions as to be at the forefront of basically a movement that would dismantle them, really in principle would do that?
And isn't that security, the reverse of the what must be a kind of despair and defeatism at the bottom of critical race theory that there's a sense that nothing will ever really fundamentally change, or at least black people will never really catch up or surpass white people.
And that's it. And that's an excellent question. Whoever asked the. Oh, you ask it. I thought you were ventriloquism someone else. Excellent question. It reminds me of Tom Wolf's book, Radical Chic, where he he got himself invited to a party thrown by Leonard Bernstein for the Black Panthers, neither the late 60s and early 70s. So all of these Upper East Side or Upper West Side, New York, top tip, top one percent elites who go to the Metropolitan Opera and so forth in the same room as the Black Panthers, the burly, muscled AK forty seven, probably not AK 47, but gun toting Black Panthers.
And the obvious irony of it is they are supporting the Black Panthers. They're throwing this party in support of their cause, which the explicit goal of which is to get rid of people like them. And I think the. The psycho analysis of that is has something to do with white guilt, white guilt is a tricky term because I think, as Shelby Steele has noted, it's misnamed. It's not actually guilt. It's really a terror and it's a terror at the thought that you yourself might be a racist.
It's a terrible thought that you might be what we have judged to be the worst reflection of our country's history, you might be part of that problem. And the terror that that strikes into the heart of many white people is perfectly understandable. And it also scrambles one's judgment of issues and one's ability to distinguish the right kinds of anti-racism from the wrong kinds of anti-racism. There is also, I think, another aspect of this, which is sort of what's sometimes called slacktivism, I think of the.
The celebrity videos that come out in the wake of George Floyds death in police custody that show all of these predominantly white celebrities saying things, anti-racist things, many of which are perfectly laudable sentiments, but things most people don't really need to be told. And one observation about this is that it's an easy way to feel that you are doing good in the world without actually sacrificing anything. One of the differences between race based activism and class based activism is that if you're in the top one percent, if you if you're living very comfortably, you can do a lot with symbolic politics, symbolic racial politics that doesn't actually hit your bottom line like Bernie Sanders would now.
But Bernie Sanders really started out much more in the colorblind tradition, as I as I noted, although he was sort of, I think, pushed in the direction of race consciousness by the forces on the left. But he's he's someone that would actually hit those celebrities a little bit where it hurts. And then the very, very last aspect, I think you're right, critical race theory does not actually have concrete goals. It's very light on actual public public policy prescriptions and very heavy on anger, emotion and vague demands for dismantling the power hierarchy, which I think people intuitively sense is unlikely to amount to anything concrete, certainly not to any concrete gains for black people.
And so it can feel like in some sense it's a safe thing to support because because it's not likely to actually affect much. Maybe that's the sense people have.
OK, I really want to encourage younger people and people would disagree with Clinton to ask questions, undergrads. And if you're if you don't want to ask them in on video, just ask them intact.
You can do that, too. But Khaleb Guerreiro, please limit yourself and ask a question.
My question is, so one thing that I've noticed is that racism against whites is sometimes a lot of times ignored or minimized or even normalized. What do you think the consequences of that are? Is it caused more division, does it make us lose progress in our journey to fight income, to fight racial equality? Well, I think a baseline truth about most people is that they do not appreciate being. Targeted and denigrated for things that are completely out of their control.
That's not a truth about black people, that's the truth about human beings. To the extent that you do that, you show that you are devaluing the well-being and the feelings of that particular class of people. This is historically what black people have complained about rightly throughout most of American history. Much of the consequence of white supremacy was not merely economic. And much of the gains of the civil rights movement were not economic. They were there were symbolic and emotional and psychic to be recognized for once as as equals.
It has an effect on people. And I think there's another aspect to antiwhite speech, which is I think worth mentioning, which is that honestly, it's often to make statements about why people can often be a coded way of making a statement about a certain type of white person. It's often not necessarily meant as a denigration of white progressives. I think it's sometimes implicitly meant as a denigration of white conservatives or quote unquote, rednecks. At least that's how I think it's sometimes meant.
And, of course, the fastest way, the fastest way to lose people if you're trying to build political coalitions or if you're trying to persuade someone to your point of view. The fastest way to lose them is to denigrate them based on characteristics that they can't possibly control. That is what I've believed my whole life instinctively. And also, as a result of growing up in a very racially diverse and progressive town, which in the early aughts took progressiveness to mean Martin Luther King's style of progressiveness.
So, yeah, the consequence of that is to understandably alienate many white people who feel, well, at minimum, I should have the right to complain about. Racism directed towards me, and I should there shouldn't I shouldn't have to contend with some highly academic theory that says actually it's not possible, there's nothing that could be said that would be bad enough about my race to be marked as racism. That's not an operating system for a multiracial society. Every race has to feel that there is there is a line and there's the same line for everyone that once it's crossed, we all recognize that as an affront to the group in question.
So I have a question here and chat, I believe in undergrad, would colorblindness then be dismissive of media representation and existing diversity programs in areas such as STEM? Would it implicate a really staunch defense of meritocratic systems?
I would say in general, yes, the answer to that is yes, I think there are exceptions to that rule. I think, for example, if you run a police department.
The value of racial diversity in having a police department that reflects the community being policed is so great that it outweighs the importance of a strict race blind meritocracy. However, in most cases, that's not true. A few things, one. I think what most people actually want, as demonstrated by the pupils excited, is a system that is fair, a system that whatever outcome it yields was arrived at through a fair process. I think we misidentify the problem as inequality in itself.
Rather than unfairness and poverty. So, for example, nobody actually. Laments the fact that. Great athletes are. Extremely well paid because it's so obvious that athletics is a completely meritocratic domain, it's obvious to anyone who watches soccer or the NBA or the MLB. Now, in these other domains, there's legitimate questions and admissions to colleges. If your parent is a professor, which is obviously skews white, if your parent is a donor, which also skews white.
You're not you're not getting meritocracy in the door either you're getting a leg up and people understandably feel well, if many kids get a leg up in these things and those kids are disproportionately white. Well, why not have affirmative action to balance that out? And I think that's actually a legitimate argument at the end of the day. I think the meritocracy is is such a good idea. That we should always have it in our sights as our North Star to progressively make progress towards a society where all of these arbitrary.
Privileges, unearned privileges are being equalized. I do believe in that. What many diversity programs end up being? Soft quotas, quotas in practice, right where we need this many people to look this way in order to insulate ourselves from the critique, that process is racist. And what it does is it certainly puts the idea that any black person hired is a diversity hire, even if nobody says it out loud. People think it and it may not be true.
It also masks the actual problems of. The pipeline issues of preparedness in the black community, that that could in principle be addressed and that should probably be item number one on the issue on the agenda of any antiracist. Item number one, in other words, should be how do we create an education system and a culture and a community of entrepreneurship and success that in the long run. Gets rid of the need for programs that give us a leg up because there is only there is only one way of achieving long term prosperity and success.
As a people, and that is to cultivate the skills and and values that reliably lead to success in what we now have, which is an information economy, that's the one way all of the other ways are stopgap solutions, is it's duct tape on a on a sinking ship. There is one long term solution to that problem, and that's where many charter schools have been doing a pretty good job of pointing a path towards that. And there are nonprofits doing doing good work.
But that's what I would say to that.
All right. Diana, Shalab and then Eliza and then Ashlynn, please. I Kohlman really enjoyed what you said so far. I've got a quick question about a recent change in naming practices. Its seemingly overnight work has become always upper case and white lower case. As far as I know, journalistic outlets have embraced this and my students have certainly embraced it. I just wondered what you made of it. Is that CRT at work? I mean, I guess my impulse is to say either capitalize both or lowercase both.
But it does seem to me that these moments where naming practices shift are very significant. So in the 60s, the shift from Negro to black, then a decade or two later, the shift from black to African-American, although both terms continue in usage. So so this does seem to me kind of a new moment if black is now always to the upper case and white to be lower case. I've noticed the same thing and. Oh, remember, if it was Brooking's or is it several websites have.
Mark, to this change and given the reasons for it, one of the reasons given is that black is an ethnic group, it's sometimes said like Jewish or Italian, and as such, it should be capitalized, just like you might capitalize those words. I suppose I can see the logic in that. However, there does seem to me to be a certain type of person who enjoys capitalizing black and lowercase and white. There's some kind of. Perverse.
Joy, at the thought that one has this, the capital, this is more dignified, I suppose, whereas white with lowercase just kind of seems like a color. My instinct is always to lower case both. But I would be perfectly fine operating both, but I do think you're right to put your finger on this is a kind of a kind of symbolic. Manifestation of critical race theory. And what's telling about it is that is often in the wake of societal discord over the question of race, that publications do this.
So some publications did this in response to George Floyd. So it's clear this is not a this is not simply a neutral a decision taken purely to. Two, to enshrine the principle that ethnic groups should get capitalization, it's something about antiracism, this is we're playing our role by now, capitalizing black, giving it more dignity, but not doing the same to white. I agree it rubbed me the wrong way when I first noticed it and I actually first noticed it years ago in a critical race theory text's.
But I would honestly have to know more about the rationale for each individual publication doing it before I really passed judgment. Hi, so I'm wondering, I believe in Dr. Kennedy's most recent book, he actually agrees that black people and people of any race can be racist because white people do not always occupy positions of power. So it does have to do with, like. It's it's prejudice and power, certainly, but even he grants that black people do have a modicum of power and therefore can combine that with prejudice.
So do you think that this dynamic, instead of unilateral understanding of racism, can be compatible with the race consciousness or critical race theory? So you're right, Dr. Candy, in his book, he he this is his one major break from the rest of the race conscious antiracist movement, and he flags it as as a kind of. Going against the orthodoxy of his own click, so to speak, that he really disagrees with most of the folks around him in that black people can be racist towards whites.
And I thought that was. I would commend him for it because he has no obvious reason to to make that break other than principal. My my sense is that that will just be. I think a lot of people who read Kennedy's book will probably gloss over that passage and and especially when all of the other books in the genre don't agree with him, will probably the gravity of the opinion that racism equals prejudice plus power and black people don't have power.
Seems still to be winning the day in that space, so far as I can tell. And that does make it incompatible with colorblindness. But we will see. Well, we'll have to see. There are certainly. There are certainly ways to be a very committed antiracist to to make antiracism your. Your life's project and do that within the framework of colorblindness. That's not what we're seeing today, but it's perfectly coherent and it's, in fact what the civil rights movement was.
So colorblindness and race consciousness can't really be married, they're opposites, but anti-racism, really what I'm talking about is a different form of anti-racism, a healthier form of anti-racism that makes more sense in the long run. And really should be the path that antiracist increasingly take. Ashton, please, and then Nicholas, hi. So my question goes back more towards the affirmative action for college admissions and I was wondering, so given the correlation pattern we currently seeing between race and ethnicity and education, achievement and the fact that, as you cited, the general population shows support for colorblindness in college admissions, do you think that a more socioeconomically based affirmative action programs would do a better job at addressing inequality while maintaining colorblindness?
Or do you think that that solution would also fall short, given the fact we do not currently live in a colorblind world and it wouldn't address the unique experiences that minority students face when compared to their white peers? Good question. So one thing I'll say just to frame it is. Often it's portrayed in the in the media and the public as if it's race conscious policy, affirmative action is a choice between that and a choice between doing nothing to help black people and giving those two options.
It kind of seems like a no brainer to go with the first. But it's a false choice, the real choice, as you highlight, is between policy based on skin color and policy based on socioeconomics. And then the the key question to ask is, which one of those is a better indication of privation and lack of privilege? Is it skin color or is it socioeconomics? I would certainly argue it's the latter. And insofar as we have the best proxy for disadvantage in our hands, we shouldn't go to the second or third best proxy.
So, yes, I would be. If it makes sense to correct for anything, socioeconomics makes much more sense for a college to care about than than skin color and the product of the results of caring exclusively about or largely about skin color at elite universities, especially like Harvard. Is that probably half of the black students on campus and there are there are a few studies from the mid to thousands on this are children of black immigrants, recent black immigrants to the country, not black Americans descended from slavery, and many of them are middle class black immigrant kids.
It's not which just goes to show it's not a skin color is not a great proxy for disadvantage in these kinds of cases. So to the extent that affirmative action is justified in terms of helping people who have less advantage, that's actually an argument for basing it on socioeconomics rather than race. Thank you so much, Nicholas. Hi, I have a question that's a little bit more focused on culture than it is on policy, and it is what is your response to the argument that color blindness creates a kind of false satisfaction?
That we look at the laws and statutes and we see that there are no laws made on the basis of race. And so that gives us the ability to kind of wash our hands and say, OK, we now we live in a colorblind society. There's nothing more we need to do. What what do you say to the idea that colorblindness kind of as a cultural idea, it encumbers further progress? So colorblindness is an aspirational it's like talking about a peaceful society.
Everyone wants to live in a peaceful society, even though we know. Fifteen or sixteen thousand people get murdered in this country every year. We don't have a peaceful society. We probably understand intuitively that we're never going to get to a perfectly peaceful society. Nevertheless, the notion of peace and safety acts as a north star that helps us go in the right direction when we're at a crossroads. That's what color blindness is. The truth is that racism will never go away completely, ever like murder.
There's never been a society in human history which had different races, which did not have racism. It seems like some some level of bigotry and racial bias is allowed for by human nature, to an extent, that means even if we perfects the way we educate children, there are going to be some racists when they become adults. Some of them are going to turn out to be racists, just like some people turn out to be murderers. And so.
To believe in colorblindness is not to believe that we're already there yet, that we've made all the progress that we need to with regard to race. It's just an ongoing commitment. To venture towards this north star of a society in which. Your race increasingly does not determine how you think where you're where you end up. Who you can and can't associate with, where you can and can't live. And feel comfortable. And that grounds itself in the that skin color is meaningless, that that we are all the same under the skin.
And that's what matters both in how we treat people and in our public policy. So that's what I would say to. OK, Devon, please. And then Dennis, we bolt and then Michael Hartney. Devon, you have time yourself, Devon, yourself, rookie. Sorry about that. Thank thank you, Goldman, for your for your talk. I just wanted to ask a question that you addressed a little bit in your talk, but give you a chance to say more if you'd like.
It's your place. A lot of emphasis, obviously, on the difference between the new outlook of critical race theory and the original civil rights movement as exemplified by MLK. And my question is how you would account for the transition, why the original ideals have lost their their standing. And I mean, you gave part of an answer. Well, critical race theory came out of the law schools and so forth. But the striking thing to me is that it's gotten so much public traction now that it didn't just remain an esoteric academic theory, but now it's become a sufficiently powerful idea that peoples that the opposing view has become unacceptable in some circles.
So how would you explain what happened to the original principles so that it got replaced? Was it that disappointment that the hopes that the civil rights movement stirred up did not? Come to fruition that were their passions, that the passion for retribution and that the original ideal did not satisfy or what what explanation would you give about why we've seen such a massive transformation?
So one thing I would say is that the the question may be posed a little backwards, in other words. Maybe it's not the question is not so much why did the color blind values of the civil rights movement go away so quickly and give rise to this much more racialized and trivialized aspect of black power? And today, Black Lives Matter and so on. Maybe the question is. Given that. Most groups of people are much more inclined to ethnicity based politics to begin with, how is it that something like the civil rights movement was ever popular to begin with?
In other words. Universal ethics, ethics that apply to everyone and that really abstract away from your identity towards a higher goal. Are inherently a little bit less popular. With people because. Then the more natural way of existing in the world is to. Embed yourself in your tribe to believe your tribe for arbitrary reasons is better than all the others and to just essentially treat your race like sports fans, treat their sports team. In some sense, you may know that it's arbitrary, and if you were born in San Francisco, forty Niners fan or whatever, but I was born here, I'm a Giants fan.
The Giants are better and screw everybody else. And I actually, I feel is just to to to shamelessly allow yourself to feel tribalism. Is very comes very naturally to us, it's much more unnatural to say what Martin Luther King said and to go for something. That transcends identity. So that's that's one thing I would say. Another thing that I would say is that, yes, I think it's been acknowledged by a lot of people across the spectrum that too much in some ways people value the civil rights movement for the wrong reasons.
They put hopes in it that it couldn't possibly have satisfied. They thought that it was going to get rid of black intergenerational poverty and it didn't black underachievement didn't do that. It did. It allowed black people the dignity to go into a restaurant and order something like a human being and not be refused service. And that, as I said, is a very important psychological and identity affirming, pride affirming thing. But it's not a panacea. And I do think they're to the extent that it was viewed as a panacea and many larger inequalities, racial inequalities in society persisted.
People felt that, well, what we need is something much stronger, much more muscular, that'll really do the trick. Of course, they were wrong about that to. All right, Dennis, and then cold, please, thank you and thank you in for your talk before much else. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian. So what do you think the role has been of communities of faith in either distorting what he said originally, perhaps elucidating some of the same principles that he based his equality argument on and.
I can't say I'm too familiar with modern faith communities, I was not raised in one, but you're absolutely right that Martin Luther King was a Christian and that his colorblind ethic was inseparable. At least from his perspective with his Christianity, he would often say, in Christ, there is neither Jewish or Gentile or is it neither free nor Jew, someone here will know that better than I did. And although you can, you can perfectly well arrive at that ethic without Christianity.
The historical fact is that she and the civil rights movement and black Americans in general arrived at that very much coincidence through Christianity. There's also something to be said for the decline of Christianity in the more secular parts of America. Leading to a vacuum to be filled by this new ideology that in some in some interesting ways resembles Christianity and in other ways doesn't. In one way, it resembles Christianity through the notion of the similarity of original sin and white guilt.
They both say you're sort of born with this defect, that you have to constantly fight your whole life. But you'll never actually get away from one original sin and the other racism. But there different in the sense that Christianity is a universal ethic that locates. The inherent dignity of the individual, regardless of where that individual comes from. It's not a religion that at all endorses tribalism. Whereas social justice, intersectionality, it emphasizes in reifies divisions, divisions are the point, oh, please.
So given the Pew polls and the results of Prop 16. Then indicate most Americans don't really support critical race theory or race race consciousness. Why do you think Internet companies like Facebook, you mentioned or read it or Hueber, why do you think they support race consciousness and have been implementing policies on their on their end to support it?
It is a good question.
I think this goes to a larger. Division between elites and the general public. Well, the truth is everyone is in their own social bubble. Nobody is just. Effortlessly in touch with the opinions of the nation at large, especially in a nation this large where. Different parts of the country have completely different characters and completely different cultures. It's very difficult to just intuitively know what the people want. Much easier to know what the people around you want. And if you're in one of these spaces, if you're in corporate America, most people you know are in corporate America or in college.
Most people are college. So you intuitively grasp what the morality, the moral sensibilities of the people around you and you don't necessarily grasp the moral sensibilities of the public. Moreover, you don't necessarily have a strong incentive to step out of your bubble. If you have no social incentive, if you pay no price, in other words, for being out of touch. Then you have no reason to fight the natural tendency to be out of touch. So that's what I would say.
I bear to please. Thank you. So my question is whether there is a difference between colorblindness and the classical liberal states neutrality.
Towards many things, including race and principle, yes, what I'm articulating is identical to classical, the classical liberal view of race, and I've always thought of sort of saying in that way past. But yes, what I'm speaking of is the it is the classical liberal tradition and how to think of the importance of race to our species. And that classical liberal tradition has been historically the primary enemy of slavery and Jim Crow, there's a great book called Race and Liberty.
It's actually just a an anthology of writings by anti-racist activists, anti slavery activists, going back to the seventeen hundreds of writers, most of whom are black, who are fighting slavery and Jim Crow in precisely these terms in the classical liberal, colourblind tradition.
That is often left out, especially in African-American studies curriculums, but more generally today and in our education about history. So people get the impression that the people who represent the tradition of fighting slavery and racism are the race conscious, anti-racist, which is not actually true.
And I have a question that just takes it to me. How do you evaluate the Trump phenomenon in its productiveness or productiveness to deal with the foolishness of critical race theory? Has it been helpful or utterly counterproductive?
So. I agree with much of what Trump has said about critical race theory, I'm thinking only of his comments on it from some time in the past two months. I think he she certainly has the right stance on it. She certainly didn't go into enough detail, but she's not. I can spend 20 minutes talking about it for a politician. It has to be sound bites. So in general, I agree with his instincts on it. On the other hand.
I worry that any idea that Trump touches becomes soiled by contact with him because in many people's minds he will go down as one of the worst presidents in history. And without getting into whether that's true, I think it's safe to say that he is my least favorite president of my lifetime. And I very much see why he has inspired so much criticism and therefore tactically. It's it's inconvenient for the. Criticism of CRT to be associated with the president that told us not to wear masks during a pandemic and many other silly things that he's done that said his opinion on society was right.
And I give credit where credit is due.
Thank you, Carmen. So with that prudent summary of the Trump phenomenon, don't you want to thank you very much for coming to us? What you've done is to show us what a thoughtful person is. Thank you very much. It is my pleasure to be here at Denki so much for the thoughtful questions. Thank you, Coleman.