Author: Coleman Hughes

Do COVID-19 Racial Disparities Matter?

There is now a racial justice angle on the coronavirus pandemic. Ibram X. Kendi, Director of Antiracist Research at American University, led the charge in the Atlantic a week ago, calling for data on COVID-19 deaths broken down by race. Nikole Hannah-Jones (whose work Wilfred Reilly mentioned in this space back in February) followed up with a Twitter thread documenting the disparate impact the virus has had on black Americans. Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top immunologist, hit a similar theme in a recent press conference. To sum up the argument: Black people make up roughly 14 percent of the American population, but far more than 14 percent of Americans killed thus far by COVID-19. According to one view, this racial disparity amounts to evidence of systemic racism. But the argument rests on the false presumption that, in the absence of racism, we would see equal health outcomes by race. The data suggest otherwise. In fact, blacks are more likely than whites to die of many diseases—not just this one. In other cases, the reverse is …

Reflections on Intersectionality

Inspired by the fallout from a recent Twitter thread posted by Sarah Haider, I’d like to offer some passing thoughts on intersectionality. Originally conceived by Kimberlé Crenshaw as a way of highlighting bias against black women that did not fit neatly into the category of either racism or sexism, intersectionality has since expanded to include oppression based on class, LGBTQ, disability status, and so forth. The basic idea is that when two or more dimensions of oppression coincide in the same person (say, a black woman), she not only faces “double-discrimination” (racism and sexism), but she may also face a third kind of discrimination which is not reducible to the other two. Put simply, oppression is more than the sum of its parts. Crenshaw’s original intent was narrow. She did not mean for intersectionality to become an all-encompassing thought system with its own epistemology, politics, aesthetics, and more. Indeed she has distanced herself from some of intersectionality’s modern purveyors, criticizing those who see it as a “grand theory of everything.” Nevertheless, that is exactly what …

Why Do Progressives Hate Gentrification?

The word “gentrification” was coined in 1964 to describe the influx of wealthy newcomers into low-income inner-city neighborhoods, resulting in rising property values, changes in neighborhood culture, and displacement of original residents. Though gentrification predates the modern era, it has only become the target of criticism in recent decades, as cities like Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Boston have witnessed rapid transformations. Opponents of gentrification have ranged from residents directly affected by it to wealthy college students directly responsible for it, as well as prominent Democrats such as Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Critics of gentrification give two main reasons for their opposition: (1) wealthy newcomers drive up monthly rents, thereby displacing original residents; and (2) rapid change to neighborhood culture represents an injustice to original residents. Both critiques are magnified by the presumed skin color of the gentrifiers and the gentrified, who tend to be white and black or Hispanic, respectively. Though such critiques may seem reasonable at first glance, neither of them survive scrutiny. Not only is gentrification harmless, it’s actually beneficial. …

The Case for Black Optimism

When was the last time you heard good news about the state of black America? Given the way the topic is reported in the media, you could be forgiven for not remembering. Most will be familiar with the standard portrayal: black people are disproportionately poor, incarcerated, born into single-parent homes, and harassed by cops. There’s the test score gap, which places black kids at a disadvantage when applying to college; the school-to-prison pipeline, which prepares black boys for prison by punishing them disproportionately in school; and the racial wealth gap, which won’t close for several centuries if current trends continue.  In an era when bipartisan agreement is scarce, the Left and the Right seem to be united in their somber assessment of black America, though they locate the blame in different places. Democrats tend to blame systemic racism and the legacy of white supremacy. Republicans, on the other hand, tend to blame Democrats. Recall President Trump’s infamous appeal for the black vote: “You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs,” …

My Testimony on Reparations

Editor’s note: Coleman Hughes delivered the following testimony at a United States House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Bill H.R. 40 on June 19, 2019. If passed, the bill would establish a commission for reparations. Thank you Chairman Cohen, ranking member Johnson, and members of the committee. It’s an honor to testify on a topic as important as this one. Nothing I’m about to say is meant to minimize the horror and brutality of slavery and Jim Crow. Racism is a bloody stain on this country’s history, and I consider our failure to pay reparations directly to freed slaves after the Civil War to be one of the greatest injustices ever perpetrated by the U.S. government. But I worry that our desire to fix the past compromises our ability to fix the present. Think about what we’re doing today. We’re spending our time debating a bill that mentions slavery 25 times but incarceration only once, in an era with zero black slaves but nearly a million black prisoners—a bill that doesn’t mention homicide once, at a …

Rethinking Abortion Advocacy

Last Tuesday, the Governor of Alabama signed the most restrictive anti-abortion bill in America into law. The new law bans abortions even in the case of rape and makes performing an abortion a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. Despite the low probability of this law going into effect, it has provoked a slew of commentary from both sides of the aisle. To call it “commentary,” however, suggests that people are engaging in thoughtful attempts to persuade one another. In reality, the abortion debate has had all the intellectual rigor and emotional maturity of a pissing contest. In an effort to be part of the solution, I’d like to explain why I’m pro-choice. Without doubt, my position will put me at odds with pro-lifers. But it will also put me at odds with many pro-choicers. Indeed, part of the reason I feel motivated to defend my position is because of how unpersuasive I find the central argument of the pro-choice movement. It’s painful to watch a movement use bad reasons …

Cowardice at Columbia

On Thursday, April 11, shortly after 11pm, a black Columbia student named Alexander McNab walked through the gates of Barnard college—the undergraduate all-women’s school at Columbia University—after ignoring a security guard’s request to show his student ID. In search of a midnight snack, McNab got all the way to the library canteen before a public safety officer confronted him and asked for his ID a second time, a request McNab once again refused. Several more officers had arrived on the scene and were continuing to request ID when McNab began yelling. What happened next, depicted in the video below, has become the subject of a national scandal: two officers pushed McNab’s upper body onto the countertop, at which point McNab finally handed over his ID. Public safety proceeded to verify that he was indeed an active Columbia student, at which point they left him alone. Administrators reacted to the incident by placing the six public safety officers involved on paid leave until outside investigators reach a conclusion about their conduct. In the meantime, administrators have …

Reparations and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Pyrrhic Victory

In 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates was catapulted to intellectual stardom by a lengthy Atlantic polemic entitled “The Case for Reparations.” The essay was an impassioned plea for Americans to grapple with the role of slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining in the creation of the wealth gap between blacks and whites, and it provoked a wide range of reactions. Some left-wing commentators swallowed Coates’s thesis whole, while others agreed in theory but objected that reparations are not a practical answer to legitimate grievances. The Right, for the most part, rejected the case both in theory and practice. Although the piece polarized opinion, one fact was universally agreed upon: reparations would not be entering mainstream politics anytime soon. According to Coates’s critics, there was no way that a policy so unethical and so unpopular would gain traction. According to his fans, it was not the ethics of the policy but rather the complacency of whites—specifically, their stubborn refusal to acknowledge historical racism—that prevented reparations from receiving the consideration it merited. Coates himself, as recently as 2017, lamented that …

Tiers of Pride and Shame

On December 9, in the small hours of the morning, a drunk Columbia undergraduate student named Julian von Abele was filmed outside the campus’s main library delivering a passionate ode to whiteness. “White people are the best thing that ever happened to the world,” von Abele declared to a group of students, many of whom were not white. “We invented science and industry, and you want to tell us to stop because, ‘Oh my God we’re so bad.’” In an ill-fated attempt to pacify the collection of students surrounding him, he added the caveat, “I don’t hate other people, I just love white men.” Students and administrators reacted to the incident with unanimous condemnation. Barnard College, Columbia’s sister school, banned von Abele from campus. Many argued that von Abele’s tirade should be understood not as an isolated event, but as a symptom of the university’s ongoing complicity in white supremacy—a systemic problem calling for a systemic solution. Columbia’s Black Student Organization led the charge with a list of demands including extra time for affected students …

Tyler Cowen’s Stubborn Attachments—A Review

A review of Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals by Tyler Cowen. Stripe Press (October 2018), 160 pages. The complexity of the modern world makes it difficult to know what’s worth caring about. We all know that many problems exist, but none of us know for certain which problems are over-exaggerated, which ones are under-exaggerated, which ones admit of solutions, and which ones would only be exacerbated by our meddling. To make matters worse, the increasing partisanship of mainstream media along with the echo chamber effects of social media throws doubt on the notion that information reaches our minds free of slant, spin, or skew. Onto this landscape of paralyzing uncertainty strides the economist Tyler Cowen with a bold solution. As he argues in his new book Stubborn Attachments, there is one goal we should promote above all else: maximizing the sustainable rate of economic growth. Of course, you’re free to care about other societal issues if it makes you happy. But from the point of view of increasing human well-being, …