Author: Coleman Hughes

Deepities and the Politics of Pseudo-Profundity

The word deepity, coined by the philosopher Daniel Dennett, refers to a phrase that seems true and profound but is actually ambiguous and shallow. Not to be confused with lies, clichés, truisms, contradictions, metaphors, or aphorisms, deepities occupy a linguistic niche of their own. The distinguishing feature of a deepity is that it has two possible interpretations. On the first reading, a deepity is true but trivial. On the second, it’s false but would be mind-blowing if it were true.  Consider, for instance, the phrase “love is just a word.” On one reading, this is true but trivial. It’s no deep insight that “love”—like “Ethiopia” or “subdermatoglyphic” or “word”—is just a word in the English language. But on a second reading, “love is just a word” asserts something mind-blowing if true: there is no emotion called “love,” and everyone who thinks they’ve felt love is either lying or self-deceived. If true, this would change everything we thought we knew about our emotional lives. But it’s plainly false. Whatever love is—an emotion, an illusion, a pattern …

The ‘Black Chic’ Wave

With the midterm elections approaching, political pundits have begun the hackneyed ritual of predicting wild success for their preferred party—either a ‘blue wave’ for the Democrats or a ‘red wave‘ for the Republicans. Time will tell which wave reaches our political shores. But in the meantime, a different sort of wave is already upon us: a wave of black candidates who present their skin color as if it were a political credential in itself. This new wave of ‘black chic’ candidates includes Democrats Mahlon Mitchell of Wisconsin, Stacey Abrams of Georgia, Andrew Gillum of Florida, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts (featured pic, above). To observe that these candidates happen to be black would be to state an uninteresting fact. What’s interesting is that—contrary to what the concept of white privilege would predict—their blackness actually gives them political advantages. All four candidates would be the first black governors/congress people of their respective states/districts, which allows them to project a level of historical gravitas unavailable to their white counterparts. Abrams, for instance, has “frequently noted the historic nature …

Black American Culture and the Racial Wealth Gap

There is arguably no racial disparity more striking than the wealth gap. While the median white household earns just 65 percent more income than its black counterpart, its net worth is fully ten times as high. And, unlike income, which individuals earn in their own lifetimes, wealth accrues over generations, and whites are more than three times as likely as blacks to inherit money from their families. In the public debate on racial inequality, the wealth gap is among the sharpest arrows in the progressive quiver. When conservative commentators argue that America is a meritocracy, or that blacks lag due to cultural factors, progressives can retaliate with a single statistic that seems to prove the reality of white privilege beyond the possibility of doubt. But statistics don’t interpret themselves, and the wealth gap is no exception. A recent wave of scholarship—including Mehrsa Baradaran’s The Color of Money, Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The Case for Reparations”—has converged on the interpretation that the wealth gap is caused by two factors: slavery and …

The High Price of Stale Grievances

They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along & spoil it. ~ Thelonious Monk (Monk’s Advice, 1960) As against our gauzy national hopes, I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible. ~ Ekow N. Yankah (New York Times, 2017) In the fall of 2016, I was hired to play in Rihanna’s back-up band at the MTV Video Music Awards. To my pleasant surprise, several of my friends had also gotten the call. We felt that this would be the gig of a lifetime: beautiful music, primetime TV, plus, if we were lucky, a chance to schmooze with celebrities backstage. But as the date approached, I learned that one of my friends had been fired and replaced. The reason? He was a white Hispanic, and Rihanna’s artistic team had decided to go for an all-black aesthetic—aside from Rihanna’s steady guitarist, there would be no non-blacks on stage. Though I was disappointed on my friend’s behalf, I didn’t consider his firing as unjust at …

The Racism Treadmill

The prevailing view among progressives today is that America hasn’t made much progress on racism. While no one would argue that abolishing slavery and dissolving Jim Crow weren’t good first steps, the progressive attitude toward such reforms is nicely summarized by Malcolm X’s famous quip, “You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress.” Aside from outlawing formalized bigotry, many progressives believe that things haven’t improved all that much. Racist attitudes towards blacks, if only in the form of implicit bias, are thought to be widespread; black men are still liable to be arrested in a Starbucks for no good reason; plus we have a president who has found it difficult to denounce neo-Nazis. If racism still looms large in our social and political lives, then, as one left-wing commentator put it, “progress is debatable.” But the data take a clear side in that debate. In his controversial bestseller Enlightenment Now, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker notes a steep decline in racism. …

Kanye West and the Future of Black Conservatism

On April 21st, Kanye West sent a tweet out to his 13.4 million followers that read: “I love the way Candace Owens thinks.” A celebrity endorsing his favorite political pundit is hardly unusual, but one of the most famous rappers of all time endorsing a black, pro-Trump firebrand like Owens is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Owens has taken stances against Black Lives Matter, feminism, and various other causes championed by the Left and, although she doesn’t follow the Republican party line on every issue, she has advocated for tax cuts, personal responsibility, and many other traditionally right-wing values. The core of her message is that there’s a stubborn refusal—among blacks and whites alike—to let go of the narrative that blacks are continually beleaguered by white racism. What we need, according to Owens, is a new story about what black America can be, which looks toward a bright future instead of clinging to an ugly past. It’s easy to see why West—a man with grandiose visions of his own future, who considers himself to be our generation’s …