Author: Samuel Kronen

Historical Racism Is Not the Singular Cause of Racial Disparity

Even before the crescendo of Black Lives Matter last summer, the operative view among progressives was that historical racism is the overriding cause of racial disparities between black and white Americans today. The progressive ethos on race is neatly conveyed by the novelist William Faulkner’s remark: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” If the wide socio-economic gaps between whites and blacks in terms of income, wealth, health, incarceration, and education outcomes speak to the enduring legacy of slavery and segregation, large-scale efforts to improve the conditions of the country without regard for race seem insufficient to many. First, Americans must come to terms with the moral and political implications of living in a country that oppressed an entire class of citizens for hundreds of years on the arbitrary basis of ancestry, while flaunting democratic ideals of freedom and equality it was failing to uphold. Those who respond by pointing to the decline of anti-black racism since the civil rights movement or the subsequent success of other minority groups in the country are …

Black Lives Matter and the Psychology of Progressive Fatalism

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder, but the ramifications of his fateful encounter with George Floyd will reverberate through American culture and politics for years to come. The revival of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer produced the largest protest in American history and a groundswell of anti-racist activism across America’s major institutions. A year later, we can begin to see the ripple effects of what one Atlantic contributor has called the “Third Reconstruction.” More than 30 states have passed more than 140 police oversight reform laws; efforts are being made to introduce reparations for black Americans in various forms; and the progressive vision of racial inequality has penetrated American institutions and culture. Police are facing renewed pressure to perform their duties with discretion, and awareness of historical racism and its lingering effects has risen. On the other hand, the homicide rate is soaring in cities across the country amid a historic surge of violent crime—in Minneapolis, for example, the murder rate has returned to the days when the …

James Baldwin and the Trouble with Protest Literature

“The hardest thing in the world to do,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in a 1934 article for Esquire, “is to write straight honest prose on human beings. First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write. Both take a lifetime to learn and anybody is cheating who takes politics as a way out.” Of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, he quipped, “see how you will have to skip the big Political Thought passages, that he undoubtedly thought were the best things in the book when he wrote it, because they are no longer either true or important, if they ever were more than topical, and see how true and lasting and important the people and the action are.” Hemingway was not discounting the political, merely clarifying its relationship to literature. “Books should be about the people you know, that you love and hate, not about the people you study up about. If you write them truly they will have all the economic implications a book can hold.” Be it a piece …

Thomas Sowell: Tragic Optimist

History is not destiny. ~Thomas Sowell, Race and Culture Somewhere out of the mysterious interplay between nature and nurture, internal and external factors, cultures and structures, and bottom-up and top-down forces there emerge the individual and group outcomes that we care about and which ultimately make the difference between human flourishing and its absence. What distinguishes various political ideologies, in effect, is how the line of causation is drawn, or, more specifically, from which direction. What gets left unexamined in the rush for compelling narratives and ideological certainty, however, is the territory between different causes and how they combine to shape reality. Few have gone further to map that territory than the American economist, political philosopher, and public intellectual Thomas Sowell. At 90 years of age, Sowell remains among the most prolific, influential, and penetrating minds of the past century. He understands the world in terms of trade-offs, incentives, constraints, systemic processes, feedback mechanisms, and human capital, an understanding developed by scrutinizing available data, considering human experience, and applying robust common sense. Sowell has written …

The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Conor McGregor

Thou knowest this man’s fall, but thou knowest not his wrassling. ~James Baldwin One of the truest tests of a person’s character is how they respond to failure. Wins and losses come and go and we can’t always count on the desired result. What matters more than results is the process by which we navigate those wins and losses—the spirit of resilience developed under adversity and carried over every obstacle along the way. Accepting the challenges we encounter without fear of failure, no matter the risk or the odds, is one kind of victory, and those who can pull it off with style and grace reveal a bit of what human beings are capable. On January 23rd, on the secluded “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, the most iconic, charismatic, and polarizing mixed martial artist to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), “The Notorious” Conor McGregor, was knocked out in the second round by the Louisiana native Dustin Poirier, thereby avenging the latter’s first-round knockout defeat to McGregor back in 2014. A characterological cross between …

The Tragic Vision: Making the Best of Things

“Life is tragic,” James Baldwin wrote, “simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time.” Baldwin was expressing the tragic vision of human life. This vision has been a consistent feature of great art and literature throughout history, confronting universal themes of death, time, chaos, futility, the absurd, evil, unmitigated suffering, and the built-in constraints of the human condition from which any transcendent heroism must invariably proceed, and upon which all genuine religious experience is based. In the typical tragedy, the protagonist comes up against the cruel and indifferent forces of the universe and loses, but in the process discovers a deeper human capacity for resilience that can sustain a sense of meaning through future struggles. The tragic hero transcends limitation by accepting it and gaining knowledge of their own flaws and limitations in the process. In The Hero and the Blues, the novelist and critic Albert Murray compares Greek tragedy to the blues tradition …

“I Was Never More Hated Than When I Tried to Be Honest”

Ralph Ellison, author of the timeless American classic Invisible Man, was among the most commanding black literary voices to emerge in the 20th century. It is a designation he would almost certainly have resented. Ellison didn’t see his work through the prism of his racial identity but as a means of transcending it—using the particulars of his experience to explore human universals. His ambition was not to be a great black writer but to be a great writer who happened to be black, competing in his own mind with Dostoevsky, Melville, Twain. He wanted to “do with black life what Homer did with Greek life” as Clyde Taylor, a professor at NYU, put it. Above all, he wanted blacks to recognize their essential place in the unfolding American story as part of a larger effort to dismantle the artificial racial barriers between disparate ethnic groups that has stalled the evolution of our shared national identity and culture. Quite unusually, Ellison’s work has resonated across the political spectrum and even pierced the bubble of pop culture. The …

Reinventing Racism—A Review

A review of Reinventing Racism by Jonathan D. Church. Rowman & Littlefield, 250 pages (December 2020) If the release of Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism launched her into orbit, this past summer’s “racial reckoning” has made her a star. The book has been on the New York Times best-sellers list for a staggering 116 weeks in a row (and counting), while DiAngelo has been busy hosting workshops at universities and fortune 500 companies at perversely exorbitant fees. She gave an address to 184 Democratic members of Congress in the summer, and even made an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. It would be an understatement to say that her work has polarized opinion. In the introduction to White Fragility, Georgetown University professor and public intellectual Michael Eric Dyson called DiAngelo the “new racial sheriff in town.” On the other side of the debate, the linguist and writer John McWhorter has called the book a “racist tract” that treats black people like …

The Prescience of Shelby Steele

I have long believed that race is a mask through which other human needs manifest themselves. I think we often make race an issue to avoid knowing other things about ourselves. ~Shelby Steele, Seven Days In Bensonhurst Shelby Steele is experiencing a revival. For over 30 years, the controversial black American essayist and culture critic has consistently produced some of the most original insights to be found on the precarious issue of race in America and has been met with reactions that range from reverence to revulsion. Usually, it’s one reaction or the other. To his critics, Steele is a race traitor, a contrarian black conservative who makes a living assuaging the guilty consciences of whites at the expense of his own people. To his admirers, he is a lone voice of clarity in the chaos of America’s racial discourse who, at 74 years of age, continues to speak uncomfortable and disconcerting truths to power. But his greatest strength may turn out to be a knack for anticipation. As the social upheavals inspired by America’s …

On Race and Inequality—A Reply to Nathan J. Robinson

The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd has plunged us into a new era of institutional anti-racism. The prevailing narrative is that the country remains a fundamentally racist and white supremacist society that has yet to come to terms with its original sin and must be held accountable by eliminating all racial disparities of outcome. To this ongoing discussion, Nathan J. Robinson has contributed a long essay in his magazine Current Affairs restating the case for reparations on behalf of black Americans. What was once a fringe perspective has become increasingly mainstream in the wake of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s widely debated 2014 essay on the topic for the Atlantic. The reparations issue has become emblematic of the broader debate around race, encapsulating all of the moral and political dimensions that make it so complex and heavy. To what extent does racism continue to hold blacks back? Can an entire racial group, whites, be held responsible for the sins of the past? What does racial justice really look like, basic …