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Are We Ready to Abandon Racial Solidarity?


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The Glenn Show

from a debate with Robert Woodson, Shelby Steele, Kmele Foster, and Reihan Salam
Glenn Loury
Nov 22 2022

Last month, a momentous event took place at the Manhattan Institute: a debate on “The Ethics of Black Identity” with me and Bob Woodson on one side, Shelby Steele and Kmele Foster on the other, and MI President Reihan Salam moderating. At issue was the question of whether the persistence of black identity remains necessary in solving the problems facing black communities today. Bob and I took the affirmative position while Kmele and Shelby took the negative. Reihan had quite a job on his hands, as all four of us debaters are, shall we say, opinionated.

The following excerpt from that debate engages one of the discussion’s through-lines. Collective action served black Americans well in the past. Without racial solidarity founded in institutions like black churches and black community organizations, it’s doubtful that the Civil Rights Movement could have achieved all that it did. Black people, even those who were relatively well-off, were willing to sacrifice money, time, and their very bodies to secure basic rights not only for themselves but for their people.

But has racial solidarity served its purpose? I’ve often argued on behalf of “transracial humanism,” the setting aside of identity categories like race in favor of species-level identification. We’re all human beings, and we should all have the opportunity to lay claim to the fruits of human achievement, whatever their origin. Tolstoy is mine as much as Charles Mingus is mine. Yet I cannot simply define away my blackness. It’s at the core of my self-understanding. To deny it would be to deny myself. And as Bob points out, there are strategic political advantages to calls for racial solidarity, especially when they’ve been nearly monopolized by the Left. (Let me say once more with feeling: My blackness is not in conflict with my conservatism.)

Shelby and Kmele are much more skeptical of the uses of black identity in the present. I believe, with them, that transracial humanism is the way of the future. The question is whether that future has yet arrived.


Nov. 22 2022

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