TED stiffs Coleman Hughes for conveying a message ideologically unpalatable to the woke

September 26, 2023 • 11:30 am

Here’s a TED talk by Coleman Hughes, a really smart young guy (he’s just 27) who’s angered the establishment by not hewing to the standard Kendi-an view on “antiracism”. (I was on his podcast and was really impressed by how much evolution he knew given that he’s a writer with a degree in philosophy who works largely on issues of race.) He’s more of the stripe of John McWhorter, saying things that run counter to what black people are expected to say.

And race is what he talks about in this 13-minute TED talk (below). His theme is basically Martin Luther King’s statement, in his “I Have A Dream” speech, that

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Hughes goes on to discuss the obsessions of American with race, which has recently led to a worsening of relations of whites and blacks.  The solution: “color blindness”, not a pretense that you don’t notice race, but “support[ing] a principle that we should try our best to treat people without regard to race, both in our personal lives and our personal policy.”

That sounds good, or used to in the days of MLK, but the “color blindness” trope is not in good stead these days. There are many, for example who think that race is not only the most important aspect of someone’s persona, but should be a dominant aspect in how we treat individuals or members of a racial group. But Hughes points out that the “colorblind” philosophy comes not from conservatives, but from early abolitionists and black antiracists. (Also from Martin Luther King, Jr., whose words are either ignored or criticized these days.)

And then Hughes says this:

“Wouldn’t color-blindness render us unable to fight racism? Wouldn’t it mean getting rid of policies like affirmative action that benefit people of color? I believe that eliminating race-based policies does not equal eliminating policies meant to reduce inequality. It simply means that those policies should be executed on the basis of class instead of race.”

He then gives two good reasons why we should use class- rather than race-based policies and give an example of what he says was a “disastrous race-based policy”: the 2020 “Restaurant Revitalization Fund.”  He also mentions traffic cams, which cannot be racially biased, but are opposed by many because they still yield proportionally more violations by blacks than by whites. This disproportionality, or “inequity”, would indicate to a Kendi-an that the cameras are biased against blacks, but of course that’s ridiculous. The answer is that blacks are violating traffic rules more often. But that answer, which must be the correct one, is unacceptable.

At the end, Hughes answers a question by the moderator involving how to maintain colorblindness while auditioning members of orchestras. He gives a good answer.

You may disagree with Coleman, but it would be hard to unless you’re of the Kendi-an stripe. Hughes wants inequality eliminated, but finding the remedy by using class instead of race asthe best proxy for low status on the equality scale.

Watch the short talk:

So far so good. We have a TED talk that, instead of dispensing feel-good bromides, actually challenges prevailing views and inspires discussion.  But that’s not the way TED felt about it. There was pushback, and Coleman’s talk was released in a way that diluted its message. TED even required that if Coleman’s talk were posted by itself, there had to be a related discussion talk posted separately (it was, involving a 1¼ hour debate with NYT antiracist columnist Jamelle Bouie).  I haven’t watched the debate, but you can see it at the link. It’s a real debate, with fixed times to speak and respond).

Click to read Hughes’s take on his experience, published at The Free Press:

Here’s what Coleman says:

Like any young writer, I am well aware that an invitation to speak at TED can be a career-changing opportunity. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I was invited to appear at this year’s annual conference. What I could not have imagined from an organization whose tagline is “ideas worth spreading” is that it would attempt to suppress my own.

As an independent podcaster and author, I count myself among the lucky few who can make a living doing what they truly love to do. Nothing about my experience with TED could change that. The reason this story matters is not because I was treated poorly, but because it helps explain how organizations can be captured by an ideological minority that bends even the people at the very top to its will. In that, the story of TED is the story of so many crucial and once-trustworthy institutions in American life.

The path to the required ancillary debate was long and convoluted:

TED draws a progressive crowd, so I expected that my talk might upset a handful of people. And indeed, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a handful of scowling faces. But the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. The audience applauded; some people even stood up. Throughout the meals and in hallways, people approached me to say they loved it, and those who disagreed with it offered smart and thoughtful criticisms.

But the day after my talk, I heard from Chris Anderson, the head of TED. He told me that a group called “Black@TED”—which TED’s website describes as an “Employee Resource Group that exists to provide a safe space for TED staff who identify as Black”—was “upset” by my talk. Over email, Chris asked if I’d be willing to speak with them privately.

I agreed to speak with them on principle, that principle being that you should always speak with your critics because they may expose crucial blind spots in your worldview. No sooner did I agree to speak with them than Chris told me that Black@TED actually was not willing to speak to me. I never learned why. I hoped that this strange about-face was the end of the drama. But it was only the beginning.

On the final day of the conference, TED held its yearly “town hall”—at which the audience can give feedback on the conference. The event opened with two people denouncing my talk back-to-back. The first woman called my talk “racist” as well as “dangerous and irresponsible”—comments that were met with cheers from the crowd. The second commentator, Otho Kerr, a program director at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, claimed that I was “willing to have us slide back into the days of separate but equal.” (The talk is online, so you can judge for yourself whether those accusations bear any resemblance to reality.)

TED threatened not to post the talk at all, but then agreed to do so if it were part of a single video that included a “moderated conversation” as an “extension” of the talk.  Hughes naturally didn’t like that, as it would out his talk as somehow different from the others, requiring an “asterisk”.  Finally, TED agreed to post the talk above separately and promote it as it would any other TED talk, but that an ancillary “debate” video would also be posted no fewer than two weeks after Coleman’s talk.  Along with this caveat came TED’s failure to promote Hughes’s talk, so that it got many fewer views than comparable talks (some far less challenging).


I held up my end of the bargain. TED did not.

My talk was posted on the TED website on July 28. The debate was posted two weeks later. By the time the debate came out, I had moved on—I assumed that TED had held up its end of the bargain and was no longer paying close attention.

Then, on August 15, Tim Urban––a popular blogger who delivered one of the most viewed TED talks of all time—pointed out that my talk had only a fraction of the views of every other TED talk released around the same time. Urban tweeted:

There have been a million talks about race at TED. For this talk and only for this talk was the speaker required to publicly debate his points after the talk as a condition for having it posted online. As it is, the lack of standard promotion by TED has Coleman’s talk at about 10% of the views of all the other talks surrounding his on their site.

Two days later, I checked to see if Tim was onto something. As of August 17, the two talks released just before mine had 569K and 787K views, respectively, on TED’s website. The two talks released immediately after mine—videos that had less time to circulate than mine—had 460K, 468K views, and 489K views, respectively. My talk, by comparison, had 73K views—only 16 percent of the views of the lowest-performing video in its immediate vicinity.

My debate with Jamelle Bouie—a New York Times columnist with almost half a million followers on X, formerly Twitter—has performed even worse on TED’s website. As of Tuesday, September 19—after having over a month to circulate—it had a whopping 5K views. That makes it the third worst-performing video released by TED in all of 2023.

Either my TED content is performing extremely poorly because it is far less interesting than most of TED’s content, or TED deliberately is not promoting it. A string of evidence points to the latter explanation: unique among the TED talks released around the same time as mine, my talk has still not been reposted to the TED Talks Daily podcast. In fact, it was not even posted to YouTube until I sent an email inquiry.

Given the stimulating nature of Hughes’s talk, at least in my opinion, I attribute its poor viewership to TED’s failure to promote it. Not putting it on YouTube until Hughes forced them to is absolutely unforgivable.

The lesson, as Hughes points out, is that TED shows all the signs of being an “institution captured by the new progressive orthodoxy,” one in danger of becoming “yet another echo chamber.” Indeed, TED is becoming the NPR of public elocution.

I’ve never been a fan of TED: to me it seems to convey bromides that make the audience feel good, telling them what they want to hear. I haven’t found it intellectually challenging, either. This account by Hughes, and the pushback by TED, confirms my opinion.  Please watch the talk above and, whether or not you agree with it, ask yourself if it deserved substandard treatment, to the extent of not even being put on YouTube.

Of course it didn’t deserve that treatment, but got it because its message challenged the progressive orthodoxy of privileged TED viewers, and TED had to somehow punish Hughes for that.

37 thoughts on “TED stiffs Coleman Hughes for conveying a message ideologically unpalatable to the woke

  1. In Hughes’s piece about this on Bari Weiss’s substack, he adds the interesting detail that he was at one point directed by psychologist Adam Grant to look at a paper that was, he was told, “a meta-analysis of 296 studies, they found that whereas color-conscious models reduce prejudice and discrimination, color-blind approaches often fail to help and sometimes backfire.” Yet, when he looked at the paper, Hughes found its conclusions were the reverse: “In the results section, the authors write that ‘colorblindness is negatively related to stereotyping’ and ‘is also negatively related to prejudice.’ They also found that ‘meritocracy is negatively related to discrimination.’ ”

    It occurs to me that Adam Grant has simply misread the results, thinking that “negatively related to prejudice” means “causes negative feelings that give rise to prejudice”. This is the only explanation I can think of for why he would tell someone to look at a paper that he claims says the opposite of what it actually does.

    1. “It occurs to me that Adam Grant has simply misread the results, thinking that “negatively related to prejudice” means “causes negative feelings that give rise to prejudice”.”

      That was my interpretation as well. Which doesn’t say much for Mr. Grant, who is either careless or not particularly bright.

    2. That kind of carelessness, or ignorance, is very much what you see in certain famous studies regarding the efficacy of “gender affirming care”. And again, they are psychologists.

      Yes, I am making a judgment about the field of psychology itself. My deep doubts began 40+ years ago when I started to read the discourse about homosexuality and finding that it was in fact much to do about effeminacy, itself a transposition of hostility that you used to see in psychology against women.

      And then there were lobotomies and later recovered memory and so and on……

  2. At this point, good I say – an inversion of radical activism / demonstration – subversive on a level previously the sole domain of Marxist revolutionaries.

    Take that, “Technology Entertainment and Design”. Hughes has the high ground, and they know it.

  3. It’s absurd how racism is now considered admirable and equality is seen as something bad. Even in the cases where race-based policies are meant to address real problems, you can usually approach the issue in a race-neutral way because race is just a proxy for what the underlying issue.

    For example, if black children drop out of school at higher rates, one can address it by race-based approaches. However, the real issue is children dropping out of school, race is just a proxy for the risk of that. But we don’t only want to help black children, we want to help all children. A race-neutral approach would directly target the issue of interest and the support would be divided proportionally where there are problems.

  4. “…It simply means that those policies should be executed on the basis of class instead of race.” – Coleman Hughes

    I too think that…

    “The best thing that could happen to the American left would be for the academics to get back into the class struggle, and for the labor union members to forgive and forget the stupid and self-defeating anti-American rhetoric which filled the universities of the late 1960s.

    It is time to revive the kind of leftist politics which pervaded American campuses from the Great Depression through the early 1960s—a politics which centers on the struggle to prevent the rich from ripping off the rest of the country. If the unions will help us revive this kind of politics, maybe the academy and the labor movement can get together again. Maybe together we can help bring our country closer to the goal which matters most: the classless society.”

    (Rorty, Richard. “Back to Class Politics.” 1997. Reprinted in /What Can We Hope For? Essays on Politics/, edited by W. P. Malecki and Chris Voparil, 138-145. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2022. pp. 144-5)

    1. Hmm. Maybe the race and trans struggle is better. It keeps the factions of the Left tearing at each other’s throats and thwarts their efforts to create Venezuela-of-the-North run by the teachers unions.

    2. I agree that more and faster progress could be made by focusing more on class inequalities. I just don’t see that excluding addressing racial inequalities is required.

      1. I totally agree. But we address the racial inequalities where they actually exist as shown by the data. And we do it using the policy version of a scalpel instead of dropping an atomic bomb on our institutions as the antiracists would have it.

  5. Excellent blog. Thank you. I followed this story closely and (also) concluded that TED was NOT promoting Coleman’s TED talk because of pressure from within. I’m glad to see that Coleman is going “public” with the issue. I hope all of us and others can help promote the talk.

    Coleman is a national treasure. More power to him.

  6. This rejection of color-blindness seems to lead to a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.

    For example, if I meet a person of color and just assume things about their personality, character etc. based on their race, then I would justifiably be vulnerable to the charge of racism. I’ve always understood that thinking “here is a black person, they must therefore be X” is racist and unwelcome behavior.

    But if I DON’T assume anything about them because of their race, then apparently now I am guilty of the sin of being color blind?

    This seems absurd and unfair. So perhaps those who criticize the idea of color blindness are only talking about social policy at the level of groups, which they advocate should not be color blind, but at the same time want us to continue to be color blind at the level of the individual? That’s the only thing that would make sense to me…

  7. I never did like TED: non critical pop-science. This unfortunately confirms my bias agaist TED.

    Tolerance , colorblindness and equal opportunities are the only way out of race issues. Unfortunately campaign groups and guilt and shame driven corporate America trying to prevent this, and have become part of the problem and probably fuel polarization.

  8. Fair play isn’t a value for the Woke – which should discredit them on the spot in the eyes of anyone with common sense.

  9. I was surprised that he was invited to give a TED talk. After all, he testified before Congress against reparations for slavery. He’s a very independent thinker and one can’t predict his opinion on any given subject.

    1. I imagine the invitation was issued, and the talk given, before the complainers knew about it, and only then did they start making trouble for those who had issued the invitation …

  10. If Wikipedia and TED can fall, what is an institution that cannot fall?

    Not governments. Not the Church. Not the news media. Not social media. Not Disney. Not medical doctors, or hospitals. Not schools, libraries, or universities. Not the US Democratic Party. Not the police. Not geographically isolated Australia or New Zealand. Not prestigious Journals. Not corporate America. Not even comedians.

    Those have all fallen. This isn’t natural, not by any stretch of the imagination. This has a central, VERY well-funded, well connected, cause. But that central, semi-obvious point almost never gets mentioned by anyone on any podcast or in any published article.

    If it can’t be mentioned, it can’t be stopped.

    1. The workaround for that act of censorious prior restraint would be to criticize it under other videos on the same channel.

    2. Was this just a temporary thing? Because there are comments under Hughes’s video now on the TED channel. And most of them are old comments, so did they just turn them off/hide them temporarily?

  11. I just now tried to go to the video on Youtube by clicking “Youtube” at the bottom-right corner of the video on this page, but got:
    Blocked Page

    An error occurred during a connection to http://www.youtube.com.

    I tried removing all the extra junk in the URL so it was just “www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxB3b7fxMEA”, but that didn’t make a difference. Next I tried going to Youtube from a different ‘http_referrer’ (the URL you came from), and that worked. So it looks like Youtube blocks the video only if you try to go to the video from this site.

    However, unlike thinkingoutloud528’s experience, the comments were not disabled under the video for me.

  12. TED’s failure to promote Hughes’s talk is amazingly low – and I didn’t have very high expectations of TED beforehand.

    On the actual subject of colorblindness, this:

    traffic cams, which cannot be racially biased, but are opposed by many because they still yield proportionally more violations by blacks than by whites. … The answer is that blacks are violating traffic rules more often.

    –is highly dubious. I can think of an easy way to catch more Black traffic rulebreakers than other races, and it doesn’t involve having the cameras peer inside cars to identify the driver’s race. Hint: it’s the same way our policing policies catch disproportionally more Black drug users (on a per-user basis), even when individual cops on the beat are unbiased.

      1. Your link was paywalled, but Google gave me another report (by CNN) on the same study. Two locations on the NJ turnpike were studied; in one of them, Black drivers were found more likely to speed, while in the other there was no significant difference. So a lot depends on (spoiler alert!) where you put your cameras.

    1. Yes, I’m not sure what is going on there. The debate video with Jamelle Bouie only has 55,515 though, so there’s that….

  13. Make sure you go and watch the video on YouTube (not just at the FreePress), add a like and also a comment. TED may not promote it but we can make YouTube’s algorithm do it for them!

  14. Someone from TED has responded on Twitter.


    “Coleman, thanks again for coming to TED. The hyper-divided world we’re in right now is so hard to navigate. It’s hard to say anything that matters without sparking anger. I see you as a fellow traveler on that journey, and truly wish you well. And to your critics, I wish them well too. Many people have been genuinely hurt and offended by what they heard you say. This is not what we dream of when we post our talks.”

  15. The Free Press has published responses from the boss of TED and the social scientist who analyzed Hughes’ talk. The first is as weaselly as expected, and the latter steps right in it with “discrimination may be most problematic in organizations where color blindness prevails.” I expect he will wish he had thought a bit about that statement, as when color-blindness prevails, only merit will determine hiring and promotion. He has just stated that poor outcomes for a certain group occur under meritocracy, and did he really mean to demean their capabilities that way?

    1. This is no “gotcha” moment. Even the most militant of the new brand of antiracists acknowledge this. If a practice leads to inequity, it must be racist by nature. Kendi explicitly states this. Why do you think they’re working so hard to define meritocracy as another form of white supremacy?

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