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.