Coleman Hughes is the host of the popular podcast "Conversations with Coleman." He is a young African-American thinker who is also an atheist. In this conversation, Coleman joins Sean on his YouTube channel. They discuss race in America and Coleman's religious views.
Coleman Hughes is a writer, podcaster and opinion columnist who specializes in issues related to race, public policy and applied ethics. Coleman’s writing has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Quillette, The City Journal and The Spectator. He has appeared on many TV shows and podcasts, including Real Time with Bill Maher, Making Sense with Sam Harris, and The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast.
Sean McDowell: Welcome, "Think Biblically" podcast listeners, we've got a bonus episode for you today. I recently had a conversation with a very interesting young man, his name is Coleman Hughes. He's an atheist, African-American thinker, has one of my favorite podcasts called "Conversations with Coleman". He covers range of cultural issues like we do on our podcast, but of course, rather than thinking biblically, he looks at it from his atheist world view. Well, I reached out to him and I said, "Hey, would you be willing to have a conversation with me just about some of the cultural issues surrounding race and also just surrounding who you are and your faith?", and he agreed. Not long ago, we had this conversation and it was not a debate. There's probably a few moments, if you listen to this, you think, "Ah, Sean, you could have pushed back stronger," and that's true, I pushed back a few times, but really just wanted to lead when my first meeting him with just generosity, kindness, give him a platform. He said he really enjoyed it and then maybe in the future I can have him back and we have an even more give-and-take, pushback conversation, maybe that's coming to the future. With that said, I think you're really going to enjoy his perspective on this bonus episode, and if you do, as always, we hope you'll consider sharing with a friend, so here's a conversation with Coleman Hughes. Coleman, really honored that you'd come on and join me for a conversation today.
Coleman Hughes: It's great to be here. It's awesome to see another person that's trying to do what I'm doing, which is have conversations with people that disagree with you and just seeing where you are as adults in a spirit of good will and all that. There's far too little of that in the culture right now.
Sean McDowell: Well, let's start there. I'm really curious, two things. Number one, where does your value for these kinds of conversations come from? Second, what gives you confidence? Because to me, we're only willing to engage people who see the world differently if there's a level of confidence in our own position that's not threatened by somebody who sees the world differently or just a value for truth. Where does that value and that confidence come from for you?
Coleman Hughes: I guess probably two places. One is probably in my life experience. I grew up with two parents that would often argue about very important societal topics. My dad was sort of an "I ran" the guy and then my mom was pretty much a Marxist. She had me reciting the names, Marx and Durkheim when I was years old.
Sean McDowell: Wow!
Coleman Hughes: Before I could spell Durkheim and I remember being really thrilled by how that name could be spelled as something like a five year old. She was doing a PhD in all those topics and it never seemed strange to me that two people could love each other and disagree about everything and occasionally concede things to the other and learn and grow as a result. Nowadays, that's, I wouldn't say it's unheard of, but it's less heard of. To marry someone with serious political differences is like marrying someone from a different religion used to be, a long time ago, more and more.
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Coleman Hughes: I guess half of my value that probably just comes from growing up with it it and seeing its value in that way and never thinking it's weird. In fact, thinking the opposite perspective is kind of weird. Then, the other value comes from the fact that I know how easy it is to be wrong about something just because I've been wrong so many times in my life and I know it's not usually because you're dumb or you're an idiot, it's usually because you're only looking at evidence that confirms your belief, you're in a crowd of like-minded people that are reinforcing each other and not looking for reasons to be skeptical of whatever the thing is. Under those conditions, it's possible to persist in believing something wrong for a pretty long time where intelligence is not at all the issue, which partly answers your next question, which is I don't view it as that much of a threat to my identity or ego if I get something seriously wrong. Obviously, I do at some level, it's very hard to completely turn that machinery off in your psychology,
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Coleman Hughes: but I ... usually, if I get over my initial moment of anger that I've gotten something wrong, I'm grateful for having the best, truest arguments because it improves you. I guess, you made a comment about having confidence, and yeah, I suppose I've never viewed myself as necessarily having confidence, although from the outside I'm sure it looks like that, but I've always been very interested and attentive to what's true and what the best arguments are. If someone makes a better one that just like, it just clicks with you, you understand why you were wrong in the past and you just slowly improve your grasp on reality. If I have any confidence, it comes from years of doing that, of having been wrong and understanding why I was wrong in the past and just, it's like improving at any skill, basically, but the skill is to grasp reality as it is.
Sean McDowell: It's really interesting to me. You described that your mom was a Marxist growing up. My father actually had a ton of debates by Marxist and as a Christian went to a Marxist education like indoctrination school in Latin America to learn how Marxist thought. This is back, I believe, around the 60s. But what my dad would always do, whether it's politics or religion, if I'd have an idea, he'd say, "Well son, have you thought about this? If I were skeptic, I'd push back like this. How would you answer?" What you said is it's possible to have arguments without being argumentative and that's a key distinction that's often not out there. Now, when I hear you describe where you're coming from in your value for following truth, that seems intuitive and obvious to me because I was raised, even though again, my parents see the world differently, shared that value. Why do you think that's so rare today? Is it because we find our identities in the positions that we hold and just are not trained that? I guess what I'm getting is why do you think the position you describe, which both of us agree is important, is such a minority or seemingly a minority position today?
Coleman Hughes: I'm not so sure it's ever been a majority position, not that you were necessarily implying that.
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Coleman Hughes: But I wonder to what degree ... proverbially, they killed Socrates for having that kind of caste in mind.
Sean McDowell: It's true.
Coleman Hughes: Which is a tongue in cheek way of saying most places in the world have always been somewhat hostile to the mindset that we put truth above everything else, including the taboos and sacred cows of our culture, whatever that is. That has never really been, I guess, the dominant ethos among people and I also think certain personality types are more prone to it than others. But at the same time, I don't want to minimize what you said, which is there is a palpable lack of it in the culture right now, particularly in the places that we've designated as places we devote to this thing. Right?
Sean McDowell: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Coleman Hughes: We've never been under the illusion that all of society is going to operate like a Socratic seminar or like your father did with you, always looking at the other side, even steel-manning your opponent's positions, right? The whole world is never going to be like this, but we do have spaces called universities that are supposed to, more or less, operate with the pursuit of truth at the top of the value system. In these spaces, these spaces have increasingly become precisely hostile to the kind of person. Playing devil's advocate is literally frowned upon at every elite Ivy league of college in the country. It's literally a common saying among students that he was one of those assholes that likes to play devil's advocate in class, which just means that anyone who tries to inhabit the opposing perspective for the sake of it, for the intellectual exercise, which is very important, it's literally frowned upon. You are making yourself lower status in that subculture by doing that. This is a ... it's a problem because That's exactly the space where that's supposed to be encouraged, that sort of thinking is supposed to be encouraged because it's one of the few places and times in your life where you can devote time specifically to the task of engaging with ideas you're unfamiliar with and enriching your philosophy of life and the ideas that you sort of ... the ideas you're familiar with.
Sean McDowell: A question I'm curious about is, you buck the trend in a couple ways on your views. number one, you're an atheist. Now, I would venture to say probably that's a minority position within the black community. Historically, the church seems to have been very important to black community, but also you seem to hold views about race and maybe politics that would be at odds with the larger black community. First off, am I right about that broadly speaking? If so is either one of those harder or more challenging to navigate just as an intellectual or as a person?
Coleman Hughes: That is a great question, many different ways to answer it. Interestingly, I would say, if you look at the total U.S African-American population, my views on politics are probably less controversial than being an atheist still. If I went to the average black family reunion in South Carolina, probably my being an atheist would be more of a minority position than the things I would say about racism.
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Coleman Hughes: Now the reason that may be surprising to people, people are thinking, "Well, no. Come on Coleman, so many more people, if you were saying systemic racism is not as big a problem as they say, racism is exaggerated, that the problem is culture, so many people would pushback against you on this." That's true, but far fewer people would pushback against that in private than would in public. Again, black Americans, black Democrats are far more conservative than white Democrats in their beliefs on pretty much everything even though black people vote 90% for Democrats as a block. There is this phenomenon, which John McWaters also talked about of. In the black community, you're supposed to talk one way in public and one way in private. Privately, you can acknowledge that, "Okay." Over 60% of kids born out of wedlock, like nothing is going to happen until the family structure is remedied and it starts in the home and all of that stuff, none of that stuff is actually controversial in black-only spaces. It's controversial to say it publicly where "white" people can overhear, because then you're airing dirty laundry in public and you're a traitor. But the thing about being an atheist, less true than it was probably in my dad's generation is that, that is still taboo privately and publicly. That's taboo in every sense. Does that make sense?
Sean McDowell: That does make sense. That's such a fascinating way to look at it that I had not thought of. Let me take a step back. You might have answered this a little bit, but tell us a little bit for my audience, who maybe is just getting introduced to you, a little bit more about who you are and in particular, some of your beliefs. If you're raised by a mother, who's a Marxist would seem to be very different, at least politically and on racial issues, unless I'm mistaken about some of those, although Marxism would be an atheistic system. Tell me at the heart, introduce my audience, who is Coleman Hughes? What are the experiences you had that shape who you are and that tend to shape the way you think, why you think the way you do?
Coleman Hughes: I'm from New Jersey. I'm from a very nice, diverse blue, politically blue suburb in New Jersey called Montclair and basically a suburb of New York. I guess, long story short, have a great family, had a great childhood, I was always interested in music and also philosophy. Essentially, those were my two interests really as a kid and ended up graduating high school and going to the Juilliard School for Jazz for a little while before leaving, transferring to Columbia and doing philosophy degree where I started writing about race and racial issues. What provoked me to start writing was, it was never something I was actually interested in, I always thought race was pretty boring. As a kid, I effortlessly had friends with different races and it never seemed ... race never seemed relevant except for making the occasional stupid joke. But when I got to Columbia and even before it, I started encountering this really strange, different trend that has gone by. Social justice, wokeness, all of these names, which basically said, really for the first time in my life, your race makes you a special victim, you have to lean into your racial gender, sexual identity as much as possible, make it the most important thing about you. Notice every micro example in which the way the world might be unfair towards you as a result of your identity, some of which are real, some of which are imagined and really just center that as in your social and psychological life. That's a way of being that no one in my family had really taught me to model, but I got it from professors at Columbia, from other students that had gotten it from professors or from Tumblr from the internet. This new identity you could take on as a noble victim essentially only in so far as you had an identity card to cash it out with. The whole thing struck me as ... I understood what was seductive about it, but it struck me as oppose, that was not based on any real oppression. I can really say that of the kids that did it at Columbia where I was. It was opposed based on zero actual oppression.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Coleman Hughes: The most privileged you could possibly have to be on Columbia's campus, to be in the top 1% of students that go to the most elite university in like the safest time there's ever been to live in New York. It's amazing the opportunities at our feet. Many kids were speaking as if they were my grandfather growing up in Jim Crow. It's like they had more of a victim complex than my grandfather did.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Coleman Hughes: Which was amazing to me. It was shocking and it cried out for an explanation like what is going on here? Something huge is going on and I need to understand it. That's why I started writing about race. When I was at Columbia, I started writing for Colette's online magazine, through there for some other major newspapers and started a podcast and that's who I am.
Sean McDowell: Again, if you're tracking this conversation, hit pause and go to either YouTube or where you get your podcast and subscribe to "Conversations with Coleman." It is one of the podcasts I regularly listen to, thoroughly enjoy. Even times when we may differ on issues, I feel like you give a fair shake to people. You care about truth and I've seen you like-
Coleman Hughes: Thank you, I try to.
Sean McDowell: You do. I've seen you publicly change your mind when presented with evidence, which I think is commendable. We're going to come back. You mentioned race and writing on this and a lot of your podcasts cover this. Going to come back to some of the issues like white supremacy, critical race theories, police brutality. I want to just get your thoughts on this, but first you also describe yourself as an atheist. I think a lot of my audience would be interested in just how you answer some of the big questions. For example, I realize this is a huge question, but having studied philosophy, you obviously thought about this a lot. The philosophical question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" As an atheist, how do you approach the question of the origin of the universe?
Coleman Hughes: Yeah. The answer to the question on its face, why is there something rather than nothing is I have no idea.
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Coleman Hughes: It's a deep mystery that we may never solve and we may, in principle, be unable to solve, because I don't think that it has to be true that every question that we could pose is answerable by us or that if we got the answer we would understand it. I don't think humans occupy the ... I don't think we're the most intelligent, possible life forms. If that's true, then it's probably true. There's a lot of questions that we wouldn't even understand the answer to if we saw it, like if you tried to explain calculus to a chimp. It's just ... there's no point and there are probably things that are like calculus are to chimps to us that we're just never going to scratch the surface of and that might be one of those questions and the origin of consciousness might be another one of those questions. But as an atheist, I guess what I would say is, I'm not sure how a religious person is or how God solves the mystery. Because it seems to just push the question back further. If God is the reason there's something rather than nothing, then I guess you could just change the question. The question effectively becomes why is there a God rather than no God, which then just becomes the analogous mystery for theists. It's a mystery and I'm not sure it really makes a difference whether you're an atheist or a religious person to how deep that mystery is.
Sean McDowell: This is a whole conversation we could probe into, but I'm curious. If your answer to this one is more agnostic, you're not sure, don't have an answer to it, why don't you consider yourself an agnostic versus an atheist? When you say you're an atheist, there's even debate about the term, what do you mean by that term?
Coleman Hughes: Oh yeah. I guess by atheist, I mean someone who doesn't believe in God the same way I don't believe in ... I'm not agnostic about Zeus and Athena and most religious people aren't agnostic about the monkey god of some whatever.
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Coleman Hughes: I would acknowledge it. It's possible, theoretically, that God exists. It's just to the extent that I've seen no evidence for it, I put the Christian God in the same category I put as Zeus and Athena, namely stories that can be deeply inspiring and moving and that origin myths that are powerful, but are not literally true.
Sean McDowell: Okay. Is there any evidence you've seen that gives you pause? I ask because people like Christopher Hitchens, the late new atheist, I heard in ... I can't remember if it was a debate or interview. Actually, it was an interview with Doug Wilson, he said, "It was the fine tuning of the universe where there's certain constants in Physics that exist within a narrow range to allow life." That gave him pause and he thought that was a good argument. Didn't buy it, but gave him pause. People like C.S. Lewis, former atheist obviously became a Christian. It was things like music, and I know you described your background in jazz, to him pointed towards something that was transcendent they couldn't be captured in the physical. Is there anything about the theistic worldview that kind of gives you pause or is it just you find no reason whatsoever to embrace it?
Coleman Hughes: I think two things give me me pause in two different ways. One is in the psychological value of religion. Insofar as you believe, every person has a soul and everyone's soul is importantly connected to God. It's then very easy to believe very useful things in life. Very pro-social, very warm, beautiful things, like everyone has good within them. Insofar as you get rid of all of the bits of religion that would cause a good person to act worse, such as the homophobic elements and misogynistic elements of scripture, you get rid of those and you just keep it to the core of everyone has an eternal soul, that you should do good when no one's watching. All of these things are very good ways to be, and it's difficult. I don't think secular culture has matched them with beliefs that would necessarily get you to act that way in every case. That's one thing that gives me pause is. Is it better to move through the world psychologically believing certain aspects of religion?
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Coleman Hughes: Then I guess, a mystery that gives me pause is why there's consciousness at all? By consciousness, I mean the feeling of what it's like, the feeling that it's like something to be this body. That there's a perspective it's like from the inside is something that science has no explanation for, I think, because you can perfectly well ... scientifically, you can imagine all the machinery of the human body from the atoms on up, working perfectly well like a machine and you can understand why everything happens starting with Physics, you can understand it at the level of biology, you can understand it at the level of chemistry, but nowhere in any of those sciences is there a law that suggests when all of this comes together, it's going to feel like something to be that hunk of atoms.
Sean McDowell: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Coleman Hughes: There's going to be a subjective first person experience. There's nothing in physics or biology that really explains why given that the same atoms inside me are inside like hunks of our inside star is just inanimate objects. Why there's something it's like to be this hunk of atoms, as opposed to a lifeless hunk of atoms. That's a deep mystery that has not come. It's not even close to being explained by anything in science and again, I might put it in the category of mysteries we won't ever understand and can't understand in principle.
Sean McDowell: That's really interesting that the origin, the universe is a mystery and also the origin of consciousness. As a Christian apologist, it probably wouldn't surprise you that I think there's a good plausible explanation for these within the theistic worldview, but that's something we could come back to. I appreciate that honest, honest response from you. Two other questions about religion, then we'll jump back to some of the issues of race is, oftentimes, as you know, I'm sure you've taken a ton of classes on philosophy to intersect with religion in metaphysics, one of the big question is where morality comes from? I could simply ask you, do you believe in objective morality on an atheist? How do you ground this? But I want to approach it through the back door and ask the question, why would something like racism be wrong on an atheist world view? Now, before you answer that, I want to make sure nobody hears me saying that I think atheists are more racist, not my point whatsoever. You and I are talking about what's called the grounding problem, where does right and wrong come from? Does it actually exist? Do we have moral values and duties, et cetera. That's the question I'm getting at through the lens of race. I guess, as a Christian theist I'd answer this by saying, God made us in his image. We all have value and we're called to love one another, and racism is an act of impartiality mistreating somebody that we shouldn't treat that way. That would be like a quick Christian theist response to why racism would be wrong, and I realize that raises a ton of other questions, but how would you answer that as an atheist?
Coleman Hughes: Yeah. I guess a couple of ways. One would be that, ultimately, as an atheist, I ground questions of right and wrong in the notion of human suffering and human flourishing, which I think are concepts you don't need God or religion to understand the general shape of and to be motivated by. That's where I would ... what's good is what increases human flourishing and what's bad is what decreases it, what increases suffering. Broadly speaking, racism increases suffering definitely in the long run. When it comes to what is the reason we should treat people the same, scientifically, we are all of the same species. People didn't understand this for a long time, they actually thought people of different races were-
Sean McDowell: Yeah.
Coleman Hughes: Literally came from different branches of the evolutionary tree, but we understand that to be untrue right now and it's illogical to treat people differently because of their skin color. It's immoral because you are increasing the sum of human suffering in the world by mistreating someone for bad reasons.
Sean McDowell: It's a great, concise response. I have one follow up that would help as a ... I think you and I would agree on the importance of human flourishing. I would look at human flourishing and say there's a God who made us an intends for us to flourish as human beings, so there's teleology and purpose built into the universe. Where does my obligation come from to care about your flourishing or somebody else in a universe without God?
Coleman Hughes: Where does your obligation to care about my suffering come in?
Sean McDowell: Yeah, or somebody else's. Is there actually an objective moral obligation to care about human flourishing? If somebody decided they want to be like Machiavelli in "The Prince" and just deceive for personal gain, what obligation is that person breaking?
Coleman Hughes: I think the word obligation is confusing me a little here, because at face value, there is none as an atheist.
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Coleman Hughes: An obligation literally is ... it implies somebody out there making you do it or telling you have had to do it, but there's no one out there that is going to tell you had to save the drowning baby that you're walking past rather than get your shoes wet, even if it means getting your shoes wet. There's no one in the universe, I think, that is going to tell you have to do that, because I told you of duty. Nevertheless, I think we have a duty to our fellow human beings and animals, because we know that they're capable of suffering just like we are, and that if it's in our power to help, we absolutely should do that. If should means anything, we should do what's in our power to help the people around us. I do think this comes down to a rule that is in Christianity, as well as Buddhism and other places that you want to treat ... you understand that people are similar to you and you want to treat them how you would want to be treated.
Sean McDowell: One more question, you mentioned Christianity. Do you have an opinion, we're recording this around the holiday seasons around Christmas, do you have an opinion or thoughts about who Jesus was and why?
Coleman Hughes: That's a very interesting question. I haven't done any research on the historical Jesus.
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Coleman Hughes: I've paid attention to what people say. There are people that say the historical Jesus didn't exist at all probably, and that seems unlikely to me. I think it's much more likely that if I were to bet my money, if I had to bet money on who Jesus was, as an atheist, I would say he was probably an extremely charismatic man that said many wise and inspiring things and developed a following, and probably many of those saying have been ... probably, we only have a loose picture of who he was really, because of the game of telephone that is history, where what we think he said probably kind of resembles what he said a little bit, but he was probably a wise and influential spiritual teacher who developed a following that eventually became Christianity.
Sean McDowell: Okay. That's fair. I appreciate that you qualify your answer to the amount of research that you've done. I think it's very fair and commendable. Let's shift to another equally sensitive topic that you agree to talk about. Let's jump back in into race. I've heard you talk about this on your podcast asking other people, but I'm curious how you would respond to the question, "Is America a racist nation?"
Coleman Hughes: That's an interesting question. I like to start from the perspective of the world, which is ... let me start this again. There are two ways to answer that. One is to compare America to other places in the world in terms of how much racism there is, and to see where America lies. Is America behind the curve of the rest of the world in terms of how much bigotry our people have in their hearts? How much bigotry is enshrined in our laws? The second way to answer that question is to compare America to a utopia you can imagine in your head, where there is no racism and see that America's horrible by comparison. We have mass shooters, we have whites, we have mass shooters going into synagogues and killing Jewish people. We have people writing the N word on bath and stalls and all kinds of craziness. I think many people who say America is a racist nation are picturing a country, a perfect utopia in their head and finding that America doesn't live up to it. Whereas, I've always felt the only relevant comparison is between ... is the actual alternative, and this is a point Thomas Solo would make a lot. Go live in other places in the world and you will begin to understand that racism is not an American problem, it's a human problem. It's a problem that comes out of some of our tribal instincts to associate with people similar to ourselves, and to view people who look different as potential enemies. That has also been stoked and geared up by ideologues. But truth be told, America is one of the least racist places on Earth, and that some people find that to be absolutely shocking if I say that. But there are places in the world where it's just ... Okay, let me give you an example.
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Coleman Hughes: To this day, the colloquial word in Arabic for a black person is Abid, which is the same word as slave.
Sean McDowell: Wow!
Coleman Hughes: The reason for this is because the Arab world had lots of African slavery, which is never talked about. Millions of Africans were enslaved in the Arab world starting a thousand years ago. The word they encountered in the Arab world, they mostly encountered black people, Africans as slaves, as was also true in the new world, so it just became the same word. Now, look at where the west is in terms of reckoning with its slavery. We have the 1619 project, we have a museum in the nation's capital partly funded by the government and heavily funded by all kinds of patrons dedicated to the African-American experience with extensive exhibits on slavery. Even 50 years ago, we had "Roots", which was a documentary that was the highest rated thing on television at that time and was not surpassed by anything else for a pretty long time, telling the story of a black slave captured, brought to America, forced to work. This is where the west is on slavery. However bad you want to say we are, if you compare the soul searching the west has done on the issue of racism and slavery to elsewhere in the world, it's impossible to say that we're behind the curve rather than setting the standard and ahead of the curve.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Coleman Hughes: There's no soul searching or social justice worrying about slavery in the Arab world. They're still calling black people Abid. This is what I don't understand why people say America is a racist nation. America is the number one place that people of color around the world want to be. That's a fact. That's a fact of world migration patterns. This is the number one desired destination for migrants of color around the world. Are we saying, when we say America is a racist nation, that there is still racism in America? Because that's true. I think there will always be racism probably everywhere on Earth. I think it will dwindle as people become less and less ignorant, but it will never go away just like murder will never go away. Nobody expects a world that is free of murderers and murderous rage. To me it's like saying America is like a rageful nation. Do you think that's ever going to fully go away? No, we can fight it and we are fighting it, and I think still making real progress in terms of the number of people over time that will really sign off on a racist worldview, really say things like, "I don't want my kids marrying someone of the other race." We poll people on this all the time and the numbers have come down, but they're still, for some of these questions, they hover around 5, 10, sometimes more percent of Americans will just check the box and say, "Yep, I do not want my child marrying a black man," for instance. Probably, the number of people that think that without saying it is probably somewhat higher. I don't expect that to ever go away. There's never been a multi-racial society on earth without this kind of bigotry. America and the west, in general, have been on the forefront of pushing back against that world view. To me, it's ignorance of the world that allows someone to say America is a racist nation and I'm not really sure what they mean by it, if not that.
Sean McDowell: That's really fair and interesting to compare it to some utopian vision and other nations around the world. Our expectations in how we frame the question is going to shape how we respond to it. In these conversations, the topic that always comes up is police violence against black people and I've heard you do full shows on this, so obviously, we could spend a couple of hours unpacking it. But as you look at that, what are just some of the key takeaways that you have? Is it like this is a serious issue, needs to be reformed, this is overstated? How do you look at the larger issue of police violence, in particular, against black people?
Coleman Hughes: Basically, what I would say about this is my reading of the evidence suggests that black people and black men in particular are much more likely to be harassed by the cops, stopped without proper cause, treated disrespectfully. Put that in one bucket. In the other bucket, we talk about people who get killed by the cops, shot and killed. This is where the narrative has gotten totally out of control and where the media has been horribly derelict in its duty to attend to the data, which is to say there is not a substantial difference once you account for differences in crime rates between unarmed black people getting killed by the cops and unarmed white people getting killed by the cops. If you think I'm ... if one thinks I'm crazy for saying that, this is partly because the media, the national media almost never reports it when an unarmed white person gets shot and killed by the cops. Without even looking at the databases, I can guarantee you that in 2021, many, many unarmed white people have been killed by the cops and you don't know a single one of their names, because CNN doesn't report it, MSNBC, probably even Fox in many cases doesn't report it. It just stays in the local town tribune in Arkansas or somewhere. A lot of these things tend to happen more and more in the south actually. But it just never reaches escape velocity international news unless the victim is black, in which case you're hearing about it all over Twitter. Obviously, the paradigm case of this is the different reactions to the death of George Floyd and Tony Timpa. Tony Timpa was a white guy who died in a very, very similar way to George Floyd with a cop having his knee on his upper back for 13 minutes. It was every bit as disturbing as the George Floyd video, but just nobody ... nationally, very few people care. It didn't become a movement, so we end up getting a skewed picture of what the real problem is here. We think that the problem is racist killer cops. No, the problem is a few things. One is that it is true that it's historically up till now been extremely difficult for police to face consequences for misbehavior, because of how powerful their unions are, because they never rat on each other and because it's just very difficult for police departments to police themselves. What that has meant is that a lot of police officers, and there's a certain kind of police officer that's attracted to their job precisely because they get to exercise power over other people. There's the cops that go to it, because they want to improve the community, and then there's the cops that are attracted to the job because they want an outlet for their tendency to power hour trip, essentially. That contingent of the cops has had far too ... has had a much easier time of it historically than they should have. They've exercised that probably more on black men than on any other demographic. But when it comes to Americans shot dead by the cops, this is an area where really consider in 2021, does any cop in America want to become the next Derek Chauvin? Does any cop want to completely destroy their life by shooting an unarmed black person in an ambiguous circumstance? No. If a cop shoots an unarmed black person, it's because they feel their life is in such danger at that a moment that they have no better option than to pull the trigger. Another aspect of the conversation that's not talked about, a lot of cops die every year. It's a dangerous job. Cops get shot and killed. Their guns get stolen by people bigger than them who then kill them. That happens every year, every cop knows about it and it's a dirty job and it's a difficult job. It's a job that requires a very high level of skill to do well. We have to always keep in mind that we are ... one of the jobs of the cops is to deal with people that are so difficult to deal with that the rest of civilization just taps out, and we have a number to call. Like, I can't handle this person, they're violent, they're confusing, I have no idea how to reach them with words and we have a number to call to get other people to deal with them. It's one of the dirtiest jobs that exists and it's extremely difficult. You're put into situations where, occasionally, it could be either your life or theirs. You're also put into situations where you don't know yet if it's a life or death situation, right?
Sean McDowell: Yeah.
Coleman Hughes: Where someone is reaching into their pocket for something, that could be a phone or a pencil or a gun. On the off chance it's a gun, you're not going home to your kids. This is what you're getting paid $40,000 a year for. Okay, the benefits are very good. Most of us in our jobs are not ... I really don't like this idea that, "Well, that's just what you sign up for. You sign up to maybe die." I just think that's a really easy thing to say if you're not in a job like that. That's not how we treat veterans. Well, I don't know. Too bad, you signed up to die. It is such a dismissive attitude towards a difficult and important job, a job without which society would not be able to function. I have a lot of sympathy for people that are in this position. None of them want to become the next Derek Chauvin. If they're pulling the trigger, they're doing so as a last, last, last resort to save their lives, except for when they don't, because there are legitimate, real murders by cops.
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Coleman Hughes: That absolutely does happen and should be punished to the full extent of the law and increasingly is, which is heartening to see. But in any event, this is, and I've gone on for a long time, but this is-
Sean McDowell: It's fine.
Coleman Hughes: An area where the media narrative is really skewed. Nobody ever hears about the 6-year-old white kid that gets shot five times through a window. That has happened in very recent memory. No one hears about it. No one, there are no protests all around cities asking you to remember their names. Again, the problem here is not racist, killer cops, it's cops that are poorly trained, cops, in some cases, that shouldn't be cops, that are just not up to the task, put into difficult situations and handling them poorly. They do it with white Americans, they do it with black Americans, with Hispanics. The fact that this happens to every race and it does happen to every race, just look at the Washington Post analysis. It happens frequently to members of every race, suggests that the problem is not the cops being racist. The problem is them being put into difficult situations that a subset of them are very bad at handling, and so have to resort immediately to the weapon in order to defend themselves are unable to deescalate, and so that's what I would say about that.
Sean McDowell: That's great. Yeah, that's awesome. I got a handful more for you. I appreciate you letting me ask you these tough questions.
Coleman Hughes: Yeah, no problem.
Sean McDowell: These are the questions people are trying to make sense of, and we hear discussed and debated all the time. Do you think we should be a color blind society? You can define that and answer however you want to, but we hear debates about whether we should be color blind or not. Obviously, we think of Martin Luther King Jr. saying judge by character, not skin color. Should we aim to be a color blind society? Yes or no? Why and Why not?
Coleman Hughes: I think the word color blindness now has we become a dirty word in our society. It's become ... if you say that you want to be color blind, people just roll their eyes at you now. They're like, "Oh God, this guy just really doesn't get it. He's so stuck in the past. He doesn't understand that being color blind is actually racist, because you're not recognizing my blackness, you're not recognizing the difference, you're not recognizing that I, as a black person, have been a victim of racism and you're choosing not to see my color, but I want you to see my color." This is the perspective that I'm hearing a lot right now in the culture. I think it's a mistake. I think color blindness not in the sense of, "I pretend not to see race." Everyone sees race. But in the sense of, I really deeply try to treat people without regard to their race. I try to treat people the same. I try to treat people in a race neutral manner and that your race is not a deep or important part of who you are. To me, that's what color blindness really is and that's very important. We all know that this means nothing. Your skin color does not mean anything deep down. Insisting on that is what I would hope color blindness in the 21st century can mean. There's obviously just a huge wave of people identifying with their race. On the left, this comes in the form of racial, like a new strong black identity, strong person of color identity. On the far right, it comes in the form of Richard Spencer outright, white identity. To me, color blindness is just a rejection of those two things. It's just the embrace of just really insisting that the human family is not and should not be divided by color. It's nothing more than the recognition that your best friend or your spouse or your kids can be a different race than you, and that need not be a barrier at all to your relationship or closeness with them. Your closest relationships in the world can be with a person of another race. If you ever needed a demonstration that race is superficial, that's it right there. I think color blindness needs to update from the "I don't see color" phrase, which is misleading and confusing for people, because you do see color.
Sean McDowell: Right.
Coleman Hughes: Into just the insistence that I don't care about color. I really strive to treat people around me equally. Maybe sometimes I fail, but I try and we should all try and we should not abandon the effort, which is what some people want us to do. Some people have become cynical about this issue, they say "There's racism out there so screw it. I'm going to just recede into my race. If you're playing this game, I'm going to play this game too and I'm going to do it without any effort or pretense at being race neutral in the world." Color blindness is a rejection of that.
Sean McDowell: I think that's a great response. I do love that you said, "We try to treat people impartially, but sometimes fall short." This is the one thing cancel culture doesn't allow. You get pegged a racist, it's all over the internet and your reputation and your life is done. What you're saying is let's calm down a little bit, let's be willing to let people make some mistakes, because there's bigger things at play to have these kind of genuine relationships. At least that's partly what I heard you saying on top of that. I got a couple more for you, want to respect your time. On my show, I've had probably two or three conversations on critical race theory. I've had a number of other race conversations. Whenever I do that, I tend to hear from some people that the topic, even in itself, is missing the mark of where real injustice is taking place and it's kind of a way for people, in particular white people, to avoid really dealing with the heart of the issue when it comes to race relations. Now, I've seen and I listened to your interview with Christopher Rufo, so obviously you care about race relations, but you also have concern about critical race theory, if I read that correctly. As a whole, I know this a huge topic, but should we be concerned about critical race theory? Should we not be concerned? Why or why not?
Coleman Hughes: Critical race theory, what it really is an academic philosophy that comes out of a different collection of like left wing ideologies from the 70s and 80s, and without going into it in too much detail, it is a rejection of the colorblind rhetoric of the civil rights movement. Critical race theorist basically said Martin Luther king, all that stuff was good, all was necessary, but it didn't go nearly far enough in its philosophy and it was far too accommodationist and far too universal in its emphasis on humanity. What we want to say is, basically, there's blackness and there's whiteness. There's black values and there's white values and they're not the same. Our society is built on white values that help white people and there's no such thing as anything race neutral. You're going to tell me this test to get into college is race neutral? Well, no, it's not. It's actually built to benefit white people and if you say less black people are getting into the school and it's just because they're not doing as well on the test, well, no, actually the test and the society are deeply imbalanced in subtle ways that are hard to recognize, so that black people are disadvantaged. All the markers we think are neutral or actually white structures in disguise. That's basically what critical race theory says. Then, the version of critical race theory that seeps into these seminars and colleges and teachers' colleges and high schools, is basically the Robin DiAngelo watered down version of critical race theory that basically says, "If you're a white person, you should never disagree with a black person about race. Black people are always right about race." This is literally pretty much what Robin DiAngelo says. You have to defer to any black person you're speaking to if the topic is racism. You are inherently racist by the fact that you are white growing up in this country, you could not have ... you can't not be racist, if you're a white person growing up in America, that's what she says. You basically just drink it in with your mother's milk. In that way, she says, it's in a way, not your fault that you're a racist. You couldn't help but be a racist, but here's how I'm going to help you fight that. As a Christian, you may recognize some of the similarities between this message and the notion of original sin, right?
Sean McDowell: Yeah.
Coleman Hughes: You're born with a flaw. That is not your fault that you were born with it, but by following a specific program, you can fight it and you'll never really get rid of it. She is trying to be a version of, like a replacement Christianity because John McWhorter put it, I thought that was a very good way of putting it.
Sean McDowell: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Coleman Hughes: Combined with this is a view of black people that is, to me, unrecognizable and actually racist, which is ... so for instance, in the book, she says that a white person should not cry around a black person. You should not show tears around LeShaun because the sight of white tears, according to Robin DiAngelo, triggers the history of past moments where white tears have led to a black person getting lynched. For instance, the white lady that lied about Emmett Till raping her. Her tears led to sympathy that ended up in an innocent black man getting lynched black kid in this instance. Therefore, you shouldn't cry in front of me today because I'll be triggered essentially. This is what Robin Di Angelo thinks black people are like, which is insane to me. She basically thinks that we're children and that we're more brittle than paper and that we have no, not even basic adult control over our emotions and reactions. I don't know what black people she's around, but it's kind of astonishing that is being sold as anti-racist, when it's in fact very racist.
Sean McDowell: That's a great response. I enjoyed your conversation with John McWhorter about this on his book, "Woke Racism", where he felt the same about this. I think you said she had one experience and drew all these implications about black people in a way that is arguably demeaning and racist. Two more questions for you, if that's all right. Imagine we are sitting in the same room, I'm on the west coast, you're on the east coast and I said, "Coleman, I have a hundred marbles and I have three jars, and a way to divvy these up where you think the heart of the problem is on racial relations today in America, one jar would be society. Are there societal systemic problems? A second jar would be individual responsibility and a third jar would be culture. Would you challenge those jars? Add a jar? Take one away? If not, where would you place those marvels as best you can, where the heart of the racial issues really lie today?
Coleman Hughes: If by racial issues, you mean the gaps in achievement? Do you mean the gaps in achievement between whites and blacks?
Sean McDowell: I think that would be a part of it. The gaps in achievement and also just the ... I think what I'm getting at is the different views that people have about why there's racism in America, which probably leads to inequity in the way you're describing it. The three jars people are looking at in terms of how do we fix this inequity, which for the most part would probably be some of this is attitudes, but some of this would be the way you describe it as well.
Coleman Hughes: I think that I would certainly put the vast majority of the marbles in the culture container. When I say culture, I mean the norms and values that are the water you swim in as a kid and as an adolescent. You can put the same person in a culture where everyone they know has gone to college and expects them to go to college. Everyone they know comes from a home where there's no drug addicts, no drug dealers, people are employed. There are just a whole set of expectations you never even consider, you never even think twice about because they're so normal. There's books in the home and everyone can read well. You say that same person, you put them in a scenario where no one they know has gone to college or aspires to go to college, because again, all these other people have no models of anyone who's gone to college. People have kids at 18, 19, 20 years old, everyone has someone close to them that is either on drugs or dealing drugs or one step removed from someone who's dealing drugs. You put the person in that environment, they become a very different person. That's what I mean when I say culture and okay, you might say, "Well, doesn't ... don't systemic in inequalities create the conditions, the ultimate reasons for that kind of... those kind of behaviors. Maybe if you go back far enough, but the thing with cultures is that they're actually self perpetuating. They have a momentum to them that can outlast their initial causes. Often, if you change the system, a culture can persist. There's a subculture and whether you, I don't know, I guess people used to call it the ghetto. I don't even know what is the politically correct term now. But it's, this meal. As a culture, my mom grew up in this, in the south Bronx and I was lucky to not grow up with it at all. You take the same person, you put them in this culture where to its chain status is to be the most macho, the most intimidating, and to basically, to rise to the top of a street kind of identity. That is a much bigger problem than systemic racism in my view, which is to say there is, there are totally ways in which the system is arrayed against black people. For instance, the war on drugs. There are just so many more ... there are kids smoking weed at Harvard University, anywhere they want, and there are kids in the hood that have gone in the revolving door of city and county jails, because they're caught with weed, introduced to the criminal justice system, put on a path. For the same harmless drug, that the next CEO of Amazon is smoking on a Harvard's campus right now. It's, it's ridiculous how long that was and is allowed to persist, although it's definitely waning. That's really, disproportionately affected it, people of color and boys of color in particular. Nevertheless, you get rid of that, you're still left with a huge and fundamental problem of cultural upbringing, being a major source of disadvantage and disparity.
Sean McDowell: Hmm. Final question, I know this issue's not exactly in the obvious but sounds like you described your mom or your parents grew up in the ghetto, those challenges. That entailed, my dad did not grow up in the ghetto, but grew up with a father who was an alcoholic. My dad was sexually abused, seven years had a sister who took her own life, pretty traumatic, painful poverty, childhood, growing up. I didn't grow up with any of that and he would attribute his transformation becoming a believer in God, changing his life and he has shifted it for my family moving forward. Practically, that's one way, if we're talking pragmatically, do you have thoughts? If you had put the heart of the marbles in the jar of culture, what it means to change culture? What does that look like? How is that done or is that what you're doing in your podcast in your life, is about doing that very thing.
Coleman Hughes: I'm not sure I'm really doing it on my podcast. I think at most, I can be a model for people that are fans of me, regardless of where they're from and what their circumstances are. But when it comes to changing culture, usually that has to happen, so this is where I guess the individual responsibility jar comes in as well. But it has to happen on a local level. You can't come in, it's very difficult to come in from outside a community and change the culture in that community. Pretty much always has to come from the inside, and there are lots of people already doing this work. Bob Woodson does a lot of this work. This is a kind of thing that the local church community, for instance, because it often happens through the church, has to come together and make an afterschool program to keep kids out of trouble, keep kids doing positive things. Youth mentorship programs, showing kids, introducing kids to people from their neighborhood that they may not have known that went to college or something, or went to vocational school. To show someone a concrete example of someone like them from where they're from, that took a path into a stable and like higher income life. That's what people need. That it's difficult to find role models. It would be difficult for an average kid from the hood to look at me as a role model, because I'm not from the hood, I'm not from where they're from. It doesn't really matter that I'm black. I think most people concretely need models in their community, because then it becomes real. Everything outside of that feels very abstract when you're a kid. What feels real to you are the people around you and so if you have a role model that shows you, that someone like you can make it to where they made, they made it, then it becomes real, and that becomes an actual path for upward mobility.
Sean McDowell: Cole man, I got a million more questions for you, but we've already pushed the limit and I want to personally thank you for coming on and being willing to accept this invitation. I heard you say recently, when you were interviewing a guest, actually from CNN, that you invite quite a few people on your podcast who see the world differently and quite a few say, no. I've invited quite a few people who maybe see the world differently, politically some on the issue of race, some on the issue of worldview and you're one of the few that was willing to come on and just talk about these thorny issues, but model here like you do in your podcast. We can listen to each other, we can bring clarity, we can learn from each other, that's why I want our guests to go to "Conversations with Coleman". Our viewers, "Conversations with Coleman" on the YouTube, on the podcast and listen in. I think you'll learn a lot, even if you disagree with him on issues on content. I think you'll learn how to carry out these conversations, how to think and how to value truth. Coleman, appreciate a ton, maybe some time down the line, we could do this again and take one of these issues in probe even further, but really appreciate you taking the time out to join me for this conversation.
Coleman Hughes: Awesome. It's been a pleasure. I love how you run your show.