Breaking Binaries with Coleman Hughes
FAIR Perspectives Podcast | Episode 1
We at FAIR are proud to present FAIR Perspectives, the official podcast of the pro-human movement, hosted by Melissa Chen and Angel Eduardo. For our inaugural episode, we are featuring Coleman Hughes.
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 and The Wall Street Journal. We discuss “Blasphemy,” his new single which premieres today, January 17, 2022. We also explore how he came to music and see a more personal side of Coleman that most likely haven't seen in his career as a public intellectual before. We also talk about the ways his intellectual and musical careers intersect.
The FAIR Perspectives podcast will feature in-depth conversations with public intellectuals, authors, and industry leaders, as well as everyday people—teachers, students, employees, and others dedicated to building a better world.
Over the coming weeks, our guests will include Michael Shermer, Wilfred Reilly, Daryl Davis, John McWhorter, and more. Stay tuned!
Listen to the audio on these streaming platforms:
MELISSA CHEN: Hi and welcome to the FAIR Perspectives Podcast, the official podcast of the pro-human movement brought to you by the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism. I'm Melissa Chen, and my co-host is Angel Eduardo. We hope to elevate a pro-human approach to our deadlocked discourse on a variety of topics including race, gender, politics, and more. You will hear from public intellectuals, authors and industry leaders as well as everyday teachers, students, employees, and others dedicated to creating a world where we are judged by the content of our character and not by our immutable characteristics. Over the coming weeks, our guests will include Michael Shermer, Will Reilly, Daryl Davis, John McWhorter, and more.
On the first ever episode of FAIR Perspectives, we talk with Coleman Hughes. Coleman 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 and The Wall Street Journal. We discuss “Blasphemy,” his new single which premieres today, January 17, 2022. We discuss how he came to music and see a more personal side of Coleman that we haven't really seen in his career as a public intellectual before. We also talk about how his ideas and his musical career connect. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr. Coleman Hughes.
Coleman Hughes, welcome to FAIR Perspectives. Angel and I are very honoured to have an early look at your music video, the new single that you just released, and to also get the opportunity to interview you about it. As a caveat, I will say that both Angel and I are not exactly rap connoisseurs. We both have musical backgrounds. Angel is actually a musician. He plays rock, soul, metal. And I'm a walking stereotype, so I'm classically trained. And I play the piano and the violin. So this is in a way very uncharted territory for us.
Our first reaction when we saw your video was as people who know you in the heterodox intellectual orbit that we find ourselves in, was “whoa, this is the side of Coleman we all haven't seen before.” You're very stoic. People say you have the affect of Sam Harris. Even Barack Obama had an anger translator. He needed Luther to come in and express his anger for him. So I was just curious, what did you do to prepare for this rap career, for this role? And how comfortable are you performing it knowing how divergent it is from your natural self?
COLEMAN HUGHES: The question makes perfect sense from your perspective regarding why you'd ask it. And probably a lot of people would wonder the same thing. But from my perspective it's actually backwards. Which is to say that I've been rapping, doing shows in New York, and recording music since I was like 18 or 19, since before I wrote for Quillette, and since before I was the person and the identity that you might see me as diverging from in order to be a rapper. Rap actually came first.
And before that, I was a music student at Juilliard. I was a jazz major. And throughout high school I was a jazz and hip-hop head and loved music since I was 11, and played music since I was 3. So it's interesting because the real story is that I was known to my friends and community of musicians in New York as a jazz musician turned rapper when I was 18 or 19. And I would do shows on the underground Brooklyn scene. And then people would say, “did you hear Coleman is writing for this magazine?”, and “isn't it so strange that now he's doing that” and “how do I fit that in with what I know him to be, which is a rapper and a musician?” And that world knows me as that, so for me now to get into rap again, on a bigger scale than I was doing it before, creates a cognitive dissonance from both sides depending on which side of me you know. But from my vantage point the story is kind of backwards, if that makes sense.
MELISSA CHEN: It does, yes. Your name on the album, it's Cold-X-man, am I saying it right?
COLEMAN HUGHES: The X is silent.
MELISSA CHEN: Like Latin? Okay.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Yeah, yeah.
MELISSA CHEN: What are the origins of this name, and how do you come up with it?
COLEMAN HUGHES: Well, my original rap name was Cold Man just because it's similar to my name and I didn't think about it too much. And the truth is I wish there were a deeper story behind it, but the @ColdMan twitter handle was taken, so I just put an X in the middle. And then to relaunch my rap career, I just figured I already have the Twitter handle, so I'm just going to make a Coldxman, but with a silent X in the middle.
MELISSA CHEN: I guess X makes names very cool, because Ibram X. Kendi did the same thing.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Yeah, throw an X on anything nowadays, Latinx or womxn. You guys know about womxn, right?
ANGEL EDUARDO: Yeah. Unfortunately.
MELISSA CHEN: No, I don't know that.
COLEMAN HUGHES: You don't know about womxn, Melissa?
MELISSA CHEN: No.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Well, clearly you didn't go to Columbia University between the years of 2016 and 2020.
MELISSA CHEN: I did not. Long graduated.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Yeah, it's probably still there. But you'll see a lot of posters that have the word W-O-M-X-N instead of W-O-M-E-N—women—because the word “men” appears in the word “women” and that's offensive and horrible. So you have to say womxn. I don't know how you actually pronounce it.
ANGEL EDUARDO: It's funny because it used to be a Y, back in the day.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Oh, yeah. That actually makes more sense.
ANGEL EDUARDO: Yeah. So it was a Y just so the word “men” wouldn't be in it, but we're still gonna pronounce it that way.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Because Y could still be a vowel?
ANGEL EDUARDO: Right.
COLEMAN HUGHES: That makes way more sense.
ANGEL EDUARDO: So I guess they want to be a little bit more difficult.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Yeah I should have made mine a Y, too.
ANGEL EDUARDO: But speaking of your name, your hip hop name, I was remarking yesterday when we were watching the video, that your hip hop name is coldxman, but you're so much hotter in that context than you are in any other context that I've ever seen you.
COLEMAN HUGHES: You've clearly never seen me play the tuba.
ANGEL EDUARDO: Not the tuba, I've seen the Trombone.
COLEMAN HUGHES: That's when I'm at my hottest I can assure you.
ANGEL EDUARDO: Alright, well you have this effect of stoic calm, right? And it's funny that your name is coldxman, but that's when you're at your most animated. Those three and a half minutes or so are more energy that I've gotten from you than the entirety of anything I've ever seen of you combined. So it's very interesting.
But speaking of that, I've heard you say that this is just the way you are, this affect you have. But performing is different, and I have some experience with this. I'm a shy guy, but I've been the frontman of a band having to put that energy out.
So I'm curious, you started when you were 18? How did you make that kind of switch? What did you do to give yourself that energy to be able to be the performer? Because it is a different thing.
COLEMAN HUGHES: That's another thing that always felt natural to me. The truth is, I'm extremely passionate about music and always have been. So, when my primary musical thing was being a trombone player and a jazz soloist, it always made sense to put as much energy into playing trombone as possible, and for my veins to be bulging, and for me to be sweating, and to be going crazy, because that's what it feels like to play music, and rapping is the same thing. So I've never had a problem putting a lot of energy into performances because it just feels very natural to do that.
The thing is that a music video is not the same as doing a show at some underground club in New York, which is what I used to do a lot of. There you have the energy, you have a band with you so it's just really easy to access that performance mode. But on the set of a music video, especially this one which we filmed in Ukraine in the dead of Ukrainian winter, in a building that is usually a circus and is basically as close to outdoors as an indoor space can possibly be with no heat, so it's practically speaking around 30 degrees in there, and filming all day, I really did have trouble accessing any kind of energy.
It's not like a live performance. You have to do things over and over again, there's no audience, you're in Ukraine, and it's 30 degrees. But in a performance setting I never have problems going nuts, because it just feels right.
MELISSA CHEN: The iconography of that video was really poignant. Obviously, for those who know that's an obvious reference to your 2019 testimony against the US House Committee on reparations. In terms of mass culture put you into public consciousness and on the map. And it also, interestingly, earned you a lot of ideological enemies that were unearthing your previous SoundCloud rap material that you were putting up there. And I think some of them started tweeting out links to one of your rap songs called “My Dick Works” as a way to make fun of you or put you down. And I think it's really symbolic that you're using this event now as almost a centerpiece for this album as you come out and say, “yeah, I am a rapper and this is my work.”
COLEMAN HUGHES: Yeah, and I'm good at it. And “My Dick Works” was one of my best songs, I think. It's on Spotify now. I repackaged it under an EP called “Fake.” That was definitely a moment where I wasn't really actively making music. I had kind of taken a hiatus from rapping and production for maybe a little over a year to get into the writing world. And I testified before Congress. And my face was on cable news for a minute. And a lot of people loved what I said, but a lot of people hated what I said, and they tried to, as one does nowadays, find out something embarrassing about the person you don't like.
But the truth is, I'm not embarrassed by rap. I'm good at it, and I love it. So you can't embarrass someone if they're owning the thing that you're bringing up to embarrass them. So with Blasphemy, I think I made the beat for that song maybe two weeks after the Congress hearing.
MELISSA CHEN: Wow.
COLEMAN HUGHES: I had taken a hiatus. And all the hate I was getting, for some reason I channelled it and I realized I needed to come off this hiatus from music. I needed to do something right now.
Two weeks after I testified before Congress against reparations, I went to a show in Brooklyn, a rap show that was being run by someone I used to do shows with. When I was doing my own shows on the underground scene in Brooklyn I had some people I would do shows with, and they were doing a show and I went to go see it. These are people that I'm friends with, I have hung out with, whatever. And I get in there and they saw my testimony before Congress, and they just hated it. They're like, “we don't know who you are. We have no idea why we've associated with you in the past,” and they kicked me out of the show. Straight up.
Basically, my friends kicked me out of the show. And I was trying to talk to them about it and just reason with them and be like “let's talk about it. Let's be adults that have a disagreement about an issue,” and “you know me and I know you have and we spend a tonne of time together. We all know we're coming from good places. So let's discuss this.” But it was just like, no discussion. And I did molly that night, and I was talking about it and thinking about it, and I knew at that moment that I just had to put it into music. So the very next day I got my midi keyboard, made that beat, and I started writing. And that's how I came off my music hiatus. And the album that's gonna come out this year, that's when that started.
MELISSA CHEN: I like the idea that for so long you've lived these two lives. And this song is actually the first time you're merging that into one. It's not just music Coldxman or intellectual Coleman, it's really both. And I can tell just from the lyrics in the song, what you chose to title it, and various aspects of the imagery and the visuals, that it all has some meaning. And I wanted to ask you about the structure, because you start with basically yourself, making the introduction. And I noticed snippets cut in from the actual hearing, which is such a nice touch. But then you're almost having an argument with, I don't know if it's supposed to be a rendering of Ta-Nehisi Coates or who the other person is, but it's the criticism that you get all the time, which we I'm sure Angel understands too, and gets the same kind of criticism about you being an Uncle Tom, or you're getting Koch dollars. That may be the first time the Kochs made into rap song, by the way. You might have made history.
But I wanted to ask you about that thought process and how you chose to represent that vision in the actual visuals in the video for the song.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Basically, I think it's really powerful to show two opposing perspectives on the same issue. And part of the reason I chose to do that is to show that I really understand the people who hate me. I don't hate the people who hate me, I understand them. And I get where they're coming from, and I get their anger. And I wanted to show that I can really channel that perspective, and that I truly understand it.
This is something I know you know that you get from philosophy as well, the idea that you don't straw man people, you steel man them. And what that means is you represent their side in a way that they would not only sign off on and say “yes, that's what I think,” but actually thank you for putting it so well. That's what I was trying to convey to my friends that kicked me out of that show.
If I disagree with someone, I have to be able to really say what they think about the issue in a way they would completely agree with before I say anything to disagree with them. Because if you don't first show that you understand somebody, and you understand their perspective deeply, you have no hope of changing their mind in the first place, and you may actually be missing something important that they're channeling. And that's part of what this song is meant to do—I'm battling with myself, in order to convey the argument as much as I convey any particular side of it. And to show that I get the people who don't like me; I understand it. So that's why I did that.
ANGEL EDUARDO: At first I was thinking of it as being like what happens at the end of 8 Mile. Spoiler alert for 8 Mile. His whole freestyle is anything that the other guy could have used against him, he says it first, and acknowledges that and then puts it back on them like “alright, now what do you have to say?” So there's that element to it, which is great for that kind of battle rap sort of thing. But it actually reminds me a lot of what makes for good essay writing, which is anticipating counter arguments and working it into the piece so that by the time you get to the end of the piece, you’ve got nothing left to say and you’ve convinced them because you’ve made it so airtight by accounting for any potential objection that they could think of. The mark of a good essay, in my opinion, is if every response is either a total non sequitur, or if it's addressed already in the piece, and maybe they ignored it or missed it.
And maybe it doesn't happen with every song but specifically with this song because it's kind of bridging the gap between the two worlds you inhabit—the Coleman Hughes and then the Coldxman—but I'm curious about the writing process for this and if it was similar.
COLEMAN HUGHES: As like an essay?
ANGEL EDUARDO: Yeah, so when you're writing an essay you're trying to anticipate the counter argument and make it airtight.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Totally, yes. I agree, there's nothing more powerful than saying everything your opponent is going to say before they say it. It's that B-Rabbit last scene in 8 Mile moment.
ANGEL EDUARDO: Right? Exactly.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Yeah, that scene is amazing. But it is, you’re right to draw the connection between that and a great essay, right? I mean, like you read any great essayist, I don't know someone like Andrew Sullivan comes to my mind, and if you read any of their great essays you're going to find at some point some opposing perspective they're arguing against, and you're going to see how deeply they understand it.
ANGEL EDUARDO: Right.
COLEMAN HUGHES: In the culture right now, there's so much—and I guess there always has been and probably always will be, to some extent—dismissal of opposing viewpoints without first understanding them or taking them seriously. So you can dismiss something once you've understood it and taken it seriously, but there's just so much knee-jerk rejection of ideas in the culture right now. And there is very little serious engagement with someone you disagree with or someone you dislike. And so I do feel when I was writing this I wanted to model that. And I always want to model that on my podcast as well. So you're right to note there is a connection between how I approached the writing of “Blasphemy” and how I approach discourse in general.
ANGEL EDUARDO: Is there any significant difference for you? For those of us who operate on multiple mediums and do different things, but it's all kind of expressing and making arguments or trying to illustrate something, I wonder if there's a difference in the process for you between putting together a rap song versus writing an essay out or even making an argument on your podcast.
COLEMAN HUGHES: They're actually pretty similar. Both of them require that I get into a flow state where just hours and hours can pass and I don't notice at all because I'm completely focused. I'm in a different world, an abstract world of creativity where I know exactly what I want and I have a million words and concepts floating in my head at once and I'm trying to just find that throughway, trying to chisel the statue out of the marble.
And it feels pretty similar to be writing a great essay that you care about, and to be trying to perfect it, and trying to boil it down to exactly the right points, expressed in exactly the right way. From my perspective, it feels pretty similar to be doing that as it is to be making a beat, to be writing lyrics. So that's always what I've valued most about being a creative person, that time where I'm just completely alone and completely engrossed in what I'm doing. So it is similar, it’s a very similar process.
ANGEL EDUARDO: I definitely agree. I heard a quote, I forget where now, but it's “ how you do anything is how you do everything.” And that's what I tell people too. Everything that I do and everything that you're doing I think all boils down to a similar craft, and practical principles of storytelling and presentation. That's what the art is all about.
COLEMAN HUGHES: And the other similarity too is that there's an initial phase of raw intuition, and then a later stage of careful detailed editing, basically. It's the same with music as it is with writing. With music, when I was initially making the beat to “Blasphemy,” it's just pure intuition, don't think about anything twice. This sound, I just know it's right, put it together. With the initial concept of the hook you're sort of mumbling it to yourself, and it just appears to you based on raw intuition and no reason or calculation. This just slaps, and you just do it. But then later, you revise and you revise, and you revise, using the rational part of your brain. And when you're mixing, you're trying to identify specific ways that the mix could be better. You're looking at numbers on a compressor.
And it's the same thing with writing, the initial idea for an essay or for a book just hits you light, like a bolt of lightning, and you just know that there's something there. And you have certain phrases or certain concepts that you know you want to zero in on, but then the later stages are using the rational part of your brain to calculate and make better and chisel away. So in both writing and music there's the first half of the process, which is just intuitive and kind of non rational, and then the second half of the process which is precise. And you have to have both of those sides in order to make anything.
I think sometimes, especially in the art world, people undervalue the second half of that process, because it's not the sexy half of the process. Like for all of your favorite albums you never see that after the main artist leaves the studio there's just some mixing engineer you've never heard of making it good enough for you to listen to. So for me, that process is done all by myself, I do the production, I do the mixing, I do everything. So I have to separate and know what phase to be in, whether it’s just a completely creative flow state free phase or a precision and perfection phase.
MELISSA CHEN: Okay, is there anything you don't do?
COLEMAN HUGHES: A lot of things.
MELISSA CHEN: Because it really seems like it's everything.
COLEMAN HUGHES: I don't play the violin.
ANGEL EDUARDO: He’s got to leave you something.
MELISSA CHEN: Coleman, I wanted to ask you about one of the most impactful scenes in the video where the Coldxman character fires a bullet into the head of Coleman, young Coleman, who's testifying in Congress.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Actually it's the weird clown up there that shoots the bullet.
MELISSA CHEN: Yeah, I didn't remember where it came from, but I did see the word “blasphemy” inscribed on the bullet. It goes through you head and it's a very dramatic scene—great acting—and then the blood is just splayed out and it curdles and you come back from it. What is going on there? I just wanted to find out a little more about the scene.
COLEMAN HUGHES: I leave it open to interpretation on what people feel that means. But yeah, it's definitely a really powerful part of the song. I remember filming that too. I had to sit on that table and prop myself up in this weird way for like 20 minutes for some reason to get the VFX right. And again remember it's literally 30 degrees and I'm not wearing a coat, so I had to basically do a weird yoga position for essentially 20 minutes while they put this fake blood all over me. It was so unpleasant and weird, but I think it's a really cool scene.
I really like the character of the clown, and all the credit goes to the director Ian Pons Jewell, who's a genius and who's just a brilliant guy. He came up with pretty much the concept for the video. I basically told him I want it to be set similar to the Congress hearing, and from there everything after that is all him. All the specifics, the plot of the video. He had this idea for a strange clown character that feels like something out of a novel or something out of a David Lynch movie, just this strange character that sticks out from the rest of the crowd. And you don't really know what it represents, but it could represent a lot of things. And I think I should leave that open.
MELISSA CHEN: Smart. A lot of it is baked into your lyrics, which when you read it is a distillation of a lot of the ideas you've espoused over the last few years. I really like this part. I have to be careful because I don't want to read rap lyrics and sound like Ben Shapiro reading WAP, because that's what I'll sound like. But I really liked this part where you said—not gonna do it in rap—”I feel in my heart…”
ANGEL EDUARDO: Please?
MELISSA CHEN: No.
COLEMAN HUGHES: It's pronounced “whap,” when you're Ben Shapiro.
MELISSA CHEN: “I feel with my heart but think with my head, mix up the parts and we'll all end up dead. Race is a fake idea, put it to bed. It ain't no debate, I said what I said.” That is such a good line. And I know “race is a fake idea” has been something you and many other intellectuals in our circle, people like Kmele Foster, have really promoted over the years. I really liked that you put that line in there.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Yeah, so there's two parts to that. The first is kind of, in a way, what I was just talking about—“I feel with my heart but I think with my head”—those are the two parts of creativity I was talking about earlier. First you have to have that raw intuition and emotion. And then you also have to have balance that with reason and precision in order to make anything great, whether it's music or writing.
And then when it comes to race being a fake idea, you mentioned Kmele Foster, who's gotten into trouble for saying that he does not identify as black. And people look at him like he's crazy. But I assure you he is not, he's one of the sanest people I know. There’s Thomas Chatterton Williams as well, who wrote two great books, Losing My Cool and Self Portrait in Black and White, and is one of the few voices out there along with Kmele and others that are really, forcefully with proper strength, advocating for the idea that race is a fiction.
Everyone would agree that race is a social construct, for the most part. If you poll elites on the right and the left, most people are going to sign up and say, “yes, I agree, race is a social construct.” But very few people actually take that to its logical conclusion nowadays, because there's too much advantage to be gained by having a strong racial identity. Nowadays, if you are on the left, and you're a person of color, there's just too much to be gained by really leaning into your blackness or your hispanic-ness. And what that does and ends up doing is creating divisions between people that should not exist. And here's what I mean by that.
Most of us know that deep down, race means nothing. Your best friend in the world, your partner, the person with whom you have your children, could be of a different race. And most people who grow up at least in diverse settings where they encounter people of other races, end up having the deepest possible human relationships with people of different races. What that proves is that there is no amount of intimacy between people, or closeness, that a racial difference can stop. And so race is practically meaningless. The more you get to know somebody, the less and less their group categorization matters. The definition of what it is to become close to somebody is for the things you noticed about them the first time you saw them to become less and less important over time.
It's like the first time I saw you I could identify that you look Asian, you look like you're a woman, and I know all of these things about Asians in the culture, and women in the culture, and I'm wondering if those apply to you. That's what it's like to meet a stranger, or that's what it can be like. But the moment I get to know you, as an individual, the more I get to know Melissa over months and years, I get to know the things that are different about you and the things that go against the stereotypes of your group categories. I just get so much more information about who you are, that all of those things, just simply don't matter. They're so secondary and tertiary to your identity as Melissa, for instance.
And that's what it means for race to be meaningless. If you agree with everything I just said, then I think you agree that race is meaningless. And I hate to see it being revived so much as an identity people cling to because I think the reverse relationship holds true too. As you become closer to someone, their race matters less and less, but to the extent we make race matter more and more to people's identities, it prevents people from becoming close, because it discourages you from paying attention to them as an individual, and what makes them different, what makes them unique.
ANGEL EDUARDO: I think I think it even does more than that, it not only prevents the closeness, but it actually can destroy an existing closeness. Race comes into the picture and best friends who've never had any issue before, suddenly this chasm starts widening between them. I'm a recent convert to this idea. I've never really put much focus on it, because I've always been one of those people for whom that larger group categorization wasn't indicative of anything about me. If you knew only that about me, you knew nothing, like 99.99 percent nothing. But thanks to people like Thomas and Kmele, and reading books like Race Craft by Barbara and Karen Fields, I've really been pushing into this kind of territory of not just accepting that it's a fiction or acknowledging that it's a fiction, but voicing that fact and trying to divorce myself from the concept itself.
I'm curious how you approach that sort of thing. Do you go as far as Kmele? Or do you take some kind of middle ground?
COLEMAN HUGHES: I think, fundamentally, I agree with Kmele. The reason I don't not identify as black is because, for me, “blackness” and “whiteness” are empty words. They are shallow descriptors that don't say anything deeper than a superficial category. So when I say that I'm black, I'm not saying anything about what I believe about who I am deep down, about what music I like, about what my philosophy or my religion is, about who I hang out with. I'm saying something that is relevant to the Census and nothing else. I'm saying, I view black and white as bureaucratic categories that have arisen out of a particular social history, but at the end of the day they are social constructs, and should be treated as such.
And it's interesting, especially on the cultural left of the country right now, a lot of people say that “gender” is a social construct. That's a separate conversation that you can table, but a lot of them are willing to say, “well X is a social construct, so I'm going to stop identifying as X when it comes to gender.” But with race, it's like the logic just gets switched, they say “yeah, race is a social construct, but I'm going to start every other sentence with, ‘as a black man as a black woman’ and ‘I want you to see my blackness.’” These are the sentences people say, “I want you to see my blackness when you look at me.” But somehow race is totally a fiction at the same time. It's totally a fiction, but you have to want it to feel as real as possible when you're in my presence.
This is schizophrenia. It's a schizophrenic attitude. It doesn't make any sense. And it's especially true when you see children interact. Some people don't grow up in diverse neighborhoods, they grew up only around people who look like them, so they don't get to see this. I did. And when you're a kid, race truly does not matter. Children, unless their minds have been sort of proactively poisoned by the adults in their life, in their natural state children are very fluid with who they hang out with. It's like an “Oh, you're into trains? I'm into trains, too. Did we just become best friends?” kind of thing. It does not matter what you look like. Kids sometimes don't even notice it.
Someone told me a story recently of their kid saying that two other kids look the same. And one of the kids was black and one of the kids was white, but they had a similar nose or something. And the kids that kid goes, “they look exactly the same.” It's like, okay, but obviously kids notice race in the most obvious sense. I'm not saying kids are literally colorblind. I'm saying they really don't naturally develop this strong identity around their skin color, or all of these neuroses and paranoias that adults develop around their skin color. And I think it's a shame that in this country, with each generation we continually re-engineer race. If we didn't teach it to our kids every generation, it might gradually recede. But we're like, “No, you are black, and you are white, and you can’t understand each other, and your lived experience is going to be different, and you're entering a world where racism is going to hurt you at every turn. And if you're white, you've inherited all of this privilege, and you have to deeply meditate about what your skin color means to you.”
And we do that to every generation. And then every generation is tortured and bothered by the race issue. And I think the kids have it right in not caring because that is deeply the only way to move past all of it.
MELISSA CHEN: But you steel manned your critics in your song when you said, “stop forgetting that you are [bleep] about black, cuz the pigs won't when your hands up and the pistol’s at your [bleep] back.” I don't know why bleeping myself. This is not cable TV. I can actually say the F-word.
ANGEL EDUARDO: I mean, we've already got MDMA in this episode.
MELISSA CHEN: True.
ANGEL EDUARDO: We're good. We're good.
MELISSA CHEN: But society is going to see you that way anyway. And clearly, they're treating you like this. There's an epidemic of police violence. And so the accurate response to this world in which your race is so paramount is to actually completely be upfront about it and fight on that front. And I think that is some some of what our critics will say.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Yeah, the argument is that you're definitely going to be a black man when you get pulled over by the cops, you're going to be a black man when you're applying for a job, you're going to be a black man when you're shopping and the store clerks thinks that you're stealing. Okay, so on one level this argument is allowing bad people in society to define yourself for you. It's basically saying that bad actors in the world will irrationally look at your race as a reason to treat you poorly, therefore you should play their same game and deeply identify with your skin color.
That's a logical fallacy. It doesn't make sense. There are all kinds of ways in which you will get treated differently in circumstances in the world, whether you're a man or a woman, whether you're black or white, whether you're tall or short even. Just Google any study about how people get subtly treated differently based on the most trivial things like attractiveness and height and all these kinds of things. You will find that humans are biased. And although it's tough to identify if you are being treated differently in any particular scenario, you can be sure whoever you are, over the course of your life, there will be times where you're treated differently based on things you can't control. That doesn't mean you should develop a sense of identity around your bodily traits, right?
This is basically the same logic that like incels and male rights activists use. Say you're a short, ugly guy who struggles to get a date. Say, you're really ugly. And let's not sugarcoat it, ugliness is a real thing. Say you are just not an attractive man at all. You can go on internet forums and there will be people there ready to tell you that you're going to be treated as an ugly man, and provide you with a whole toxic identity set up for you to interact with the world as an incel, or as an MRA type of guy. And I think everyone would look at that and say, “Okay, well, this person wasn't dealt the best hand in life. But the way that they've dealt with that particular disadvantage is to construct an identity that is even more toxic.” And that’s the kind of thing we would recognize as unhealthy if it were about that particular aspect of society, but when it comes to race we recognize this as somehow totally healthy, and as though it were totally different. But I don't think it is totally different. I think there's a deep similarity between someone who comes up with this kind of incel identity and someone who recedes deeply into a racial identity because they've been a victim of racism. I don't think that the right response is to let your disadvantage become the defining feature of your identity. Because then you wouldn't even know who you were if you weren't a victim of discrimination. I think that's a very disempowering way to walk through the world.
ANGEL EDUARDO: I think part of the issue here is that there's the response to oppression, there's the response to racism, and there's a necessary community development around people who need to band together in order to deal with the response and deal with the racism by fighting against it. And then that ends up becoming a culture or a subculture. And it's unfortunately under this label that was thrust upon them. And so now we're trying to divorce the concept and the label from the community and the camaraderie and the history, and so I think a lot of people when they hear that race as a fiction and that we need to stop this nonsense, they think what we're talking about is the baby in the bathwater. And that's all they can see, and so that's when they become really offended.
I'm curious how you would make those subtle parsing and what you would say to people who would object in this way?
COLEMAN HUGHES: I guess the key distinction is between race and culture. To say race is a social construct doesn't mean that I want black culture to assimilate and dissipate into the majority culture. It's not to say I want America to be a monoculture. I think it's amazing that America is diverse, and that we really respect cultural diversity, that we have ethnic groups and have Jewish holidays, and we have Christian holidays. And in a city like New York, you have all kinds of different foods and different people that live lives with the cultural inflection of who they are and where they're from. And that's true of black America as well.
So I think when I say race is a social construct some people worry that if they identified deeply with black culture the same way that a Jew might identify deeply with Jewish culture, that I'm telling them you can't really have your identity. That I'm asking you to assimilate into whiteness, and basically just lose everything that means anything to you and lose your sense of community. But that's not when I'm saying. I think it's very possible to retain a sense of attachment to a particular culture that you're from while still understanding that your race and your group identity in itself is not the only important thing about you. You can still have the food and the music, and the camaraderie and all of the trappings of culture, all of the things you grew up with that mean a lot to you, without buying into this idea that race is actually a deeply meaningful thing.
So I'm not asking people to give up their culture. I think that would be ridiculous. There are so many elements of black culture that I'm attached to, especially musically. So I think that's the key distinction to make. It's not about getting rid of cultural differences or losing the elements of the culture that you love. It's about recognizing that at the end of the day, there is one human race, and that it's possible to be brothers and sisters with anyone of any race. And to not let the superficial differences come between us.
MELISSA CHEN: Speaking of culture, I think it was in the episode where you interviewed Christopher Rufo about critical race theory trainings in corporate America, and in schools as well, that you mentioned you thought that cultural change was a far more important factor. That you can challenge all this in the courts, but—I think the example you use was about creationism—that the YouTubers had far more influence on debunking creationism. And I wonder if doing it your way, releasing music about your work about your ideas, if that’s your way of effecting change through culture.
One of the main criticisms of Barack Obama has always been that he was just “not black enough,” and so he didn't really relate to the black community. What are your thoughts about this in terms of culture change and credibility to the black community?
COLEMAN HUGHES: At the end of the day the point of the music is the music, it's not a strategy to get myself accepted by people. To be honest, I don't care who hates me and who doesn't. If you don't like me, if you don't like who I've been, then I'm not going to do anything to try to win you over. I'm wasting none of my time trying to win over people that hate me. The point of the music is that I love music and I have a message, and that's why I've been rapping since I was 18-19 making songs.
Truthfully, I've been doing this for like, seven years, it's just more public now. So it's not a strategy that is responding at all to the hate I've gotten from the writing or podcasting world. It’s just who I am and who I've always been, and who I continue to be. And if it gets me more respect from some people, that's great. If it gets me less respect from other people, that is what it is. But I just love doing this for its own sake. There's no means-end reasoning, there's no ulterior motive. It's just I love doing it, so I'm doing it.
MELISSA CHEN: That's such a good answer.
ANGEL EDUARDO: Getting back to we were talking about a minute ago, another thing you mentioned in the lyrics is “I'm Omni-American.” That's clearly a reference to Albert Murray's book, The Omni-Americans. I'm curious how that plays into what we were talking about regarding culture and recognizing that we're already mutts, especially here in the States. This idea of division is nonsense to begin with, because it was never true. It's not even that it was lost at some point.
So I'm curious what you think about that. What's the relevance for you to put that into the lyrics there?
COLEMAN HUGHES: Yeah, Thomas Chatterton Williams led me to that book The Omni-Americans, and I know he gets a lot of his inspiration from Albert Murray. And I do think there's a way that a certain kind of person will talk about the difference between black people and white people, where you can see that they need the division to be there. They need there to be separation between blacks, whites, hispanics, asians, or else they wouldn't know who they are. And any kind of blurring of the lines makes a certain kind of person really uncomfortable. So for example, if you talk about how most black people in America have a very non-trivial amount of European ancestry, and a lot of white people have a non-trivial amount of African ancestry, some people don't like that because it blurs a line that they need to exist. And I don't think I really need that line to exist.
Sometimes you see this as well with people who are mixed race, but will be very offended if they're described as mixed race, like they have to be one or the other. In the old days it used to be more if you could pass as white you would pass as white just because it was so much easier to live as a white person. But nowadays it's if you have any amount of black, you want to identify as black, and you don't want to be identified as mixed, because there's something about the neat separation and strong identity of the categories that people really hold on to. So the whole biracial identity is kind of being lost, even though more and more and more people are biracial or mixed race.
So my point is just that, in an era when we're being we're becoming more and more fluid, especially around gender issues, we're becoming more and more rigid about race. No one really talks about race being a spectrum, even though it is far more of a spectrum than gender is.
MELISSA CHEN: Rachel Dolezal did.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Yeah.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Color is quite literally a spectrum. It's such a spectrum that it's usually the main analogy we use when other things are spectrums. We compare them to color. And yet people are so attached to this, black, white, hispanic, binary, put-you-in-a-box mentality. And as America progresses, more and more people just don't fit into these boxes. And it's going to become a problem when so many people don't fit into the boxes but there are people that are clinging to these boxes for dear life because they wouldn't know who they were if those boxes didn't exist. And it's going to lead to a breaking point. So that's what I feel I'm channelling when I say, “I'm Omni-American. I'm black. I'm white. I'm everything.” Because that's how I feel.
MELISSA CHEN: Just to close before we get to the last question. I really love this line, which you embody that spirit, it's “I am black. I am white. I am all man.” And really I think that's very powerful to hear. And so I'll leave Angel to ask the final question.
ANGEL EDUARDO: We're trying out this final question we're going to ask everyone. One of the major focus points at FAIR is providing pro-human alternatives. So much of what we're talking about is steeped in the categories and divisions, and we're trying to do the pro-human thing. That's our whole motto all there. Many of us have podcasts, we write articles, we have these platforms that we can speak on, but for the everyday person with everyday lives, how would you recommend they take a pro-human approach to these issues that we've been talking about such as race and intolerance and division?
COLEMAN HUGHES: I would recommend, as a practice, and this is something I've tried to do seriously at one point for a while, that for every person you meet, imagine that they have a soul inside of them that is ethereal and separate from their body, but completely unique. And when you think of that person, rather than picturing their body picture the soul. That's not to say that souls actually exist, but as a practice it is interesting because it forces you not to pay attention to superficial characteristics, and to pay attention to who people are deep down. I think that can help clarify your pictures of who people are, of what people need, and who you should associate with and who you shouldn't.
And this is the kind of thing that a lot of religious thinkers do, because they actually believe it to be true about souls, and they believe the body is just a vessel. But without actually going that far, it's an interesting practice to do, and I think when we're talking about being pro-human, what that actually means is you have to strip down you have to strip down your conception of people to what's most fundamental, what's most universal. You have to strip away all of the superficial differences of gender and race, all of these things, and just deal with the person that you're encountering. And I found that to be a very interesting practice, and I think that's something that you can apply to your everyday life that serves the pro-human agenda, if you will.
ANGEL EDUARDO: Beautifully said. Coleman Hughes, thank you very much for joining us on FAIR Perspectives.
COLEMAN HUGHES: Thanks for having me.
ANGEL EDUARDO: Thanks for listening to FAIR Perspectives. If you'd like to join the pro-human movement, visit us at FAIRforall.org/joinus. You can also support the show by subscribing on YouTube or on your favorite podcast platform, and by following us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. For transcripts of podcast episodes, as well as access to exclusive FAIR Perspectives content, visit us at FAIRPerspectives.org.
Thanks again and we'll see you next time.
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