Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah is a gay half-Ghanian, half-British intellectual on the NYU faculty. Unsurprisingly, if perhaps a bit too on the nose, he’s a proponent of “cosmopolitanism” and an opponent of “essentialism,” the notion that different groups of people have different innate characteristics that are socially and political relevant. This gentleman has arrived in America to get paid handsomely to explain to American students that their identities are all bullshit “social constructs.”
His cover image on his Twitter is of him meeting his idol, President Obama, a man who shares his cosmopolitan worldview. His latest book, The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity, is being lavished with praise by White neoliberals because Prof. Appiah says something that they’re not allowed to say: everybody’s identity should be patronizingly tolerated but is entirely fluid and imaginary. Benedict Anderson promoted a similar thesis in his leftist anti-nationalist classic, Imagined Communities, but having an old White guy assert that minority ethnic aspirations are also fake is “problematic.”
Prof. Appiah has provoked scorn from Afrocentrists and Black Nationalists for openly mocking Black essentialism, –the notion that Black people are a distinct and unique expression of human diversity who should be actively proud of their race. Without Prof. Appiah’s assistance, the White neoliberal is caught in an awkward intellectual hypocrisy where he rejects essentialism for Whites but must embrace essentialism for everybody else or risk censure from “people of color” who embrace their identities.
I remember several years back, before Obama’s campaign and election, a Black Nationalist leaning over the table and grumbling to me, “I never trust a mulatto.” Men like Appiah and Obama corroborate my old friend’s suspicion, as the man who can’t coherently lay a claim to any identity is naturally inclined to arrive at a sour grapes attitude toward identity in general. Obama wasn’t accepted as Black by Black Americans until he achieved enough power through collaborating with Jewish and White neoliberal allies to steamroll over the Black Chicago political machine that tried to reject him. And once he achieved Blackness, Obama naturally pivoted off of it to foist his cosmopolitan ideology on his “brothers.”
With the eagerness of a Proud Boy who just spotted a based black guy in a MAGA hat, they’re promoting Appiah and his book in the service of their own “post-racial” politics. While White Leftists are terrified of minority disapproval and will go to any length to avoid it, they still resent the fact that their own voices are intrinsically illegitimate on account of their skin color and wish for some way around that frustration. Resolving this cold war between the anti-White and the post-racial “cosmopolitan” elements of American Leftism won’t be as simple as finding some random gay black guy (Appiah, not Obama) to advance their White interests on their behalf.
Prof. Appiah dedicates a single chapter to each aspect of your identity (except gender), helpfully explaining that it’s pretty much bullshit expounded by 19th century straight White males with intimidating beards who’ve been totally discredited. We go on a journey of deconstruction through creed, country, color, class, and culture. Spoiler Alert: They’re all lies!
For Appiah, the exception disproves the rule. British and Ghanians have trouble figuring out exactly where he fits in their society. His citizenship paperwork is a hopeless mess. Random taxi drivers are convinced he’s Indian. I’m not sure why he bothered to write this book, given that his very birth singlehandedly invalidated all racial and ethnic identities.
The following excerpt is pretty much the entire book in a microcosm..
In the typical male fetus, genes on the chromosome trigger changes that produce the male testis, and thus the production of hormones that influence the development of other sex-related structures. Absent this stimulus, the indifferent gonad turns into an ovary. In the presence of the Y chromosome, then, that makes you a male.
That’s the basic story. But there are many variations. One possibility’s that, despite the presence of a chromosome, female external genitalia emerge. This can happen for a variety of reasons, one of which is androgen insensitivity syndrome (PIS), which means that your cells are not normally sensitive to male sex hormones. XY people with AIS can have either male or female external genitalia, or something in between, but the females aren’t fertile because they have testes in place of ovaries.
There are other ways in which a mismatch between external appearance and your sex chromosomes can develop. Maternal androgens can tom the genitalia in the male direction, producing someone who is XX but externally male. So a fertilized human egg that is clearly XY can end up producing someone who looks like a woman and one that is can produce someone who looks like a man. And there are various other possible combinations: penis and ovaries, vagina and abdominal testes, external genitalia that are intermediate, and so on.
And then all assuming you start out with two sex chromosomes. In fact, there are some people who are XO, having just one X chromosome. This is Turner syndrome, and people who have it have the bodies of women, though they’re usually infertile and often shorter than average. (You need at least one X chromosome to survive—the Y chromosome is much smaller than the X and lacks some of the genes on the X that are essential for human life—which is why there are no OY males.) People with Turner syndrome sometimes have medical problems; but among the best-known people with the condition are a world champion gymnast, Missy Marlowe, who has been a spokesperson for the Turner Syndrome Society, and the Oscar-winning actress Linda Hunt.
Then there are people with an extra X chromosome—X. or XXX—and, rarely, even more. Because in normal female cells only one of the X chromosomes is active (the other existing in a contracted and largely inactive form called a “Barr body”), these extra X’s don’t usually make a huge difference: if you have a chromosome, you’ll look male; if you don’t, your look female. While all these variations are rare, they do mean that even at the level of physical morphology, there just isn’t a sharp division of human beings into two sexes.
Got all that? And all that gender-deconstructing mayhem happens before adults born with perfectly binary bodies are encouraged to mutilate themselves and inject synthetic hormones into their bodies to further confuse the matter!
How can you possibly build a community which holds the lie that people are either male or female when there is a perfectly clinal spectrum of medical conditions between masculinity and femininity?
Now just take that tiresome bullshit and apply it to every other human distinction. You’re now a leftist intellectual luminary. And while we’re at it, let’s deconstruct the whole planet on account of the fact that the difference between planet and planetoid is rather arbitrary. Pluto’s popularly regarded as a planet despite being a tiny planetoid binary system in the Kuiper belt with a deceptively high albedo. Then you have the “moon” Ganymede which is bigger than Mercury and Pluto combined.
Let’s call the whole thing off!
While people with Turner Syndrome do naturally occur (I’ve even met one!), Prof. Appiah is eager to muddy the waters between authentic challenges in the construction of human identity markers and contemporary deconstruction campaigns.
More recently, many American Indian activists have come to use the neologism “Two Spirit” to speak of those who do not fit easily into the categories of man and woman, in one way or another. The term reflects the fact that people who were neither men nor women, but had something—a spirit—from each, played special religious roles in many American Indian societies. And this is how a lot of contemporary American Indians, whom many other Americans would call lesbian, gay, or trans, now choose to identify themselves.
Pre-contact Amerindians were by and large homophobes, more inclined to gut or banish a pederast than to integrate him into traditional folkways. The exceptional cases where they weren’t gutted are cherry-picked by modern scholars to promote the myth that heteronormativity is a Western imperial construct. It’s kind of like how LGBTQ intellectuals comb through the historical record for signs of male affection and accuse them of being queer with the gusto of a nineties kid.
The whole “Two Spirit” thing itself is actually the product of White and Western influence on Native Americans. The entire production is a cynical campaign to slip modern degenerate sexual mores into the traditionalist dog food. It was a planned and executed leftist initiative, not unlike numerous others designed to sneak the camel’s nose of identity buffoonery under the tent (…or teepee, as it were)…
Two Spirit men cite the common goal of eventually gaining social acceptance and restoring a place of honor within their individual tribal societies as their unifying factor. They set out to achieve this goal by actively engaging with American Indian cultural conservative values through ceremonial and social practices. By altering normalized gender practices they challenge their alienation while also solidifying their commitment to tribal communities. By proving themselves as culturally competent contributors to their tribal societies they publicly question mainstream Native attitudes toward sexuality and gender in the hope that their value to Native societies will eventually put an end to the ubiquitous homophobia that alienates them.
Prof. Appiah admits that essentialism is an integral part of the human condition, and concedes that absolutely all toddlers and small children are hardline essentialists who instinctively file the people around them into categories based on a wide array of indicators and signals. Even essentialism is essential! Heck, dogs famously react in different ways to people of different races and genders. And why wouldn’t they stereotype? A dog that knows Black people are generally less kind to animals or a cat that knows lesbians always have room for one more cat would certainly enjoy an advantage.
For Prof. Appiah, the fact that humans are reflexively tribal invalidates all tribalism. He relies on the Robber’s Cave experiment, in which a bunch of random white kids from Oklahoma City were randomly organized into two tribes who then rapidly formed competing identities and norms as evidence that all of human differences are equally arbitrary and silly. I agree with him that humans will imagine tribal distinctions if they can’t find them, but whether or not there are real–essential–differences remains a separate question.
Let’s explore his “big five” identity types which commonly divide men, …and women, …and, well, persons who by fate or choice don’t happen to find themselves quite at home in that contrived and constraining gender binary.
Prof. Appiah’s deconstruction of religion begins with the subdivision of religion into three dimensions; one’s beliefs, one’s practices, and with whom one shares these beliefs and practices. After a tiresome tangent identical to the aforementioned gender tangent, wherein he invites his audience to scoff at religion altogether on account of how damn complicated and confusing it can be, he turns on “Scriptural Determinism.”
By retaining his focus on how religion comes unraveled and becomes incoherent with the passage of time and loss of conviction, he leaves out how transformative scripture and its interpretation can actually be. For all of his deconstruction of Jewish identity with his examples of historical inconsistencies and translation problems, he fails to confirm how the core of the Jewish faith truly dictates Jewish behavior. After constantly reading stories about unpopular and weak underdogs prevailing against unchosen rubes, even the most vehemently atheist Jew can’t help but see a world of pharaoh and philistine bullies set against his superior and chosen tribe.
The impact of these myths and memeplexes–secular and religious alike–on the thinking and behavioral patterns of their subjects is difficult to overstate. Just watch absolutely any high school series or film written by a Jew, and you’ll find the same plot play out every time. You have big dumb goyish jocks without souls bullying the protagonists who are somehow always unpopular despite being smart and funny. Amusingly, Biff Tannen of Back to the Future was modeled after eighties Trump by a Jewish writer as the quintessential powerful gentile bully, so you can imagine their panic at the man of their nightmares actually being elected.
In theory, the Amish explicitly eschew culture and identity altogether, and have paradoxically found themselves the most distinct and unique culture and identity in the New World. They achieved this feat by behaving in a set of ways directly prescribed by their religious doctrines. Sure, their German heritage influences their behavior, in an arguably essentialist manner, but it’s the religious beliefs which vividly separate them from the tens of millions of Americans who wouldn’t know they’re of German heritage if their surnames and DNA tests didn’t confirm it.
First principles do matter, and often are valid reasons for people to sort themselves into separate tribes. I agree with him, however, that “faith” often functions as a proxy for other things. In America, to be Jewish or Muslim is to define one’s identity outside of the White American tribe, in opposition to it. The vast majority of Islamic and Mexican immigrants generally vote Democrat, and it has nothing to do with the Koran or the Pope. Especially in a contemporary world when even soi distant religionists are overwhelmingly secular in ideology and orientation, confession takes a back seat to other aspects of identity.
Like a broken record we begin with a tale about how complicated human identity can be. It’s a tale of a Jew who belonged to several countries and none without actually doing any wandering. Borders moved back and forth over the course of his life, repeatedly changing his citizenship. We’re to conclude that Germans aren’t really a thing since until recently Germanic peoples existed in a patchwork of principalities, empires, and such. Same for Italians. This is a man for whom both red and purple are debunked by fuchsia, where donkeys and horses cannot exist on account of the mule.
The nationalist says, We are a people, we share an ancestry.” But so does a family, to take the idea at its narrowest and the whole species, at as widest, shares its ancestry, too. In seeking nations, where should we draw the line? The people of Asante in Ghana, where I grew up, are supposed to share ancestry: but so is the wider world of Akan peoples to which we also belong. There are not just Asante, but Ahron, Ahafo, Akwapim, Akyem, Baule, Fante, Kwahu, Nzema, and a bunch more. So if you were going for a nation-state, perhaps Akan would make more sense than Asante: bigger may be better in modern nations, and there are twice as many Akan as Asante, their homes spread through southern Ghana and Ivory Coast. But, following that thought, why not go for something even bigger, as Pan-Africanists argued, seeking to create a mega-state of people of African descent? Which should it he? There are no natural boundaries. Once you move beyond the village world of the face-to-face, a people is always going to be a community of strangers. That is a first quandary—one of scale.
The scale question is complicated in practice, but the theory is simpler than Appiah suggests. The smallest geopolitically viable population group of shared tribal affinity is optimal. Any larger, and there is alienation, distrust, and loss of will to invest in the commons. Any smaller, and it’s steamrolled. A variety of factors go into determining if a potential nation’s size could be viable, including economics, demographics, geography, diplomacy, and military technology. Singapore manages to get along just fine as a mere city-state while Vladivostok wouldn’t dare defy its overlords over 5,000 miles away.
Prof. Appiah does what he always does, overwhelming his audience with a rushed presentation of the complexities of a situation inviting them to abandon all hope that the complexities could possibly be muddled through. Appiah finds all that paperwork and hassle involved in getting to and from America onerous and irritating. For him and the rest of his global cosmopolitan “citizens of the world,” our quaint insistence on putting up barriers to their free travel is a big complicated problem with the simple solution of abolishing the whole borders thing.
It will come as no surprise that Prof. Appiah rejects racial “essentialism.” In this familiar leftist narrative, the whole idea that races have profound congenital differences was a lie promoted by imperialist white males which justified and perpetuated their power. All of their “bad science” has been “discredited,” and all of the apparent racial differences echoing into the modern age are basically the lingering consequence of this colonial supremacist mentality.
He trots out Russia’s Hannibal and the other counter-examples to the theory that it’s impossible for people of African ancestry to be bright. He surely perceives his own academic bonafides and his aristocratic warlord ancestors as further evidence against this theory that even your most benighted backwoods klansman would hesitate to advance, …even after a few beers.
No voices outside the heads of leftist imagination are arguing that it’s impossible for Black people to be bright, and Appiah provides several counter-examples which were quite well known in the era when the proposition would have had an audience. Yao Ming’s existence doesn’t prove that Chinese people aren’t generally short, and it’s tiresome that men with enough wit to graduate from high school feign a level of reading comprehension befitting an elementary school student when the subject of racial characteristics presents itself.
Quoting Gregoire, Appiah correctly notes that, “People have slandered Negroes, first in order to get the right to enslave them, and then to justify themselves for having enslaved them.” Fair enough, and the fact that there are talented Negroes perfectly capable of literacy, literature, and great works was a problem swept under the rug back then. But now the problem Appiah’s trying to sweep under the rug with his selective historiography is that, on average, the Negro does lag dramatically behind the White in academics.
Profiteers of yesteryear depended on advancing the lie that all Negroes are incapable of academics. Today’s profiteering scumbags rely on the equal and opposite delusion that there’s a Hannibal in every Black youth yearning to read without placing his finger under the words. In finance, billions were made off of the misguided effort to close the “racial gap” in home ownership by serving up loans to Black families who weren’t capable of managing a mortgage. Billions have been made off of academia’s campaign to saddle Black youths up with student loans for degrees that they’re not actually capable of translating into profitable careers.
Yesterday’s liars about Black potential didn’t stop gifted Blacks from rising up, and today’s liars about Black potential won’t manage to raise up the majority of Black people. There are essential, congenital factors nailed to the floor which aren’t susceptible to even the most pervasive campaigns one way or another. Every single well-funded, well-orchestrated scheme to try to close the racial gap in general intelligence has proven as useless as Anne Frank’s drum kit. Prove me wrong. *drops mic*
As with gender, he rejects the exhaustively peer-reviewed scientific evidence of meaningful differences in essential racial qualities because he holds it to the standard of being 100% cladistic. Because he’s male, yet effeminate and gay, he’s disproven the antiquated notion that males tend to be aggressive and heterosexual. Since he’s Black and smart, he’s disproven the antiquated notion that Blacks tend not to excel at academic pursuits.
One problem with lying about essential differences to avoid hurting feelings is that false ideas translate into bad policies which often end up harming the very people who the lies were intended to protect. White lies about white privilege hurt Black kids, and not even in a zero-sum manner that a White Nationalist could stand behind. For instance, the irrational fixation on improving minority standardized test scores have forced inner city schools to gut a wide variety of artistic, musical, and athletic programs that would enrich the kids far more than the grueling math and literacy programs replacing them.
Whites and Jews, when allowed into multicultural projects, will generally grapple their way to the top unless a “progressive stack” is fixed into place to stop them from doing so. This is even a problem for vehemently anti-racist Whites, with anti-racist organizations being dominated by White and Jewish voices. In the queer community, homosexuals and male-to-female transexuals dominate the conversation and shout down lesbians and female-to-male trannies. They have become the loudest and most dominant voices carrying over the essentially female voices. They’ve even concocted a “TERF” epithet to broadly apply to any queer woman who dares challenge their crypto-patriarchal domination of the anti-patriarchy movement.
It’s been 500 years for North America, with no sign of our transcending our “illusory” concept of racial essence. India’s been at it for 5,000 years, to no avail. And while Prof. Appiah is confused about India’s racial kaleidoscope, Indians aren’t. The differences between the different castes, tribes, language families, religious confessions, and racial mixes might provoke anybody to have an Appiah-style fit of apathetic dismissal. But much of it is indeed essential, just as there were very real sub-racial and cultural differences underlying the notorious Hutu vs. Tutsi conflict in Rwanda which we Westerners imagine to be the ultimate battle between exotic strangers who all look the same to us.
Prof. Appiah, to his credit, does try to contextualize America’s racial disparities more sensibly than most of his colleagues, even noting the fact that majority of Americans living in poverty with profound disadvantages are actually White. While his politics are implicitly anti-White, he does seem to lack (or conceal, perhaps) the reflexive animosity toward Whites which is standard for cosmopolitan ideologues. There’s none of the anti-Trump read meat, bashing the yokels, or hysterical panic about racist Republicans that I was expecting. He’s far from objective, but there’s a sincere attempt at objectivity.
My American instincts incline me to want to agree with Prof. Appiah that class distinctions are largely social constructs with very little, if any, essential basis. In America, with perhaps some endangered exceptions in the Old South and New England, I believe that to be the case. But in older societies in the Old World, class differences are often the product of extensive and iterative endogamy by sub-populations who share essential qualities. I suspect that Appiah’s own aristocratic African family he brags about repeatedly is essentially different from the wider population it ruled over.
America’s a land where anonymity, mobility, and the constant influx of new people from both Europe and beyond has steadily worked against the congealing of status into class, and its further crystallization into caste. At least part of the time, class is clearly founded in something integral rather than being something imposed. This fact goes against American meritocratic values and also against current leftist theory which continues to insist that people find themselves in different socioeconomic conditions on account of elite conspiracy rather than as a natural consequence of the human condition.
He correctly identifies the fatal flaw in the idol of meritocracy, namely that those who achieve power through merit will always seek to translate that power into privilege for their “own;” their family members, co-ethnics, and cohorts. You can’t have Chuck Schumer, the first-rate political mastermind, without Amy Schumer, his third-rate comedian niece. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants developed their meritocratic values in a monocultural context where it worked, and are now choking on a multicultural context where clinging to meritocracy is forfeiting the game to Jews and other immigrant elites like the author of this here book.
Once again ruffling the feathers of his Afrocentric colleagues, Prof. Appiah’s cosmopolitanist worldview compels him to steamroll over a great deal of vogue leftist shibboleths about cultural ownership and appropriation. Any white girl out there looking for an academically impressive excuse for buying that Chinese-style prom dress or binge on that African tribal print purse would do well to reference this work by a gay halfrican dude. Shut down your judgmental leftist friends by insisting that culture yearns to be liberated from the constraints of racial and cultural essentialism.
I’m actually confident enough in that essentialism to somewhat share Prof. Appiah’s acceptance of cultural transfer. I believe that essence shines through. Vanilla Ice may appropriate Black culture, but he still retains that White American pragmatic problem solver mentality: “If you’ve got a problem / Yo’, I’ll solve it.” Eminem can do his damnedest to act and think Black, but he’s still the only rap artist who sings about his kids. America’s music benefited from borrowing back and forth between cultures and races, and trying to discern who “owns” rock and roll is a petty and pointless pursuit.
Where I differ from Prof. Appiah is in my conviction that we can achieve a global perspective without necessarily becoming globalist. The two are separate things. While there are numerous examples, the ultimate example lies in the cultural habits of the Jewish people, who’ve largely retained their marital endogamy and even racial supremacism while being at the vanguard of cosmopolitan interaction. The Chinese are also mastering this, excelling at global trade and even colonial conquest without compromising their identity. None feel the exclusively White obligation to trade in and turn on your identity in order to participate in the international marketplace of expression, ideas, products, and services.
I do business with a wide range of identities, enjoy music and art from a diverse array of artists, and have plenty of friends of different races and nationalities. My friends all know I’m White Nationalist. I’ve lost friends over it, for sure. But anybody who refuses to be my friend because I put my own family and people first was never a worthwhile friend to begin with. This notion that one must be angry and hateful about everybody else needs to be deconstructed, as does the notion that nationalism necessarily requires a parochial and paranoid mentality.
In the section “Going Home” of the “Color” chapter, Prof. Appiah describes Afer’s return to Africa, his homecoming, in terms sentimental enough to betray his own longing for some kind of homecoming to a place where he actually belongs. Appiah is cosmopolitan, a man without a homeland, because his parents made a conscious choice to create a child who categorically doesn’t belong anywhere. His life’s work has been struggling with that challenge, and I sympathize with his plight.
If only there were somewhere on Earth (or beyond) where he could truly belong in the way those of us with coherent identities and tribal place take for granted. There are niches within coastal cosmopolitan academia that come pretty close to that, and it’s no coincidence that he gravitated toward the one place in the world where he most felt that sense of belonging. And yet, from that platform, he invites everyone else in the world to kick their own platforms out from under themselves.
I’m a White American, I’m a Christian, and I belong to the “Trumpy” Midwestern regional and ethnic “tribe” that Prof. Appiah and his cohorts (accurately) perceive as the greatest obstacle to their cosmopolitanist and multiculturalist vision for the future. While they’re currently reeling from the unexpected resistance which emerged in 2016, they’ve only experienced the first tremors of the gradual White American awakening of a sense of identity, purpose, and shared fate.
White Americans haven’t given much thought to identity, but they’re beginning to. As they do so, I suspect that they’re not going to arrive at the conclusions that our institutional elites are hoping for. Books like this aren’t going to reverse that process of White identitarian awakening which is underway. It speaks only to the choir of academic types who imagine themselves standing abreast a cosmopolitan universalist end of history. If anything, these sorts of echo chamber offerings only reinforce the steadily growing divide between the two large and powerful tribes which think this country belongs to them, can’t arrive at a common understanding, and won’t let it go without a fight.