All posts filed under: Identity

The Battle for Moral Authority

When Amazon rejected my documentary What Killed Michael Brown? from its platform last October, I was stunned by the rejection letter’s finality. The film had failed to meet Amazon’s “content quality expectations,” was “not eligible for publishing,” and there could be no “resubmission of this title and this decision may not be appealed.” After rereading the letter several times, I was left with the eerie feeling that I had done something immoral for which I deserved to be ashamed. Fortunately the film was written, presented, and narrated by my father Shelby Steele whose years as an acclaimed author and op-ed writer for the Wall Street Journal had made him a public intellectual. When I told the writers at the Journal what had happened, they responded with several critical articles, and Amazon promptly reversed its decision and agreed to host my film on their platform, where it remains to this day. But the initial rejection still bothered me. Was this a form of political persecution? The title of the film is certainly provocative and it offers …

Three Plane Rides and the Quest for a Just Society

In the paper that started the concept of “microaggressions” on its path to prominence, lead-author Derald Wing Sue recounts an incident that happened to him (an Asian American) and an African American colleague on a short plane ride from New York to Boston. Being a small plane with few passengers, Sue and his colleague were asked by a flight attendant (who happened to be a white female) to help balance the weight by moving to the back of the plane. They complied, but wondered why they had been asked to move instead of the three white men who were last to board, and who seated themselves directly in front of Sue and his colleague. “Were we being singled out because of our race,” Sue wondered, or “was this just a random event with no racial overtones?” Sue and his colleague—who was having the same thoughts—discussed the matter: Were we being oversensitive and petty? Although we complied by moving to the back of the plane, both of us felt resentment, irritation, and anger. In light of …

“I Was Never More Hated Than When I Tried to Be Honest”

Ralph Ellison, author of the timeless American classic Invisible Man, was among the most commanding black literary voices to emerge in the 20th century. It is a designation he would almost certainly have resented. Ellison didn’t see his work through the prism of his racial identity but as a means of transcending it—using the particulars of his experience to explore human universals. His ambition was not to be a great black writer but to be a great writer who happened to be black, competing in his own mind with Dostoevsky, Melville, Twain. He wanted to “do with black life what Homer did with Greek life” as Clyde Taylor, a professor at NYU, put it. Above all, he wanted blacks to recognize their essential place in the unfolding American story as part of a larger effort to dismantle the artificial racial barriers between disparate ethnic groups that has stalled the evolution of our shared national identity and culture. Quite unusually, Ellison’s work has resonated across the political spectrum and even pierced the bubble of pop culture. The …

A Student Mob Took Over Bryn Mawr. The College Said Thank You

Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality, while making it easier for them to part with them.      ~Vaclav Havel Last week marked the end of a chaotic semester at Bryn Mawr College, a small women’s liberal arts college located outside Philadelphia. During the final weeks, Bryn Mawr students, including my own child, scrambled to pick up the pieces following a student “strike” that exacerbated the serious preexisting disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. For a period of three weeks, few regular classes were held, activities were suspended, and student life (such as it was) became marked by the same toxic spirit of racism that the strikers claimed to oppose. Bryn Mawr is affiliated with nearby Haverford College, whose parallel meltdown in November was documented recently by Quillette. These two selective and well-funded schools are part of a so-called Bi-Co arrangement, which allows students to participate in joint classes and activities. Both share a similarly progressive commitment to …

On Sex and Gender, The New England Journal of Medicine Has Abandoned Its Scientific Mission

Two years ago, “Titania McGrath,” whose satirical Twitter account regularly skewers the ideological excesses of social-justice culture, suggested that “we should remove biological sex from birth certificates altogether to prevent any more mistakes.” The joke (obvious to those who follow the culture wars closely, but perhaps obscure to those who don’t) was directed at gender activists who insist that male and female designations “assigned at birth” are misleading (and even dangerous), since they may misrepresent a person’s true “gender identity”—that internally felt soul-like quality that supposedly transcends such superficial physical indicia as gonads and genitalia. But the line between satire and sincerity has become blurry on this issue. Last Thursday, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), widely considered to be the world’s most prestigious medical journal, published an article entitled Failed Assignments—Rethinking Sex Designations on Birth Certificates, arguing that (in the words of the abstract) “sex designations on birth certificates offer no clinical utility, and they can be harmful for intersex and transgender people.” The resemblance to Titania McGrath’s 2018-era Twitter feed is uncanny. …

A Peculiar Kind of Racist Patriarchy

We are frequently told by commentators and theorists on the progressive and liberal Left that we live in a systemically racist and patriarchal society. The belief that Western societies privilege white men and oppress people of color, women, and LGBT citizens is especially popular within academic institutions, legacy media, the entertainment industry, and even sports. However, newly released statistics from the US Department of Labor for the third quarter of 2020 undermine this narrative. Asian women have now surpassed white men in weekly earnings. That trend has been consistent throughout this past year—an unprecedented outcome. Full-time working Asian women earned $1,224 in median weekly earnings in the third quarter of this year compared to $1,122 earned by their white male counterparts. Furthermore, the income gap between both black and Latino men and Asian women is wider than it has ever been. The income gap between white and black women, meanwhile, is much narrower than the gap between their male counterparts. These outcomes cannot exist in a society suffused with misogyny and racism. As confounding to …

Circling Back to My Grandfather’s Judaism, Seventy Years Later

I was born in Toronto in 1942. My earliest memories were Jewishly buoyant because of the excitement in my home and close-knit community around the rebirth of Israel as a sovereign nation in 1948. It was only when I was a teenager that I became fully aware of the cataclysm that had preceded this miracle. Until the 1950s, there was a kind of taboo about discussing the Holocaust with children—or even discussing it at all. It was too recent. I knew, but didn’t know. North American Jews needed time to absorb the scope and originality of the horror they had been spared. The public high school I attended was almost entirely Jewish. (Our district was mostly gentile, but almost all the gentiles sent their children to private schools.) Few of us were prepared when our history teacher showed us a film about the liberation of the concentration camps. I was shocked by the newsreel footage of stacked corpses, the skeletal camp inmates staring, stunned, at their approaching liberators, the mound of children’s shoes, the numbers. …

An ‘Anti-Racist’ Mob Set Its Sights on Humble ‘Squampton.’ Here’s How the Town Fought Back

This is the sorry tale of how a confluence of unrelated developments—including the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the excesses of real-estate developers, an outdoor-sports boom, and the death of George Floyd—transformed what was once a small, gritty western Canadian logging town into a hub of woke lunacy. It’s also the story of a “racist” cream-filled donut, a slander campaign against an Indigenous single mother waged in the name of social justice, and an existential debate about whether a local basalt dyke may be a source of homophobic microaggression. But all in due course. The British Columbia town of Squamish is situated at the tip of island-dotted Howe Sound, nestled between Vancouver to the south and the famous ski-resort community of Whistler to the north. It gets its name from the Squamish Nation, a Coast Salish First Nations community that, as with other Indigenous peoples across Canada, suffered mightily from colonialism—an appalling chapter in Canadian history that the country has taken laudable steps to address in recent years. Though the population is largely white, Squamish has steadily …

Like It Or Not, Keira Bell Has Opened Up a Real Conversation About Gender Dysphoria

“I look back with a lot of sadness,” says Keira Bell. “There was nothing wrong with my body. I was just lost and without proper support. Transition gave me the facility to hide from myself even more than before. It was a temporary fix.” In the debate about transitioning children who experience gender dysphoria, Ms. Bell’s case represents an important turning point. Ms. Bell, now 23, was 16 years old when she presented to the Tavistock Centre in London, which runs Britain’s Gender Identity Development Service. In a landmark ruling delivered earlier this month, a British court upheld her claim that she’d been rushed through gender reassignment without proper safeguards. In addition to receiving treatments that left her with facial hair and a deep voice, Ms. Bell had a double mastectomy at age 20, and now faces a host of possible long-term side-effects, including infertility. As a result of the court’s judgment, Tavistock has suspended referrals for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for young patients. Treatment will remain available, but new cases now will be …

Against Cultural Protectionism

Like most of my generation, I was introduced to Leonard Cohen’s hymn to heartbreak, ‘Hallelujah,’ via its perfected version by Jeff Buckley. Buckley’s incredible voice echoed and shone through the haunting atmospherics of his sparse guitar, like a lonely angel fallen from the heavenly choir. It was the kind of song that would stop a conversation, stop your train of thought—something sacred. Its meditation on the beautiful melancholy of human life was only accentuated by Buckley’s untimely death, and passing into legend, soon after its release. Like Buckley, the song sat in the subcultural collective consciousness, something those of us at the tail end of Generation X would add to mix-tapes for our crushes, or learn to sing around the fire. Perhaps it was one of us who, having grown up and gone into film, suggested Rufus Wainwright’s version of the song for the soundtrack to Shrek. But however it happened, the song soon exploded into mainstream millennial consciousness. It became a fixture of talent shows and reality TV—not to mention the buskers. Oh, the …