The Presumption of Belonging

In my occasional attempts to learn from people I disagree with, I watched an episode Briahna Joy Gray’s Bad Faith podcast. Her guest last week was Irami Osei-Frimpong, a PhD student in philosophy at the University of Georgia and podcaster who has self-branded as The Funky Academic. She invited him on to talk about SCOTUS decision ruling affirmative action unconstitutional (among other topics), but embedded in the first 40 minutes or so of the conversation (beginning around the 16th minute) was a description and critique of American identity from Osei-Frimpong that I found so challenging that I found myself replaying it to make sure I was actually hearing what I thought I did. What kicked off Osei-Frimpong’s response (which I attempt to transcribe below) was a prompt from Gray regarding a recent interview Senator Tommy Tuberville did where he conflated what white supremacy is with what being an American is.

Osei-Frimpong: I think it’s fair to conflate American identity with white national identity insofar as we are the other. No one conflates American identity with the descendants of slaves. Our Americanness is as a degradation of our being. So we exist as like a not real people. There is a way in which black failure is American, but black self-determination would be communist. Part of an American identity is to treat black people like garbage.

Gray: So the condition of our American status is to be a second-tier, third-tier, fourth-tier member of the society.

Osei-Frimpong: And a condition of their American status is to think of us as second-tier, third-tier, fourth-tier. I think part of the middle class identity is to flee black people. Lineage is the American identity. People have to think about Jim Crow as a forward-facing regime. They were saying that not only are you not anything, but your grandkids won’t be anything. The regime as always not just about you, but of your line. Your great-grandparents weren’t anything, and your grandkids won’t be anything. The regime is realized when you look at the outcomes today. The problem is we think of the Jim Crow regime and race in general as like a static moment … when it was always a statement about a line in the past and a line in the future. And I think that line has held. Anywhere there’s a congregation of black people–80% or above–it’s not someplace that you necessarily want to drink the water. And that is not an accident. People think that Jim Crow just affected lineage property holders–which is true. But it’s not just in property holding. [Jim Crow] overdetermined all of our institutional relationships, including the church, education, and family. I think the black family was overdetermined by the needs of surviving Jim Crow.

a recent Bad Faith Podcast with guest Irami Osei-Frimpong

Osei-Frimpong’s argument regarding the status of black people in America isn’t entirely new (as captured in book-length treatments of the subject I’ve read this year), but neither Wilkerson nor Reed make the case as bluntly that this lower status is a condition of being seen as being American and belonging in America. Through the lens of Osei-Frimpong’s argument, the ongoing discourse around Florida’s recent changes in what is taught about slavery can be seen as a variation on this idea of belonging. Defenders of these changes (including Florida governor and 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis) insist on the idea that black people benefited from enslavement because of the skills they gained–as if black people had no skills other than those taught by their enslavers. These are not the arguments of those who actually see black people as equals.

Some defenders of these new standards, such as Charles C.W. Cooke of National Review, have gone so far as to call Vice President Kamala Harris a liar in print for characterizing the changes this way. But the list of items he compiles, rather than refuting Vice President Harris’ point, actually does more to confirm it. Some examples:

  • Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit
  • Instruction includes how slavery was utilized in Asian, European and African cultures
  • Instruction includes the similarities and differences between serfdom and slavery
  • Instruction includes the comparative treatment of indentured servants of European and African extraction
  • Exams the condition of slavery as it existed in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe prior to 1619
  • Instruction includes how trading in slaves developed in African lands (e.g., Benin, Dahomey)
  • Instruction includes the practice of the Barbary Pirates in kidnapping Europeans and selling them into slavery in Muslim countries (i.e., Muslim slave markets in North Africa, West Africa, Swahili Coast, Horn of Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Indian Ocean slave trade)
  • Instruction includes how slavery was utilized in Asian cultures (e.g., Sumerian law code, Indian caste system)
  • Instruction includes the similarities between serfdom and slavery and emergence of the term “slave” in the experience of Slavs

These and other examples make it clear that the aim of this new curriculum is less to educate children regarding the nature of slavery as practiced in American colonies and what would later become the United States, than to draw false equivalences between it and how slavery was practiced in other cultural contexts. Not once in Cooke’s analysis or his numerous bullet points does term “chattel slavery” appear, which would make clear that enslavement was not merely permanent for those originally enslaved, but generational–passed down to any and all descendants.

Others of Cooke’s bullet points seem selected to convey the message that other enslavers were worse than colonial (and later American) ones, such as these:

  • Instruction includes the harsh conditions in the Caribbean plantations (i.e., poor nutrition, rigorous labor, disease).
  • Instruction includes how slavery was sustained in the Caribbean, Dutch Guiana and Brazil despite overwhelming death rates.

Still other select bullet points seek to valorize those in power and the prevailing system of governance as actually working to end slavery, such as these:

  • Instruction includes examples of how the members of the Continental Congress made attempts to end or limit slavery (e.g., the first draft of the Declaration of Independence that blamed King George III for sustaining the slave trade in the colonies, the calls of the Continental Congress for the end of involvement in the international slave trade, the Constitutional provision allowing for congressional action in 1808)
  • Instructions includes how different states passed laws that gradually led to the abolition of slavery in northern states (e.g., gradual abolition laws: RI Statutes 1728, 1765 & 1775, PA 1779, ma & NH 1780s, CT & NJ 1784, NY 1799; states abolishing slavery: VT 1777).
  • Analyze the contributions of founding principles of liberty, justice and equality in the quest to end slavery
  • Instruction includes the contributions of key figures in the quest to end slavery as the nation was founded (e.g., Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay).
  • Instruction includes how Abraham Lincoln’s views on abolition evolved over time.

The word “ordinance” appears a handful of times, but never in connection with the ordinances of secession, the resolutions drafted and ratified by each of the 13 Confederate states regarding why they were leaving the Union (at least 3 of which mention slave-holding in the context of property rights as their rationale).

One of my personal frustrations with this curriculum controversy being focused on slavery is or isn’t taught is the ways in which it has diverted attention from the virtual absence of any instruction at all, proper or otherwise, about Reconstruction and Jim Crow–a period of history spanning nearly an additional century after the end of the Civil War of what Osei-Frimpong described as “a degradation of our being”. Cooke’s analysis mentions Reconstruction just 3 times. Here is one of those three mentions:

Instruction includes how whites who supported Reconstruction polices for freed blacks after the Civil War (white southerns being called scalawags and white northerners being called carpetbaggers) were targeted.

Florida’s State Academic Standards — Social Studies, 2023, page 16

Cooke’s callout on how Reconstruction impacted certain white people (rather than the black people it was intended to protect) reveals as much or more about his priorities than it does about the curriculum in question. References to the word “compromise” in the standards do not appear to include the compromise of 1877 (of which Florida was one of 3 key states), which ended the Reconstruction era and helped usher in Jim Crow. Entirely absent from his analysis is any mention of the Great Migration, which was at least in part motivated by the abandonment of Reconstruction by the federal government (which rates a scant 6 mentions in an academic standards document 216 pages long).

Jim Crow is mentioned just once in Cooke’s analysis, and only five times total in my own search of Florida’s new academic standards. This takes me to Osei-Frimpong’s second point regarding Americanness and blackness, that Jim Crow is incorrectly seen as a static period in time. His characterization of Jim Crow as a statement about the past and future lineage of black people being “nothing” crystallized for me in a way few previous commentaries have that the intent of Jim Crow’s architects was to ensure a permanent black underclass in the same way their predecessors intended chattel slavery to be permanent. When Osei-Frimpong says “there is a way in which black failure is American”, to me it is a reminder of the ways the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War, and Jim Crow, deliberately omit from the record all the ways in which black achievements were consistently hidden, threatened, stolen, and/or destroyed. As a result, well-meaning bureaucrats like Daniel Patrick Moynihan would write The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, which would be used by some to reinforce their previously-held stereotypes of black people with no acknowledgement of how the necessities of surviving Jim Crow might have meaningfully and durably damaged black families. I’m reminded also of the ways in which prominent conservative black public intellectuals (Thomas Sowell in particular) both in the past and in the present have used the economic success of black immigrants like my own parents as a rhetorical cudgel to beat native-born black Americans for their relative lack of success with no acknowledgement of the differences in the circumstances between us or the impact of the multi-generational denial of the benefits of first-class citizenship on black citizens.

Defenders of these new standards include two members of the working group who created them. Dr. William Allen’s training is in political science (not history). The initial defense has been thoroughly discredited by Twitter threads like the one below:

Start of a thread discrediting the examples provided by members of Florida’s African American History Standards Workgroup

The thread above calls out numerous errors in the examples provided, such as:

  • Numerous black men who were actually born free, or born after 1865
  • Multiple incorrect professions
  • Including the free white sister of George Washington
  • Including a man never actually freed from enslavement

At least so far, I have yet to read or hear any responses the working group to these errors.

One of the things the Supreme Court did in striking down affirmative action was essentially state that black people do not belong in elite higher education. Antonin Scalia said exactly this during oral arguments for Fisher v University of Texas in 2015, a case brought by the same activist behind Students for Fair Admissions v President and Fellows of Harvard College. By contrast, the much older practice of legacy admissions–despite its history and origins as an anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-Asian set-aside for white Anglo-Saxon Protestants–went unchallenged by the Asian students of Students for Fair Admissions. Legacy students are presumed to belong at elite institutions, even though in many (if not most) cases their academic marks would disqualify them for admission absent their legacy status. The presumption of –if not entitlement to–belonging in elite higher education is apparently acceptable for everyone except (most) black people. It is very much at odds with the metaphorical pats on the head black people receive for their achievements in Florida’s new social studies curriculum.

CRT bans in schools, book bans in schools and public libraries, and threats to corporate diversity initiatives are far from the only things I expect to see when it comes to challenges to the presumption that black people in this country belong anywhere we can currently be found. Within the past day, Matt Gaetz introduced legislation intended to end birthright citizenship–a direct challenge to the text of the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to former enslaved people (as well as to me). Gaetz has plenty of company in seeking to restrict citizenship, including presidential candidates who themselves would not be citizens without the 14th Amendment like Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy. We’ve reached a sad state as a nation when those who seek its highest office have closing the constitutional path to citizenship as part of sales pitch to the GOP electorate.

The Social Media Shakeup Continues: Bluesky & Threads

Over six months have passed since I first started exploring Mastodon. I’ve switched servers (to from, updated this blog’s sharing settings in Jetpack Social to post to Mastodon automatically (replacing the deliberately-broken Twitter integration), subscribed to the Ivory for Mastodon mobile app, made 1813 posts and gained 338 followers. I only follow 196 accounts, but between that and folks in the Local feed on I find it to be an informative, enlightening, and fun social media experience.

A little over a month ago, I joined Bluesky thanks to a friend’s invite. The protocol it runs on (the AT Protocol) is federated, like ActivityPub. But as of now, is the only place you can sign up (and signups are currently still invite-only). Nor does it appear that you’ll be able to host your own AT Protocol server anytime soon. Bluesky does implement a few interesting ideas that other social networks should borrow (or steal): (1) app-specific passwords, (2) feeds, (3) domains as handles.

I first learned about app-specific passwords in a Mastodon post (which I have not been able to find again because that whole hashtag search thing) announcing the Ice Cubes for Mastodon app had added support for a bridge instance ( that would let you connect to and use your Bluesky account and your Mastodon account(s) in the same app. The sign in page recommends using an app-specific password instead of the real one and the link text takes you directly to the UI in the Bluesky app to create one. In my limited use of the Ice Cubes account for this purpose, the disclaimer about the bridge not working for every Mastodon client proved true often enough to be annoying. The sign in page recommended the Ivory app as providing the best experience—we’ll explore whether that advice proves true in a future post.

Feeds are the way Bluesky packages algorithms that show certain posts and topics. Beyond the Following feed (the default feed for every Bluesky user), I’ve added feeds including Mutuals (posts from people you follow who follow you back), Likes (every Bluesky post you’ve liked), and Cat Pics (the content of which should be obvious, but occasionally includes pictures of raccoons and opossums). Bluesky has made a feed generator starter kit available on, but I haven’t gotten that code working yet. If I do, and happen to feel particularly ambitious the next step would be to publish and host a custom feed for other Bluesky users to subscribe to.

Domains as handles lets you use a custom domain as your handle (instead of a subdomain of Since I own, I took the opportunity to update my handle using the instructions in Bluesky’s April 28 blog post. The process was quick, and the handle change was reflected almost immediately in my Bluesky mobile app (I had to refresh) and immediately in my Ivory app (no manual refresh required). If Mastodon were able to adopt this feature, it might at least make server switches much easier for people with custom domains.

Without much time on Bluesky, I haven’t done much posting, gained many followers, or followed many accounts yet. Some of the people I follow on Twitter for news (like Phil Lewis) and commentary (like Adam Serwer) are on Bluesky as well (along with fun accounts like Bodega Cats).

Threads is the newest kid on the social media block (launched July 5th) and already has over 100 million users, courtesy of its ability to leverage the large installed base of Instagram users as a starting point. Unlike Bluesky, Threads plans to join the fediverse so its Threads users can follow and interact with people on other fediverse platforms. But before Threads was even officially named and launched, numerous instance admins joined an anti-Meta fedi pact. The instance admins in the pact agree to block any fediverse instances owned by Meta. As for the app itself, there are the sort of privacy controls and account settings that will make Threads safe for users (and especially for brands, compared to the anti-woke haven Twitter seems intent on becoming)–but not much else. You can invite your friends to Threads via WhatsApp, text messages, email, or just about any other method you can think of. As of yet there are no custom feeds, or lists, or any other features that might let you filter what posts you see. Since Meta is really about selling ads, I presume its only a matter of time before we start seeing (and scrolling past them) in Threads.

Between the three social media apps I’ve been spending more time with since last year, Mastodon is still the one I most enjoy using. I’m still on Twitter, but less often than last year–primarily to engage with a DM group I joined made up of black professionals and academics. When Twitter first looked like it was on shaky ground, some of us exchanged emails to keep in touch, others shared their Instagram accounts. If and when Bluesky shifts from invite-only to broader adoption, it looks like the social media option with the most tools to recreate the sort of community we found on Twitter beginning in the pandemic.

GOP state officials threaten legal action over company diversity policies

A group of Republican U.S. state attorneys general on Thursday warned the country’s largest companies that certain workforce diversity policies could be illegal in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision effectively striking down affirmative action in higher education.
— Read on

Not even a full month after this post suggested affirmative action in employment would be the next thing the Supreme Court majority would rule unconstitutional, GOP state attorneys generals have threatened to sue companies they assert (without evidence) have used race-based practices in hiring. Notable among the companies these attorneys general have singled out are Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Uber. The tech industry is an interesting target for these state attorneys general given it’s historically-poor track record on diversity across any number of metrics.

A brief look at Apple’s inclusion and diversity results show a workforce that is still 2/3rds men over the 7 years (2014-2021) for which they’ve provided data. Asian representation in their workforce has grown the most significantly over the same period, from 15% to 27.9%, while the percentage of black and Hispanic employees have grown by much smaller rates. Of the remaining highlighted companies, only Uber employs a workforce fewer than 60% male, and their ethnic diversity numbers have actually gotten worse in some respects (over 10% of their workforce was Black or African-American in 2021, while barely 9% of the workforce is as of the latest metrics published this year). But in the post-affirmative action American landscape, we can now expect even the good-faith efforts of companies to diversify their workforces to be challenged in court and for those workforces to be less-diverse as a result. We will learn the hard way that diversity isn’t just a “nice-to-have”; the increasing lack of diversity will result in worse products from companies.

Religious Freedom is a Poor Cloak for Prejudice

One thing I have noticed in the rightward lurch of the federal judiciary over the years, especially the Supreme Court (and rulings that appear intended to repeal the entirety of the 20th century), is how often they grant relief to plaintiffs using religious freedom as their rationale. Such cases used to be about believers being able to observe their religious practice as they chose without being prevented from doing so by the government, or by secular employers, with accommodations being made where possible. At the very start of my career in IT, my employer tried to compel me to work on Saturdays (my day of worship as a practicing Seventh-day Adventist), and I ultimately quit that company rather than yield to the pressure (or pursue a court case).

Now religious freedom in the United States has been distorted to any and every expression of Christian faith in any context, aided and abetted by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, as an exemption to the laws everyone else in this country must adhere to. The latest example of this is the case 303 Creative v Elenis, recently decided 6-3 in favor of 303 Creative. Despite the proprietor of 303 Creative never actually being contracted by a gay couple to create a wedding website, and despite not even having expanded her business to offer wedding website services, “she brought a pre-enforcement challenge to the Colorado law, worried, as Gorsuch wrote, “the State will force her to convey messages inconsistent with her belief that marriage should be reserved to unions between one man and one woman,” according to the Washington Post. So the very prospect of a same-sex couple asking a public business to accept their money in exchange for a service was so alarming that the plaintiff chose to file lawsuits to prevent it. And after numerous losses in lower courts finally received a ruling in her favor from our nation’s highest court.

This idea that engaging in a business transaction constitutes an endorsement of a practice someone deems sinful seems to me either a well-intentioned but significant misunderstanding and misreading of scripture, or a deliberate distortion intended to justify ones pre-existing prejudices. When I think about where in the Bible a Christian might look in order to guide their decisions in a matter like this, I think of the works of the Apostle Paul.

After these events Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them, and they worked together, for they were tent-makers by trade. And Paul was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

Acts 18:1-4

Tent-making was how Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla earned money to support themselves as they pursued their main goal of spreading the Gospel. If any evidence exists that any of them refused to make or sell tents for Corinthians who were sinners, I haven’t read it in the Bible. If any evidence exists that selling tents was somehow an endorsement of whatever lifestyle Jews or Greeks or anyone else in Corinth was engaged in, I have not read it in Acts 18 or anywhere else in Acts. So how exactly does a Christian in the United States come to the conclusion that making a website for money (or a cake) if the customers are a same-sex couple is an endorsement of same-sex marriage? Are we to believe that the modern Christian in the United States somehow has less religious freedom than Aquila and Priscilla, who were in Corinth after leaving Rome because Jews were being persecuted by the Emperor Claudius? Reading further in Acts, we find Paul engaging with both Jews and Greeks in Ephesus, Macedonia, as well as in Greece.

Given previous rulings by the Supreme Court, I’m not surprised by the ruling in her favor. What was surprising was this article in The New Republic, which suggests that the plaintiff or her lawyers fabricated a gay couple attempting to violate her religious freedom. If true, the owner of 303 Creative built this entire case on a lie.

The start of a thread by Rev. Solomon Missouri

Rev. Missouri, senior pastor at Invitation AME Zion Church in Snow Hill, NC is refreshingly blunt in his perspective regarding the dishonesty of 303 Creative’s position. But the questions he ends the threads with are the most important for anyone who points to their Christian faith as the rationale for their actions:

What gospel ethic—what value is communicated in this? Where is the divine in this?

Rev. Solomon Missouri tweets

While Rev. Missouri asks the question of Christian evangelicals in general, it should be asked specifically of white evangelicals. What gospel ethic is communicated by prevailing upon a secular court to sanction your desire to reject the provision of a service to people who haven’t asked you to provide it? A similar question could be asked of the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop. Contrast their example with that of the Apostle Paul, and how he engaged with both Jews and Greeks—both in his trade as a tent maker, and in his ministry work. Christianity spread throughout the Asia of Paul’s day, while many of the membership rolls in Christian churches in the U.S. are shrinking. Numerous Christian denominations (including my own) are still fighting over whether or not women should hold pastoral roles despite claiming to believe in a Bible with numerous examples of women in leadership in both the Old and New Testaments. The same Aquila and Priscilla of Acts 18:1-4 can be found later (in Acts 18:26) explaining the way of God more accurately to the evangelist Apollos. Rev. Missouri’s question bears repeating in this context: what gospel ethic–what value is communicated in denying particular titles to women in the service of God? Is the gospel well-served by putting incompetent and/or untutored men in the office of pastor over women to whom God grants the same spiritual gifts as men?

A friend of mine shared this interesting Substack post with me which asserts that religion has become a luxury good. This quote toward the end of the piece is an unfortunately accurate picture of the state of Christianity in the United States today:

Increasingly religion has become the enclave for those who have lived a “proper” life. College degree, middle class income, married with children. If you check all those boxes, the likelihood of you regularly attending church is about double the rate of folks who don’t.

This is also troublesome for American democracy, as well. Religion, at it’s best, is a place where people from a variety of economic, social, racial, and political backgrounds can find common ground around a shared faith. It’s place to build bridges to folks who are different than you. Unfortunately, it looks like American religion is not at its best.

Instead, it’s become a hospital for the healthy. An echo chamber for folks who did everything “right”, which means that is seeming less and less inviting to those who did life another way.

Christianity as practiced in the U.S. today is definitely not inviting to those who did life another way, and increasingly not even to those inside the enclave.

What The End of Affirmative Action in Higher Education Means (and Doesn’t): Addendum

Finally (for now), the end of affirmative action is far from the end of anti-black rulings from this court. Affirmative action in employment will almost certainly be the next thing to be ruled unconstitutional.

June 29, 2023 blog post at

The corpse of affirmative action (except the carve-out for U.S. military academies) is barely cold, and already (July 3, 2023) the anti-woke hounds are baying at the heels of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the workplace.

But as a brief glance at the historical record will show, complaints about black people getting “special treatment” originating from people who aren’t black have a rather long history in this country. On March 27, 1866, President Andrew Johnson gave an entire speech regarding why he was vetoing civil rights legislation passed by both houses of Congress. Among his many objections were that black people would receive “Federal citizenship” immediately while 11 states were not represented in Congress. The 11 states (of course) were the ones that started (and lost) the Civil War. Having “just emerged from slavery into freedom”, President Johnson questioned whether or not black people “possess the requisite qualifications to entitle them to all the privileges and immunities of citizens”. But here is the passage that perhaps best explains and exemplifies the sense of entitlement—both then and now—that some have when compared to the black people who built and fought for this country:

The bill in effect proposes a discrimination against large numbers of intelligent, worthy, and patriotic foreigners, and in favor of the Negro, to whom, after long years of bondage, the avenues to freedom and intelligence have just now been suddenly opened.

Paragraph 4 of the transcript of President Andrew Johnson’s March 27, 1866 speech vetoing civil rights legislation

If there is any meaningful difference between the logic President Johnson applied to reject civil rights legislation and the logic the conservative majority on the Supreme Court used to end affirmative action, it is not readily apparent. Within President Johnson’s objections to the granting of “Federal citizenship” to black people and the states right argument he advances to separate “State citizenship” from it are the seeds of modern arguments against birthright citizenship that we hear today from the same people who find common cause with the Confederates of that day. Should this country put the wrong person in the White House yet again, perhaps birthright citizenship will be among the many rights at risk.