Here’s my most recent Bloggingheads conversation (with economist Robert Cherry, CUNY Grad Center) on problems confronting poor black men — taking a somewhat heterodox approach:
And here is what I said about Cherry’s work at Facebook:
TO ALL WHO THINK THAT ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’, HEAR THIS:
I just read a very strong essay by the economist Robert Cherry of the Graduate Center, CUNY, which is forthcoming in the magazine National Affairs. It is probing, wise, balanced and grounded in careful empirical research. It is not beyond criticism, but its argument deserves to be considered, and met with rebuttals based on reason and evidence, not name calling and sloganeering. It, in my view, gives the lie to the notion, so popular in this day and age, that “There ain’t nothin’ wrong with black folk that eliminating white supremacy wouldn’t fix…”.
Cherry’s essay ends with this observation, which I wholeheartedly endorse:
“Claims of pervasive, profound, and utterly inexorable white racism
can serve as channels for frustration (or, in some cases, merely to
enable would-be activists to style themselves as champions of the underclass).
But they do not serve as channels of meaningful, substantive improvement, and they deny black Americans the means to play a part in improving their circumstances. They demonize any attempt to link disruptive and sometimes abusive family situations to racial disparities in employment and education. When black students have much higher school suspension rates, today’s activists demand the elimination of suspensions. When black students chronically perform poorly on standardized tests, they demand the elimination of those tests. When black youth are subject to more criminal charges, they demand the decriminalization of the offenses.
Sound cases can be made for reducing suspensions and the reliance on standardized tests, and for decriminalizing any number of offenses. Many of these policies are not just ineffective but counterproductive. But the case for change has to be grounded in the nature of the problems black Americans now confront. And while those problems are frequently connected to or rooted in some forms of racism, they are also closely tied to failures of family formation and personal responsibility. To acknowledge one kind of problem is not to deny the importance of the other.
But the rhetoric of inexorable white supremacy — of a white obsession
with black bodies and of the denial of all meaningful progress in race relations in our country — makes it impossible to confront the serious problems that plague the black community. Such rhetoric may be succor for some but it derails the discourse that’s needed if we are to actually, practically better the lives of black Americans, now and in the future.”
Here is a compilation of recent FB posts, more than you’ll want to use, but any of which I’d be happy to see reposted at the Heterodox site:
1) IS “MERITOCRACY” BUNK?
Stimulated by two colleagues arguing over whether a fight to uphold academic standards is worth the candle, I had a thought. One was worried about upholding standards and the other was saying all this talk about “merit” is just cover for the powerful to remain entrenched. This issue has particular importance now because of all the agitation on campuses to open elite academic institutions to greater diversity. Here, for your amusement, and in the form of a letter I wrote these friends whose disputation I’d overheard, is my take:
Dear Barbara/Victoria — Can’t both be true? Can’t at one and the same time there be some sensible way to discriminate based on quality, and there also be power moves being made when incumbents seek to protect their turf and justify their existences by falsely claiming themselves to be “more qualified?”
Doesn’t Pierre Bourdieu address this kind of conundrum in his “Distinction” — in terms of the social relativity of judgments about “taste” — which judgments often serve as markers of class distinction. And, yet, this observation could hardly mean there are no distinctions to be drawn between crassness and refinement (in art, films, novels, etc…)?
Surely, nobody advocates appointing a faculty by flipping a coin. Doing so surrenders to anarchy. Surely, that course of action would be ruinous to the very thing that we all hold dear — rigorous and disciplined inquiry about the world we inhabit, and about ourselves. We know, don’t we, that all opinions about matters that concern us as scholars are not “equal”? Refinement, expertise, depth of reasoning and of knowledge, acquaintance with our respective canons — these are real things, not figments of our imaginations. And yet, we’ve all seen — haven’t we — how the drawbridge gets raised when outsiders — Jews in decades past, e.g. — storm the gates. Incumbent elites will always find reasons why these newcomers are not fit to replace them, etc.
Here’s my concern in the present context, though. The newcomers of today — I speak of blacks in America, though not only of them — having been restrained and scarred by history, are often not really storming the gates at all. They’re being patronized. (I.e., everybody knows the standards are reasonable and not being met, but we decide to look the other way, in the interest of “fairness.”) And yet, relaxing standards in the face of their challenge doesn’t address the real effects of their historic exclusion. So, on this argument — my argument — this time is precisely NOT the right time to abandon critical judgment of quality and excellence. (Though, of course, there are many questions that can be raised, which I do not mean to preclude, about the extent to which any particular criterion — SAT test scores, or whatever — effectively serves the discriminating purpose for which it has been deployed.) My argument would be that, yes, many traditional ways of judging quality need to be questioned. But, particularly for the sake of the dignity of today’s newcomers, we must not patronize them by turning a blind eye to their deficiencies. Rather, we must devote ourselves to redressing the legacy of our racist past…
2) I’M NOT AGAINST AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, BUT HERE’S WHAT I’M FOR
Friends: I’m catching hell from people accusing me, in so many words, of being a self-hating black elitist who wants to brag about not needing affirmative action, even as I support a conservative Supreme Court justice who would take it away from my fellow blacks. The point of this post is to defend myself against these accusations, to explain where I’m coming from. So, I’m sharing here a letter I wrote to an old, old black friend — someone who’d expressed concern about what I’ve been saying in this space of late.
Much of what I know about hard work and study I learned from your example, back in Chicago in the early 1960s. I followed in your footsteps when I enrolled at Illinois Institute of Technology. But, unlike you, I left there without a degree. I watched you complete your studies, launch a technical career, start a young family, become a property owner and then a successful businessman. There was plenty of racism, and you felt its sting, but you didn’t let it define you or prevent you from excelling at the real competitive game.
We’re now a half-century down the line from then. I’ve got grandchildren attending both HBCU and selective HWI. Now, in the 21st century and in a globalized world, the real game continues — at MIT, at Cal Tech, at Brown and Northwestern and Yale. Our youngsters have to achieve a firm footing in this game by excelling at the technical study which is the gateway to mastery of the skills needed in the modern world. They are not doing this in anything like the numbers they should. I take no pleasure in saying this. But, it is undeniably true.
Please understand: I’m not against affirmative action. I’m not trying to slam the door on the fingers of our children. I’m trying, rather, to sound an alarm.
I know what I’m talking about here, because I went on from being a college dropout in Chicago to earning a PhD at MIT from what was then the best economics program in the world. I’ve spent the last four decades in the classrooms, on the editorial boards, in the lecture halls, at the summer study groups, in the admission committee meetings and on the foundation-funded scholarship commissions. I regret to report that the racial gap in objective intellectual performance in the most elite academic venues is enormous — this is a real fact of life in the 21st century — and it will only be closed if we first, acknowledge it’s existence, second, stop making excuses for this sad reality (which has many source, none of which is the inherent intellectual incapacity of black people), and third, get busy fixing it.
There’s work for everybody to do, from parents with infants needing intellectual stimulation, through K-12 teachers who could do a better job preparing their charges, on up to the elite colleges who need to address the gaps in development of their affirmative action admits with real programs that foster intellectual growth and that close those gaps.
I’m in Silicon Valley right now, spending a lot of time learning about what goes on at Apple, Google and so forth. I’m on Stanford University’s campus, attending seminars and lectures in economics, philosophy, statistics, applied mathematics and so forth. There are very, very few black faces in these rooms — barely more than when I first started entering such rooms 40 years ago. Affirmative action, as practiced, provides no remedy for this. I frankly don’t give a damn what the Supreme Court decides. It’s completely irrelevant to the problem I’m naming here. If our people — that is, black people — don’t wake up, we’re going to be dependent on white liberal largess for the next half-century. And, the names on the articles in the economics, physics and biology journals will sound like Mandarin, Bengali, etc.
There’s no excuse for our accepting this sorry situation. And, I’m disgusted by people who think that, because we needed affirmative action a half-century ago to open closed spaces in the wake of Jim Crow’s demise, that our grandchildren and great grandchildren will continue to need it too, for as far ahead as the eye can see — why? Because “white supremacy” and “structural racism” make it impossible for us to compete? Please!
The people who make that claim may win the short-term political arguments by shouting-down those, like me, who raise the key questions. But, believe me, the world is going to keep moving on — with or without us.
Best wishes, GL
3) THE IRONIES OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
(I borrow the title of this post from a good book by John David Skrentny of the sociology department at UC San Diego — though I wish not to implicate him in what follows.)
Don’t like test scores? Many proponents of AA don’t. Citing legacy admits, they claim that to invoke merit in the context of college admissions is to indulge a pretense. Well, they’d better watch out for logical inconsistency! And for irony! Because, so long as test scores and grades are used to sort AMONG black applicants (and others) when choosing which to admit, an element of meritocracy must be essentially present in any case. Granted; college admissions are not purely meritocratic (legacy admits; athletes; etc.) But it doesn’t follow from this that there’s no place for a consideration of merit. In these affirmative action debates, there are no pure egalitarians.
The ironies abound. Consider that it is the exclusivity and elitism of the Ivies that make the fact of black under-representation there problematic in the first place! So, the very benefit for underrepresented minority groups which AA seeks to appropriate exists precisely because we sit inside of a hierarchical social order where top positions are accessible only for a select few. That is, AA is pro-elitist — not anti-elitist. It is designed to ensure blacks an equitable share in benefits which flow from preexisting social inequalities. This makes the “diversity” rationale for AA problematic. And ironic. Student are brought to campus because they enhance racial diversity; and, as such, are burdened with being seen to be black. Tacitly, their contribution to the joint product of the campus is taken to be rooted in their identity, while the main intellectual work of the institution is driven by expressions of academic achievement conventionally understood. Within a self-consciously elite environment, racial identity ends-up being cited as justification for access to elite status. Racial equality is sought within a broader context of inequality, and legitimated by emphasizing racial identity.
Unless one is prepared to say that status distinctions — like access to super-elite educational venues and the opportunities to which that leads — should be determined by the flip of a coin, there’s no way to avoid rationing space in such elite venues by defining differential entitlement based on some criteria of value. Now, ask yourself this: should we really want “blackness” to become one such criterion in an ongoing way, as a permanent state of affairs, in America? I, for one, do not. Though perhaps necessary as a transitory practice, that is not the way to create genuine racial equality of status over the longer run, in my view.
In saying this, I don’t mean to devalue the accomplishment or experiences of those who did, in fact, gain access to Harvard or Brown etc. by means of racial affirmative action. (Indeed, I attended Northwestern University in the early 1970s, after having become a father at age 18, transferring in from a junior college in Chicago at age 22.) In the absence of AA, many blacks of my generation would never have seen the inside of such institutions. And, many of us have done just fine in life. Still, here we are, a half-century after the height of the civil rights movement. I’m concerned that — as AA becomes a permanent fixture and a primary source of black presence in the Ivies and like spaces, and as we go forward into the 21st century — this circumstance will make achieving genuine racial equality on campus and elsewhere nearly impossible to attain.
I spelled out some of my reasons for thinking so in a previous post. GL
4) WHY WOULD I DEFEND ANTONIN SCALIA?
That’s the question some “friends” are asking, given the several posts to that effect which I have put up. Here’s your answer, “friends”:
My point about Scalia was that calling him a racist (I have no idea what his motives are, and wonder how anyone else would know) — is a sorry substitute for a refutation of the mismatch hypothesis. I said explicitly in my first comment that I had no brief for his jurisprudence.
But, of course, my own motives in this discussion have been impugned. So, to save you the trouble of guessing, I’ll tip my hand to this extent:
So long as black Americans are dependent on being admitted to the most elite sites of intellectual development in this country based on a lower objective standard of their own prior academic achievement — so long as that is the basis for their/our participation in these institutions — we will not be truly equal participants — no matter how loudly we cry-out about the legacies of white supremacy. I — Glenn Loury — am interested in true equality. I am uninterested in self-righteous moralizing about a judge’s racial etiquette…
Where are the adults in this conversation? Can I be the only one disturbed by the specter of other racial minorities taking the lead and dominating the scene at Cal Tech and MIT and Silicon Valley — based upon their skills, while black Americans are reduced to the position of “competing” by insisting that their presence is required in order to insure “racial diversity”? There is fake power — deriving from one’s ability to throw a fit if one is not “included”; and there is real power, deriving from one’s mastery over the technical material at hand. I — Glenn Loury — prefer to root black American’s standing in real power, not fake power. If that makes me an elitist, then so be it!
For, real power is solid ground from which genuine equality can emerge. While fake power is quicksand, where one’s footing is susceptible to being swept away with the shifting political tides. Real power is rooted in the kind of deep human development which, in the case of black Americans, necessitates facing and overcoming the horrible effects of many generations of racial discrimination. It is worth working towards, and waiting for. Fake power hides from the sad reality of what history has wrought, while making excuses for a non-competitiveness which history has bequeathed us. It is the easy path. But, ultimately, it is rooted in wishful thinking.
And, by the way, the folks running these institutes, making these grants, awarding these Nobel’s, and editing these journals — those folks all know the real deal. They will accommodate demands for “diversity” so as to make the fit-throwers go quietly to their corners, and so as to be free to get on with their real work of discovery, invention and innovation. Affirmative Action is the path of least resistance for them. Developing the latent human talents of a disadvantaged and discriminated against population is time-consuming hard work which they, and (sadly) we, seem eager to avoid. GL
5) As I was saying…
To call Justice Scalia a “racist” because of what he said during oral arguments on the affirmative action case now before the Court is a despicable slander which reveals that the name-callers are left with no real arguments …
Here’s the deal: Racial affirmative action in elite college admissions is necessitated by the fact that there exist objective racial differences in the entering qualifications of student applicants. It is natural to expect that such differences in entering qualifications will end-up being reflected in differences by race in post-admissions performance. The exact extent to which this is so is an empirical question, one answerable only by the examination of evidence. A rational person can hold that these post-admissions racial performance differences are small. Or, that whatever their magnitude, they are of little practical significance post-graduation. Or, that whatever their practical significance, the benefit of racial diversity in colleges due to affirmative action warrants accepting such performance disparity by race as the unavoidable cost of social progress. But, one cannot rationally hold at one and the same time that: (a) affirmative action is absolutely essential to avoid the exclusion of blacks from elite campuses; and (b) anyone who calls attention to the possibility of racial differences in the academic qualifications of the students who attend said colleges can be dismissed as a “racist.”
Those foisting this position on the American people at this moment are profoundly intellectually dishonest. They would have their cake (a goal of 8% blacks in the student body of a college that accepts only 1 out of 15 applicants, say), and eat it too (enforcing a ban on the discussion and exploration of the implications of achieving that goal.)
I understand why second-year undergraduates would make such inconsistent demands. They have yet to be fully educated in the intricacies of logical argumentation. But, I’m befuddles as to how so many tenured professors and seasoned journalists can, in good conscience, follow suit.
I, for one, cannot.
A Random Note on the Problem of Self-Regard
As many of you know, I’m writing a memoir during this sabbatical year, which means I’m engaged in a reflexive, self-regarding activity. And, while I have my peculiar story to tell, it is apparent that I will also need to reflect — at a meta-level, if you will — about how it is that one goes about the telling of one’s own story. In that spirit, herewith are some rambling musings that are presently occupying my mind, as I ponder this problem of self-regard.
I’ve always been fascinated by paradoxes of self-reference. Consider: “A barber shaves all of those, and only those, who do not shave themselves. Who shaves the barber?” I can still vividly recall Douglas Hofstadter’s big book, “Godel, Escher and Bach” — more than thirty years on now — where the complexities of self-reference are deployed to expose deep connections between a logician’s incompleteness theorem, an artist’s deceptive drawings, and a composer’s fugues. I also recall my excitement upon first encountering Thomas Schelling’s writings about the problem of self-command (collected in his book, “Choice and Consequence”.) There he reminds us of the extraordinary lengths we sometimes go to in an effort to manage this problem: Ulysses tying himself to the mast so as not to succumb to the sirens’ calls. And, he confronts us with the recognition that, as Paul put it in Romans 7:19, “the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
I speculate that these two problems — of “self-regard” and “self-command” — are cousins; and that exploring the nature and possibility of “self-knowledge” is a fruitful way to connect them.
For instance, sincerely facing the problem of self-regard challenges a person to see himself as others see him. Indeed, just to specify a “self” independently from the perceptions of others and from one’s own orchestrated self-representations is a daunting undertaking. What is more, evaluating one’s motivations; confronting one’s rationalizations; inferring basic conclusions from one’s past deeds about one’s “true” character — these are yet further challenges posed by sincere acts of self-regard. (I am valorizing sincerity here because there’s no point in trying to fool oneself… Or, is there… ?)
“Changing my mind” is my working title. Religious conversion and the loss of faith; a struggle with addiction; a political reorientation — these are some experiences which provide fodder for my self-regarding exploration. (But the change that gives me the most satisfaction these days is my move along an intellectual spectrum that leads from “narrow mathematical economist” outward toward “eclectic social science polymath”…)
There are cognitive and psychological issues here. To change can require overcoming powerful inertial forces — the deep interest we have in consistency, in integrating our disparate acts and beliefs into a coherent whole. It also requires an openness to evidence contrary to one’s predisposition; the willingness to be disappointed; and the ability to admit one has been wrong. It means retooling; redefining; reshaping; rebuilding; relocating; re-imagining. It means losing friends; breaking promises; walking away from comfortable places; taking things back — including one’s own prior words.
The constant need to orchestrate the impression one makes in the presence of others is a profound obstacle to sincere acts of self-regard. (Erving Goffman’s classic work “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” is a great source of inspiration to me…) I need to ponder what it’s like to anticipate being made an outcast for expressing one’s political views. I want to ask what constitutes “true loyalty” to one’s “people”? (see Albert Hirschman’s “Exit, Voice and Loyalty”). And, inevitably, I have to ask myself, just who are “my people,” anyway? And so, identity — inherited and chosen — is one of my themes; as are (spoiled) reputations, (racial) stigma; and religious epiphany, conversion and disavowal. It’s a rich, complex tableau.
The sincere pursuit of self-knowledge, it seems, requires traversing a circuitous path. Or, as a statistician might put it, tracing the evolution though time of one’s beliefs about oneself cannot be modeled as Bayesian learning! I will be trying in my memoir to make that abstract formulation comprehensible to a general audience (and, to myself!)
And, then there’s “race” — racial identity, racial loyalty, racial stereotypes, the playing of the race card… These days, talking about one’s race is all the rage. And, having devoted so much intellectual labor over decades to thinking about race and inequality in the US, this theme must be central to my tale. Still, it must also be kept in its proper place. Being black — in the varied professional, political and social locations between which I have navigated — has given me a unique angle of vision. But, I won’t let it define me. Thus, one aspect of my racial condition is having constantly to be concerned with what observers might be thinking about “people like me.” Even if in the end one were to decide that one does not care what those observers are thinking, just having to deliberate internally so as to arrive at that conclusion is already a psychological burden. Often, one will struggle unsuccessfully to disregard the surmises of others, even as one denies to oneself that one has failed to do so. This way lies madness…
End of musings on the problem of self-regard … for now.
7) Where is Africa in Today’s Debates about Race and Inequality?
(This post is occasioned by my work with a group of scholars at my home university who are concerned to raise the profile of Africa studies there.)
There needs to be a broader vision injected into the current concerns at our universities with promoting more racial/ethnic diversity. Can I be the only person who sees profound irony in such an overheated discourse about “race” and “inclusion” where the word “Africa” is never mentioned (except to identify a subset of students, some of whose ancestors originated there centuries ago)?
We live in a world of instant intercontinental communications that is growing ever smaller with each passing year. Brown, my home base, is truly a global institution — one with “people of all colors” from every continent in our student body and on our faculty. Indeed, among the so-called “students of color” at Brown (and I dare say at any of the leading colleges and universities in the US) who are “black”, no small number of them are the first- or second-generation offspring of African immigrants.
Just think about it. The problems being so much talked about now — problems of “marginalization”, of poverty and of “cultural hegemony” — in relation to Africa these problems are manifest. I ask, which does more to create a world in the 21st century where the legacies of Europe’s post-16th century global appropriations — the post-Columbian legacies which activists are so quick to denounce — are less salient: studying the Atlantic slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries, or studying the post-colonial problems of development, governance and security in today’s Africa?
No, of course, we needn’t choose. That’s not my point. By all means, let us study slavery. But, we who lead these institutions at this crucial moment will have failed as pedagogues — whose primary imperative is to educate, not placate — if we don’t endeavor to broaden the horizons of our “students of color” by opening up the entire world for their exploration, and by placing their transient and exceedingly parochial domestic concerns over “privilege”, “domination”, “violence” and “safety” into their proper global/historical context…
In a word, we should call their own exalted position within the global social and economic hierarchy to their attention. Today’s students at any elite American university are the most “privileged” young people on this planet. Moreover, they are among the foremost beneficiaries of that very history of European global domination which they are so quick to thoughtlessly and reflexively denounce. They could do with being exposed to the full extent of their own “privilege,” and to the tortured and complex history which has created the world they inhabit — a world affording them an abundance of personal opportunity which they take for granted. They need to have their minds opened, their prejudices challenged and their parochialism exposed.
I could say much more in this vein, but my time is limited and my point, I think, has been made. GL
8) On “Marginalized Students of Color”
In precisely what does the “marginalization” of “students of color” consist at the most competitive, demanding, selective, elite institutions of intellectual endeavor on this planet (like the Harvard Law School, which has spawned a “person of color” who went on to become President of the United States)? How, exactly, are they “marginalized?” Where are they “underrepresented”?
Showing an impoverished sense of self-awareness, students at Princeton in their manifesto declared that it is as important to study “marginalized communities” and to gain understanding of “white privilege” as it is to study the sciences and to learn engineering. Why this particular juxtaposition, which seems imminently debatable on its face. Why do you imagine they would put it quite that way? Could it be because they do not flourish in the study of science and engineering?
Unconsciously, they tip their hands. These students are aware of exactly what the great universities are about — namely, the rarefied, demanding, intense pursuit of ideas and the mastery of techniques. To the extent that these “students of color” (unlike the many Asian “students of color” who seem to be invisible in this absurd debate) are “excluded” from those rarefied pursuits — that is, to the extent they are “marginal” in that specific sense — they make the mistake, the profound error, of imagining they can solve that problem with a megaphone. They cannot. These are meritocratic institutions which live and die off the extraordinary intellectual performance of their occupants. Everybody on campus watching this charade — more or less sympathetically — knows this.
So then, why should it be so difficult to say, and to hear?
9) Ta Nehisi Coates has won a National Book Award for his memoir “Between the World and Me.” I’m sure everybody is dying to know what I think about that. Well, I think it’s ironic. Indeed, I think the irony is exquisite! Here’s why.
It turns out that Jimmy Baldwin wrote the definitive account of why “Between the World and Me” is a flawed book, while simultaneously explaining how such a flawed work — a quintessential “protest narrative,” as the young James Baldwin might have put it in 1949 — could nevertheless win a National Book Award. Bear with me, and consider these excerpts from his essay which was published in that year, “Everybody’s Protest Novel”:
Early on he writes, “[T]he avowed aim of the American protest novel is to bring greater freedom to the oppressed. They are forgiven, on the strength of these good intentions, whatever violence they do to language, whatever excessive demands they make of credibility. It is, indeed, considered the sign of a frivolity so intense as to approach decadence to suggest that these books are both badly written and wildly improbable. One is told to put first things first, the good of society coming before niceties of style or characterization. Even if this were incontestable — for what exactly is the “good” of society? — it argues an insuperable confusion, since literature and sociology are not one and the same; it is impossible to discuss them as if they were. Our passion for categorization, life neatly fitted into pegs, has led to an unforeseen, paradoxical distress; confusion, a breakdown of meaning. Those categories which were meant to define and control the world for us have boomeranged us into chaos; in which limbo we whirl, clutching the straws of our definitions. The “protest” novel, so far from being disturbing, is an accepted and comforting aspect of the American scene, ramifying that framework we believe to be so necessary. Whatever unsettling questions are raised are evanescent, titillating; remote, for this has nothing to do with us, it is safely ensconced in the social arena, where, indeed, it has nothing to do with anyone, so that finally we receive a very definite thrill of virtue from the fact that we are reading such a book at all. This report from the pit reassures us of its reality and its darkness and of our own salvation; and “As long as such books are being published,” an American liberal once said to me, “everything will be alright…” “
My view is that Baldwin’s bill of indictment applies with full force to the stilted, Manichean narrative which Coates has rendered alleging some ubiquitous and unrelenting threat to “the black body” posed throughout America by those who “mistakenly think themselves to be white.” Baldwin concludes that essay in the same register, referring to Richard Wright’s tragic hero in “Native Son,” as follows: “For Bigger’s tragedy is not that he is cold or black or hungry, not even that he is American, black; but that he has accepted a theology that denies him life, that he admits the possibility of his being sub-human and feels constrained, therefore, to battle for his humanity according to those brutal criteria bequeathed him at his birth. But our humanity is our burden, our life; we need not battle for it; we need only to do what is infinitely more difficult — that is, accept it. The failure of the protest novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being, the denial of his beauty, dread, power, in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended.” Coates, too, is insisting, in effect, that for a black man or woman, boy or girl, all that really matters is our categorization. (A further irony is that Coates, while following Baldwin’s format in “The Fire Next Time” — writing an open letter to his son, has taken his title, “Between the World and Me,” from a poem of Richard Wright’s which appeared under the same heading). Baldwin’s book, however, succeeded in transcending the categories in which Coates seems to be helplessly mired.
Now, I am aware that there are various strenuous critiques of this early Baldwin essay, which he himself may have disavowed later in his life (I don’t know that he did, but could imagine it so). Still, his core insight — taking a stand against reducing the full humanity of the oppressed subjects to the kind of cartoon characters best suited to the propagandist) seems — relevant to this case. Unfortunately, the juries that bestow cultural awards do not agree. (This would have come as no surprise to Baldwin.) Equally unfortunately, the young people of color who, seized by this post-Ferguson moment, have headed to the barricades are largely oblivious to this entire debate.
So much the worse for the dignity of my people, I would say. For the classic exchange between the aggrieved blacks and the guilty whites — with the former demanding and the latter conveying symbolic recognition of historic injustice — is not an exchange among equals. Neither, one suspects, is it a stable exchange. Eventually it may shade into something else, something less noble — into patronage, into a situation where the guilty parties comes to have contempt for the claimants, and the claimants come to feel shame, and its natural accompaniment, rage, at their impotence. Such is the bitter fruit of the protest narrative. It is the specter looming before us today.
We have arrived at the point where “communities of color” — even in the most rarefied of venues like the super-exclusive colleges, universities and law schools — see themselves and demand to be seen as “marginalized”, and where the all-too-solicitous governing white elites rush to adopt overzealous schemes meant to foster their “inclusion.” The students have the megaphone, true enough, but the haven’t got any chops. Laughably they fancy themselves to be “decolonizing” these institutions, while only succeeding in being placated and patronized. The unspoken truth is this: they are not being respected as young adults; and they are not being valued — except as objects of sympathy. At best, they are being pitied and tolerated, like children. And, deep down, they know it.
Could this be one source of the rage we are witnessing at every turn today?
10) Because I am less than enthusiastic — indeed, I am appalled — about the current agitation and uproar over the purported endemic racism at my home university, a number of people have asked, in effect, “exactly what kind of ‘scholar of color’ am I.
Here is your answer: A summary of the scholarly contributions of Glenn C. Loury, Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences, Brown University
Over the course of my academic career I have published dozens of scholarly articles in economics journals, scores of essays and reviews in the leading venues for commentary on American politics and culture, an edited volume on race, ethnicity and inequality in the US and the UK, and two well-received monographs based on distinguished lectures series that I have presented at Harvard (DuBois Lectures in African American Studies) and Stanford (Tanner Lectures on Human Values). A major focus of this work has been to address the root causes and ongoing consequences of racial inequality in American society. (I have published in other areas of economics as well, but will focus here on that part of my corpus most relevant to the question, “just what kind of ‘scholar of color’ is Glenn Loury”?)
An early contribution was my 1977 essay, which appeared in a conference volume, entitled “A Dynamic Theory of Racial Income Differences.” This work, still being cited, explained how, even in the very long run, “equality of opportunity” would generally not be sufficient to generate “equality of results” between racial groups, given a history of discrimination and the ongoing segregation of important social networks.
This was followed by “Intergenerational Transfers and the Distribution of Earnings,” which appeared in Econometrica in 1981. There I advanced our understanding of the theory of income inequality via a novel application of stochastic dynamic programming techniques, and of mathematical results on the asymptotic behavior of continuous-state/discrete-time Markov chains. That paper, too, continues to be cited now, more than three decades after it first appeared.
My 1993 article in The American Economic Review, “Will Affirmative Action Policies Eliminate Negative Stereotypes?” (with Stephen Coate of Cornell) was a path-setting game-theoretic analysis of the phenomenon of “self-confirming racial stereotypes.” It has become a foundational reference in labor economics textbooks. My 2013 Journal of Political Economy article, “Valuing Diversity” (with Roland Fryer of Harvard), provides a pioneering, rigorous analysis of the relative efficiency of different approaches to the problem of implementing affirmative action programs. My 2004 Journal of Political Economy article “The Distribution of Ability and Earnings in a Hierarchical Job-Assignment Model” (with Robert Costrell of the University of Arkansas) likewise breaks new ground by showing how inequality of abilities is translated via the market into inequality of wages under alternative structures of production. These technical contributions, based on over four decades of my ‘colored scholarship’ have exerted a profound influence on my field. These theoretical papers are read and cited by scholars, of various colors, in Hungary, Argentina, Korea, Nigeria, Indonesia, India…
I have also written insightful analyses of racial inequality issues in the US that are accessible to a general audience. My 2002 monograph The Anatomy of Racial Inequality (Harvard University Press) deploys the concepts of “racial stigma” and “racial stereotypes” to develop an original account of the persistently disadvantaged status of African Americans in the post‐civil‐rights era. Drawing on my 1976 MIT PhD thesis, this work stresses the role in the reproduction of racial inequality of what I referred to in as “social capital.” (I was the first social scientist (of any color) since Jane Jacobs to use that term, and have been credited by the late James S. Coleman, and by Robert D. Putnam, as an early progenitor of the concept.) My emphasis on the concept of social capital was motivated by the fact that conventional “human capital” investments to enhance an individual’s productive capacities differ from other kinds of economic investments in the extent to which the opportunity to make them and the returns from having done so depend on an individual’s location within many networks of social affiliation — families, residential communities, peer groups and “imagined communities.” My 2008 monograph Race, Incarceration and American Values was far ahead of the curve (appearing years before Michelle Alexander’s text) in describing and denouncing the injustice of mass incarceration in the US…
I have thus helped through my scientific work to modify and enrich the standard story economists tell about inequality among individuals and between groups. At the same time, in my public intellectual work, I have used this conceptual framework as the basis for constructing critical, anti-racist policy arguments over the future directions that advocacy for justice and equality in America might most fruitfully take. My work on these varied aspects of the problem of persisting racial inequality in the U.S. is noteworthy for combining intellectual rigor (it has advanced with the support of formal mathematical models), with a broad interdisciplinary reach (it draws on research in sociology, social psychology, history and politics), and with artful and incisive writing (my popular essays collected in my 1995 book, “One by One from the Inside Out” won both the American Book Award and the Christianity Today book award in that year.)
Finally, over the course of 10 years of teaching at Brown, I have influenced many graduate students of all colors and from every continent on the planet (excepting Antarctica!) I have found the university to be an extremely warm, welcoming, supportive and open environment to undertake my work. I know well the people who run this institution, and the notion that they are racially insensitive is a shameful slander with no basis in fact. My colleagues, in the economics department and elsewhere at Brown, have shown themselves to be open-minded, decent and on the whole politically progressive scholars. The administration has lavished resources on me, and has enthusiastically supported any number of initiatives that contribute to promoting a just and decent society, both within the United States and throughout the world.
The notion that Brown needs a revolutionary reshaping in order to become hospitable to “students of color”, that idea that “anti-black pedagogy” at Brown needs to be countered with some mandatory indoctrination of faculty, the proposal that external student committees should review purportedly “racist” departmental appointment processes, the initiative of creating “specialty positions” in academic departments to ensure their openness to hiring “faculty of color” — these are all mischievous intrusions on the academic prerogatives of a distinguished faculty which no self-respecting scholar of any color should welcome. They are a step onto a slippery slope that slides down into intellectual mediocrity, and I will have nothing to do with them.
Is that clear and explicit enough…?
11) Here’s a peek at what I’ve been up to these days … when not throwing a fit about BLM, that is … and when NOT working on the damned memoir …!! It’s how this particular ‘scholar of color’ envisions that he might be able to help make the world a better place…
Summary of my xxx fellowship proposal
Glenn C. Loury, Brown University
November 19, 2015
My proposed project is to write a book accessible to the intelligent lay readership that examines in empirical detail how racial inequality manifests itself in America today, and what this means for the future of American democracy. This is a subject I have been writing about throughout my 40-year academic career, and I am well-positioned now to produce a synthetic and prescriptive piece of work that can help to shape deliberation on this critical issue in the years ahead.
The project I envision has three parts: empirical assessment of trends; in-depth analysis of the historical causes of these disparities; and an exploration of the likely consequences for our governing institutions of permitting the subordinate social status for African Americans to become a permanent part of the American social and political scene into the 21st century. I will examine alternative policy remedies in terms of their political feasibility and their prospects of success.
This would be a self-consciously interdisciplinary project, drawing on insights from many of the social sciences, as well as from the humanities and the law. The book I envision will combine rigorous quantitative analytical argument with a more qualitative, discursive approach. My model is something like Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel.” I aim for my reader to feel “empowered” through this book to look differently at the specter of stark racial inequalities, seeing not only, or even mainly, the inadequacies of those who languish, but also coming into an understanding of how historical and ongoing practices of important social institutions conspire to perpetuate into the indefinite future the fact of systematically unequal life-chances for Americans of different racial groups.
Most importantly, I wish to move beyond chanting slogans about “white supremacy” and “white privilege” in order to provide a scientifically grounded exposition of the mechanisms through which lamentable racial inequalities are produced and reproduced. By providing my readers a deeper understanding of the entrenched and systemic character of these disparities, I hope to influence the ongoing political and policy discussion of these issues for years to come.
The theoretical/conceptual approach I will employ is well-summarized in my monograph The Anatomy of Racial Inequality (2002). There I introduce the concepts self-confirming racial stereotypes, racial stigma, and biased social cognition. Stereotyping is a common notion, of course, arising in the context of objections to racial profiling and such. But I have in mind a deeper and more expansive concept, one combining the psychological notions of implicit bias and stereotype threat with economists’ ideas about the incentives confronting decision-making agents and the requirements of an equilibrium that makes their behaviors mutually consistent. “Race” — i.e., visible bodily markers which allow for the easy identification of an individual (whose personal traits may not be observable) with some group (whose average traits can be readily known) — can become, on this account, the site of a kind of social inequality whose eradication is especially difficult.
There will be a political and ethical aspect of my argument as well, with attention to the ways that persistent racial inequality undermines the coherence, stability and sustainability of American democracy. What manner of people are we, I will ask, who profess a set of political ideals that are belied by our historical and ongoing practices? I envision that the manuscript will be ready for review by publishers at the end of the summer, 2018.
12) Here’s what’s on my mind today. (Warning: micro-aggressive statement to follow; sensitive souls may want to avert their eyes or seek intellectual cover):
I’ve had it up to here with the smugly self-righteous pronouncement of many of the black lives matter devotees from whom I’ve heard so much in recent days. Most of these folks have nothing to useful to say — nothing beyond an extended whine that persuades nobody not already in agreement with them. They rely, unwittingly, on the patronizing generosity of a white establishment which, ironically, doesn’t take them seriously enough to vigorously criticize their inanity. They lack intellectual depth, rhetorical subtlety, moral seriousness, and political commonsense. They’re an embarrassment, frankly.
I mean, shouting-down Bernie Sanders because he doesn’t think that identity politics should trump (pardon the pun!) the class struggle? Idiotic. Infantile. Sophomoric. This witches brew of vacuous politics combined with self-righteous moral certitude, is the bitter fruit of one of the colossal intellectual failures of our lifetime — the feckless and unimaginative reactions of the left to the persistent subordinate social status of something like a third of the black American population — now a half-century after the height of the civil rights movement and the launch of the Great Society.
Homicide among young black men is a catastrophe — full stop. The state of family life among poor African Americans is dismal (though one is definitely not supposed to notice.) The huge incarceration disparities by race (of which I have been a pioneering critic) nevertheless reflect profound disparities in anti-social behaviors by race which warrant to be directly addressed, but which dare not be mentioned in polite company. The gap in acquired intellectual functioning between adolescents and young adults of different races — as reflected in every available measure — is simply stupefying, a first-order social emergency in this country with profoundly deleterious implications for the prospect of achieving genuine racial equality.
Rather than confront these realities, a seemingly inexhaustible stream of talking heads busy themselves with papering over these palpable failures — employing a conceptual vocabulary honed in the 1960s and 70s, and resurrected seemingly without modification or critical evaluation over the past decade. They somehow think it is an argument to merely point a finger at that amorphous enemy called “structural racism”. Magic words the enunciation of which is meant to dispel all doubts about the mysteries of social causation.
Transparently, these arguments — in the face of the unfolding train wreck at the bottom of black society — are nothing but an attempt to change the subject. I mean, celebrating the one year anniversary of the “murder” of Michael Brown? (This was the characterization of one such talking head on Meet the Press last weekend …) I mean, putting the photo of his father on the front page of the NYT — letting everyone hear from the family of this latter-day movement hero, lest the “sacrifice” of this “martyr” be forgotten? Have they no shame? Will nothing shake them from their certitude — not even seeing the commemoration of last year’s “uprisings” in Ferguson marred with yet another young black man’s body lying face down in a pool of his own blood, having been shot by police when, again, this was the end of an altercation entirely of the young man’s making…
Sorry, I know I’m ranting, but I just can’t take it any more. Go on, have at me. I’m old enough now not to care (much …)