Glenn Loury Won’t Drink Anybody’s Kool-Aid
Glenn Loury is the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University. He is one of the nation's foremost black intellectuals, having held positions at Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and Boston University.
Loury's sometimes controversial dissection of racial disparities, systemic racism, and economic justice have often landed his views at the center of attention. Early in his professorial career, Loury made his mark as a distinguished academic economist with specific focus on the fields of welfare economics, industrial organization, natural resource economics, and the economics of income distribution. Once earmarked as the leading candidate for the position of under secretary of education in the Reagan administration before withdrawing his name from consideration, Loury also gained notoriety as a controversial social critic with right-wing perspectives that led to his designation as "one of the black darlings of the neoconservative intelligentsia" by Africana.com.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Loury became known for his abrasive critique of affirmative action and his propensity to blame racial inequality on the dysfunction and corruption within the black community, as opposed to the racist attitudes that some argued gave rise to this scenario.
In the late 1990s, however, Loury divulged a much-publicized split with the right, revising former viewpoints and attacking former colleagues. This break was formally ushered in with the release of his new book, The Anatomy of Racial Inequality, in February of 2002.
Question: What are you?
Glenn Loury: I'm left. Okay. And sometimes radically, and sometimes I even shock myself with the degree of radicalness in my own--that I'm allowing to come out in my old age. On the other hand, there's some of my--I got the reputation of being a conservative because I was one of these personal responsibility guys. Before Bill Cosby made it popular, talking about how black people needed to pull up our socks, how we needed to take better care of our children, and get our acts together, and how that was an internal difficulty that we needed to actually address within ourselves.
I even flirted a little bit with sort of Black Nationalism. I mean, I had more than a kind word to say about the minister, Louis Farrakhan. I once wrote a piece about the Million Man March, 1995 Million Man March, Washington D.C., Louis Farrakhan, which is remembered, I think nowadays, mostly because Farrakhan gave a very odd and rambling, and in places incoherent and in other places kind of weird, speech. It went on for 90 minutes, or something like that, at this Million Man March. But the thing that I remember was one million, more or less, African-American men, assembled in one place, emphasizing communal uplift, responsibility, and a positive agenda. And I was very much taken by that. And I guess that still lingers in me to some degree.
I also have this anti-political correctness thing that's a part of my persona. I mean, I just haven't drunk anybody's kool-aid, you know what I mean. I mean, I just can't go with, with the flow. I mean, when Chris Matthews thinks Obama is great, that's when I start saying, okay, let me take another look at this Obama. You know what I mean. 'Cause this is so I just can't -- and therefore, I may be hard to pigeon-hole, because I'm going to be on the contrary of side, or whatever the thing might be.
I think the War on Terror is horrible. I hated what the Bush administration was doing. On the other hand, I didn't think that we should criminalize those policy differences by going after these people after the fact. And I thought that all that band-wagging stuff about how Eric Holder ought to -- let's prosecute him and let's edict Bush and Chaney, and how I thought it was crazy and irresponsible. I'm I'm likely to say something like that. I don't know. Enough about me, right?
Question: Is Obama being treated fairly in the press?
Glenn Loury: The progressive forces in our country including those in the press, I don’t think do the cause any good by not reporting with brutal, critical candor, and scrutiny, on this administration, every bit as much as they would do on any other administration.
Now I hope that in the fullness of time -- we're only nine months, eight months into this, I will be proven wrong about this. But I have detected from time to time, a reticence and a kind of, as if the campaign were still going on, and we all kind of know that people who are covering campaigns in the press, develop allegiances, and that colors the way in which they do their reporting. I don't think that's disputable. I think there's plenty of evidence to that effect on all sides. But the campaign is long since over and we really need a hard-hitting, critical press. I mean, I see elements of it, but I don't see it to it's full extent.
I'm talking about, for example, on these questions of war and peace. I don't take it as a given at all that we need to be doubling down in Afghanistan. I don't take that as a given at all. That's the direction in which the president is going. I want hard-hitting, critical assessment of that, from the liberal and progressive media, not merely a, he's our guy, we got to protect him, kind of reaction that is somehow what I feel like I'm getting. From my little small part of my little corner of the public policy world, and I write about race and affirmative action, and race discrimination, and domestic policy and prisons, and all this kind of thing. I'm sure determined to do that. I'm determined as I was trying to do in reaction to this Henry Louis Gates affair, to call the president out when I think he's making mistakes or when I think he's guided wrong. And to do that as a part of my responsibility as a public intellectual, and so forth and so on. So for what that may be worth, I'll say that.
Question: Who are your heroes?
Glenn Loury: I got some heroes, though, you're right about that. That's right. My pastor; this little church that I used to go to when I was a better Christian than I am now -- and his wife have devoted, they're physicians, Harvard trained physician. He's devoted his entire life to building a church in a community in Boston, and has helped thousands and thousands of people. And is as pious and as serious, and as humane a human being as you might imagine. Reverend Ray Hammond. I'm glad to be able to put him at the top of my list. No, I'm not running for anything in Boston; I don't need his endorsement. But he's certainly a good man.
Another guy I think of, who I admire tremendously, is Ernesto Cortez, who's a well-known community organizer; the Industrial Areas Foundation. He works out of Austin, Texas but he's organizing throughout the southwest. I've known him for 25 years. And I tell you that these community organizers in some of these places in New Orleans and in Houston, and San Antonio, and L.A., and various cities around the southwest. I've had a chance to interact with them.
Down in the Rio Grande Valley, they have Mexican Immigrant population and stuff like that; organizer. I've been to Holiday Inns at the airport and 500 people wearing the same t-shirt have been jumping up and down inside of auditorium, talking about they were going to get a community college education so they could run one of these MRI machines at the hospital, or something like that. They were talking about, we want $25 an hour jobs, not minimum wage jobs. And we're prepared to --
I just see, not to go on too long about it, but here's a guy who is spending his life, he's a thoughtful, he's an intellectual, this is Ernesto Cortez, the organizer. He's an intellectual but he's also a practical politician. And when I say that, I don't mean that he's running for office, but I mean he's dealing with the kind of small pea politics; getting people together, getting them talking to each other, getting them to feel that they have the capacity to change their lives. Getting them organized. I have tremendous respect for that work. So that would be another one.
Recorded on: August 18, 2009
The man once shunned by the black liberal community is shocked by how radical his opinions have become.
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