Don't let political differences ruin your love life

An excerpt from a Patreon Q&A

Once a month John McWhorter and I sit down to answer questions posed by our $10 tier Patrons. The full Q&A session is only available to Patrons (at both tiers), but we share some snippets with the general public.

Here is a very personal exchange—our answers to the following question by Cole Astaire:

Perhaps you could make a few comments on how you and your spouses keep politics from affecting your romantic lives? I don't know much about John's family, but I know that Glenn's wife seems to disagree with him. How do you make that work?

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LOURY: This is Cole Astaire asking: “Perhaps you could make a few comments on how you and your spouses—this is directed to both of us, John—keep politics from affecting your romantic lives. I don't know much about John's family, but I know that Glenn's wife seems to disagree with him. How do you make that work?”

Well, Cole Astaire, you perceive correctly that my wife and I don't agree about a lot of stuff. My lovely wife, Lajuan, who has made cameo appearances here at the Glenn Show and with whom John has enjoyed pleasurable company ... 

MCWHORTER:  Many times.

... is a Bernie Sanders Democrat. And worse than that, she's a news junkie Bernie Sanders Democrat and stays on top of all the podcasts and all of the critical articles coming out about this, that, and the other, and is constantly challenging me on stuff that I say on the Glenn Show.

And actually, I don't know how many of these episodes between me and John that she's actually watched from front to back. I think she probably gets halfway through and it turns her stomach so much that she can't bear to hear it out.

How do we manage? With great difficulty, Cole Astaire, with great difficulty.

I actually haven't thought systematically about what the guidebook is for negotiating these treacherous waters. But I'll say a few things. 

One is we never go to bed mad at each other. That's a rule.

Sometimes we have a snit. "I can't believe you said that! Haven't you read this?" And then the feedback is, "Oh, you don't respect me. You think I'm not reading? You think I'm not informed? You think you're the only person who knows something because you're a professor, blah, blah, blah? He's a jackass!" (This is a politician that I like that she's referring to as a jackass, okay? Not Donald Trump!)

Or "You're always talking about cancel culture. Why don't you talk about the minimum wage? I don't hear you talking about the minimum wage, bread and butter issues. These are fish in a barrel that you're shooting, all the stupid stuff that these kids are doing on the college campuses, blah, blah, blah."

Or I'll say something like, you know, “Cardi B with that WAP stuff. I get it. I get why you can't take your eyeball off of the rotating buttocks, but really it's not art. And it's not good for our kids and it warrants to be somehow criticized even as we accept the fact that there's a First Amendment and blah, blah, blah.” And she'll say, “What decade were you born in again?” Stuff like that.

We try not to hold a grudge. That's one thing.

We try not to bite our tongues, however. I think that's very bad. I think developing the habit of simply suppressing the disagreement because you anticipate that it's going to be unpleasant, and you nod and go along, and then you hold a resentment within yourself, feeling bullied by the fact that you can't express your opinion without getting an earful is unhealthy. There's a kind of passive aggressive negativity that's embedded within that because you're now a victim of the fact that you can't speak your mind freely without anticipating that it's going to elicit some kind of negative response. 

Another thing I'll say is we listen. Or at least I try to be very careful about this: not shutting myself down in the middle of the second sentence of the argument that she's making, because I know where it's going and I know that I disagree with it. But I try to listen, try to be generous.

Where I can agree, I agree. Man, believe me. I agree. I agree. I send her a link saying, “See, I saw this. This is exactly the argument you were making the other day, and I think this person is right.” I send that kind of note weekly. Where I can find agreement, where I can find affirmation, I agree. 

But of course we have to have something other than politics to talk about. I mean, it can't just be argument. And so there is a wide sphere of areas of mutual interest that we can somehow repair to.

But I'll confess, it is troubling sometimes, the tensions that bubble up to the surface between us, and we have to be careful. We have to be mindful.

Gratuitous offense, gratuitous affront, sarcasm, passive aggressive self-pity—these are things one can become more aware of in oneself, and one can try to work to stifle them down. Sometimes saying nothing at all is the best reaction, especially if you can feel yourself going into one of those darker places of anger, self-pity, and so on.

There have been times when we have agreed to disagree. I have gone to another room, and we've checked back again in 90 minutes or a couple of hours after I finished that chapter in the book and she finishes doing whatever she's doing over on the other side of the house.

Having a big house helps. It helps a lot. I can go to the lower level. I got a pool table down there, you know, got a little TV and a little futon. Put my feet up, watch a basketball game, let it chill, let it cool out, and then hook back up for dinner that night.

It's not perfect. And we've only been married three-plus years, so your prayers are welcome.

John, you got anything to say to Cole on this question?

Not as much as you.

I guess this is the first time I've said on our show that two falls ago, my ex-wife and I split, actually. So I've been a single dad since then. This was about six months before the lockdown happened.

I would say on that subject that she is very intelligent, very educated, and a great person, but she's further to the left than I am. I don't think she would have any argument with my saying that she is woker than I am. And I don't mean excessively woke, but she is woker than I. I think she would have much less of a problem with the developments since last summer than I do.

Later in our marriage, I was beginning to notice a certain divergence between us, in terms of my feelings about various things going on in the media—various ideological currents—and hers. And it was beginning to even affect what kind of company we preferred to keep. 

This was not officially why our marriage ended. However, I would say that I am glad that, if it had to end, it was over by what happened last summer and what's happened since. Because I can imagine conversations would have gotten a little awkward, kind of like what you're describing. My living space is fairly big, but we have two small kids and it would have been harder to stay away from each other.

I would say that she's a great person. There were great things about our marriage. But I find it hard to see myself now moving on with someone who wasn't in basic agreement with my skepticism of a lot of these modern developments.

I guess it's partly just that you continue changing and developing as you go through life, and I'm at a point here in my middle age where I have quite a strong sense of my Self—with a capital S—as being someone who has certain commitments. Those commitments include pushing back against the excesses of what is now being called wokeness. 

You know, some people think we're against woke. I think of myself as thoroughly woke. My issue is wokeness that's mean, and to the idea that all of these things going on are somehow permissible, that it's inevitable excess that we should just look upon and click our tongues.

Not that my ex ever said anything like this, but a hypothetical person who would? That wouldn't work for me.

I need to come and talk about, you know, making dinner and watching the basketball game (although in my case it would be an old movie or something like that). I would need to do those things with somebody who was not put off by my not feeling the way the New York Times op-ed page felt about something. At this point, I would not want to have to build bridges about things like that.

So that's an interesting thing, when I've started thinking about, okay, I'm out there. Who's it going to be? I thought, well, it's limited, partly, because I've got to be with somebody who gets why I would write a book like The Elect.

So that is my answer to that question to Mr. Cole Astaire. Talk about an old movie—that's a great name. 

Yeah. Cole Porter and Fred Astaire is what you're thinking about. We got to get Ginger Rogers in there somewhere.

And you know, just another word on this—because I hear what you're saying, I relate to what you're saying at a deep level—I feel like I'm on a mission, and I want my soulmate to be on the same mission with me. You know what I mean? I want to know that she's got my back, that she's rooting for me, that she's following my play, and that she's cheering me on, and I don't always feel that.

And I miss it. I do. 

The other side of that, though, is there's a built-in critic that has got me always questioning myself. Maybe a cheerleader would be bad for a guy like me.

Maybe I'd lose my governing mechanism and I’d tend to go a little bit overboard because I would get reinforcements to my worst tendencies of ranting, wild-eyed rage at the machine of third-wave anti-racism, as you put it in your book, of wokeness. And I'd lose touch.

Let me give you just one example.

You know I think the universities are going to hell in a handbasket under the management of the anti-racist brigades, of the diversity and inclusion structures, of the students who are demanding social justice be demonstrated and moral righteousness be signaled with every action in the university, of the people who are raging against the colonial imposition of the Western canon in the curriculum, et cetera.

Here at Brown, there's now a petition circulating among students to reinstate a required course. Brown is famous for having an open curriculum where there are no requirements. And that's a matter of principle, of a kind of pedagogic ideological stand. There are no requirements. Students make up their own program here at Brown with the guidance and input of the professors. Different departments may have requirements for meeting their concentration standards, but there are no university requirements.

They've talked about imposing the requirement that people take an anti-racism course, universally, for people who matriculate here at Brown.

And you know, I'm against it. I'm strenuously against it.

I'm a prominent person in the political life of the community. And I'm thinking about writing a piece, and my wife is counseling me against it: "Don't stick your neck out like that. Don't stand in opposition to the students" and whatnot. And I'm saying, you know, these kids, they don't know what the hell they're doing. There's no parental supervision because my colleagues won't stand up for any principle.”

I had told her about a letter that I received from Aldon Morris.

Aldon Morris is a very distinguished sociologist at Northwestern University, an African American who's written a book about the origins of the Civil Rights Movement that was published, I think, in the 1980s. Anyway, it's a classic study of the Civil Rights Movement.

Aldon Morris and I attended the same community college in 1969, John, when you were four years old. We attended the same community college, as Black kids, kind of intellectual, coming up on the South Side, not quite doing as well as we might've been doing. We needed someplace to go and take some classes.

He's now a tenured professor, very distinguished. I'm sure he has a chair at Northwestern in sociology. He still lives in Chicago. I am who I am.

And Aldon wrote me a letter during the height of the post-Ferguson turmoil, when I was also on a tear about the students being off base about “Black Lives Matter” being not what you want to say. And he counseled me to remember my roots.

I had told my wife Lajuan about this letter when we were dating, years ago. And she reminded me of it and made me go get it out, and she made me read it.

“Read what Aldon Morris wrote to you. He reminded you of your roots. He reminded you that you were once one of these kids running around on the college campus with your head full of ideas and whatnot. He told you that, as a senior member of the community, they look to you for leadership, that you had to have patience, that you needed to help them, not just scold them. Keep that in mind," says Lajuan, reminding me of what my colleague in Black academia and my fellow Chicagoan from the same post-Second World War, baby boom generation had to say to me.

"Keep your feet on the ground, Glenn. Don't forget where you came from, Glenn. Don't forget your Uncle Alfred saying to you”—this is Lajuan—"saying to you once, 'We could only send one to Harvard and MIT and all of that. We sent you, and we don't see us in anything you do.'”

This is what my uncle said to me on one occasion. Lajuan knows about this because I've shared it with her.

She's kind of my conscience in a way. “You're still a Black man from the South Side of Chicago, don't you ever forget that.”

That's not nothing.

It's not an answer to a question of what to do about affirmative action and what to say about the George Floyd riots, but it's not nothing.

It isn't.

And you know, it's interesting … I don't know if I should go here.

My ex was white. And I think to myself, I don't want a cheerleader. I don't want somebody who doesn't get me, but I would want somebody who was also a constructive critic. And it's occurred to me that if that were a Black woman, she would do it particularly well.

There are all sorts of nuances that she would get, there are all sorts of resonances and historical aspects of it. She would be the best person for that.

But unfortunately—and I shouldn't say this publicly, but life is short—unfortunately, so many educated Black women find views like yours and mine repulsive that the pool is narrowed. It's not impossible. There are educated women who could deal with this, so to speak.

I hope I'm married to one of them. 

But for a great many, somebody like me would seem deracialized, like he doesn't like his own people.

I mean, in many fields, it's the heart of education to be taught this particular kind of hyper-woke ideology. And so it's hard for me to say where that's going to go.

I want to reiterate, I'm not saying that there are no Black women who understand the way somebody like me thinks. There are plenty. That's why I say these things in public. Nevertheless, in the circles that you and me travel in, it can be hard to find that woman.

So it's interesting. I wouldn't mind having that counselor, because most white women, through no fault of their own, probably couldn't do it as well as Lajuan.

Nevertheless, life is complicated.

I think your inbox is going to be full of invitations to a virtual meeting by suitors.

It's gonna be full of various people very angry at what I just said.

That too. But you're now declared a very eligible bachelor, John.

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