Glenn Went on Tucker Carlson, Part 2
with John McWhorter
Yesterday, I posted some material from my recent appearance on Tucker Carlson Today. Here, as promised, is my follow-up conversation with John McWhorter. In it we discuss the dangers of treating white Americans as a self-conscious race, and the even greater danger of white Americans coming to see themselves that way.
To put a finer point on it, the vast majority of Americans who identify as “white” do so in some general, nonspecific way. Most of them don’t assign any real political meaning or tribal affiliation to their whiteness. They’re far more likely to strongly identify with their religion or regional origin or ancestral origin than they are to identify with their “race.” In short, most white people don’t think their political interests, personality traits, or culture are defined by their whiteness.
John and I and, perhaps surprisingly, Tucker Carlson all agree that this is a very good thing. No one should want the majority of white Americans to start thinking of themselves as a unified ethnic group, one with shared political interests that deserve special consideration. We have seen what happens when national ethnic majorities start to view themselves as engaged in political struggles with ethnic minorities. Things tend not to end well for the minorities.
I think this issue is so crucial, and it’s under-discussed. Let me know what you think in the comments.
GLENN LOURY: Let's talk about Tucker Carlson. Well, first of all, let me remind viewers that you and I had a conversation last time in which the question was, “Should I engage with Tucker Carlson?” Because I had been invited to be interviewed by him. And you had your doubts about that, thinking that, well, you can say what your thoughts were.
But as I recall the issue was that I want to be effective in persuading people in the middle of the spectrum. Fox News has a certain taint, a certain stench of Trumpism and reactionary, right-wing, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly political poison. Why would I associate myself with that when it discredits me with people that I might want to persuade? And I wasn't persuaded by your argument and decided to go on.
But we put the question to our viewers and listeners—"Should Glenn go on Tucker Carlson?"—and got quite a few responses. I did an informal survey and it was almost split down the middle, John. A lot of people saying, yeah, go on. He's got a big audience, et cetera. Other people saying, ah, he's a dummy or worse. He's evil. Don't lower yourself or whatever. So I went on.
Well, first of all, there's getting to Tucker Carlson, whose studio is in western Maine. So my wife LaJuan and I were coming back from visiting the West Coast, where I had some work and some family stuff to do in L.A., and flew into Logan Airport. A car was sent to pick us up for the two hour drive from Logan up to Portland, Maine, which is a very nice town on the Maine coast.
JOHN MCWHORTER: It's nice up there.
It's quaint, you know. We enjoyed the beautiful hotel that we were put up in. And then a car comes the next morning to drive me another hour and a half into the woods in the foothills of the mountains in western Maine. When I finally get to the compound, where the studio is and the staff of the production team and the makeup person and the sound engineer and the coordinator—'cause Tucker's empire is housed in a small town in western Maine. Carlson comes in. There were three of us to do Tucker Carlson Today longform interviews, one after the other after the other. He had us stacked up.
I waited my turn. I was cordially engaged with a Machiavelli scholar on one side and a theoretical physicist who was into climate change science on the other side. We got to talk with each other. There was me, my turn came, I went in for the interview with Tucker Carlson. It was all shirtsleeves, informal, sitting at a table, a very professional studio set up.
And we talked for an hour. I had expected that he was going to be laying traps for me, that he was going to have his own points that he wanted to get across and was going to try to use me as a mouthpiece to give credence to, you know, “Black professor, Ivy league Glenn Loury, distinguished economist, agrees with me about X, Y, and Z,” and therefore I was going to be a prop. And I was prepared. I was prepared to not be a prop by pushing back and saying "Oh, but, oh but, oh but."
But he didn't do that. He basically interviewed me in a manner more or less the way that Oprah might've interviewed me. Which is to say, it was very folksy. He was interested in my life, my early life, education coming out of Chicago and so forth like that. How did I become as conservative as I am? What happened in the 1980s? What happened in the 1990s?
And we did get, of course, down the brass tacks. We did talk and I don't want to say too much. I want people to look at the interview. It's behind a paywall at Fox. I know everybody that not everybody's going to go there. But there are some clips floating around that you can find on YouTube. Maybe you'll be inspired when you see some of these clips.
We talked about some political stuff. We talked about the state of the academy, what's going on in the universities and whatnot. We talked about the political arguments around Black Lives Matter and so forth. We talked about—and this is something that I explore with Charles Murray next week as well—the growing possibility of white backlash in an age of identity. The possibility that—not white supremacists, because they're out there and they they've already got white identity stuff going on.
But what about ordinary Joe and Jane working class white person who doesn't think of themselves especially as being white until you remind them day in and day out with your critical race theory-informed arguments that they are white, that they are supremacists, that they are privileged, that they're whatever. And what happens when they start embracing these notions of racial identity with a zeal? Because after all, if we're going to live in a world of racial identities, the largest one of them is going to be white. I mean, it amazes me—so Tucker and I agreed about this—it amazes me that people haven't figured this out.
They add up the Chinese and Koreans with the Mexicans and Puerto Ricans with the Nigerian immigrants with the African Americans descended from slaves, and they find a number that's bigger than 50% soon enough. And then they declare white people are going to be in a minority. What they haven't figured out is that if white people actually are a race, self-consciously thinking of themselves as a race, they're going to be the largest of the groups by far. Even when they're less than 50%, they're still 45%. Black people are 13% of the population. Latinos are 18% of the population.
So do you really want that? And we had—Tucker and I—an extended discussion about why you don't really want to encourage a world in which white people come to think... You say they already do? No. No, they don't. At the fringes they do. But ordinary Jane and Joe are not walking around thinking about themselves as "I'm a white person. What are white people's interests?" and so on.
So we had a spirited discussion. But it was very relaxed and I'm actually happy about it. I paid my $7 to get behind the paywall so I could watch the full interview. And I think I pulled it off. I think fair-minded people looking at it will say that it was creditable to me to have given that interview. And it actually didn't leave Tucker Carlson looking that bad either, because he had the wisdom to basically keep his contribution to a minimum and simply let me talk about my life and about my ideas. So I'm glad I did it.
You sent me some material yesterday, and I must admit on I'm involved in this project that I have to keep secret that involves me listening to this long-lost musical material that I'm not allowed to talk about yet. But I was kind of in a bunker all afternoon yesterday doing that.
I will say this: I'm glad that it was constructive. And there really does need to be a pushback against this idea that white people walk around thinking of themselves as white. Because this is a major plank in today's antiracism argument. The book White Fragility is full of it, in both senses of the term. And you know, I think we've both heard this for a long time, but it's really in the ascendant now, this idea that white people are going to defend their interests, that there is this white consciousness. And that's based on no empirical evidence at all. It's a fable. It's a way of looking at things that became popular starting in the mid and late-1960s and maybe had more of a grain or maybe two grains of truth then.
But the typical white person is not walking around thinking, "There are white interests that we must defend." I mean, God bless Debra Dickerson, but there were kind of two halves of her. And when she was in her Stokely Carmichael mood, she would say things like, "White people will give up power only when they choose to." And I remember thinking when reading her saying things like that back 20 years ago, I think, no. That doesn't represent the kind of thinking of any individual white person that I know. I mean, you have the Klan, you have white nationalist groups, but a white cashier? Some white human resources coordinator? Some white lawyer? Some white middle manager at Staples? They're not thinking of themselves as white people who must defend their interests. And if they are, then the burden of proof is upon the people who like to talk that way.
It's a story. It's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It's Homer. It's a cowboy song. It's just a story. It makes people feel good to pretend that there's this tribalism among whites in that way. And the problem is, as you're saying, that the way we talk about these things now, it might be encouraged because of people being made out to be these self-centered, menacing monsters again and again by people who increasingly have power and can therefore keep you away from resources based on reading you as this malevolent person.
And boy, I'm sounding Republican with what I'm about to say, but the new idea that basically a white man can't get a job, that people are now overtly saying this is a job that we must give to a DEI person, to a diverse person and therefore a white person, especially a white man, simply can't have the job. That's becoming overt at a lot of schools, for example, which is what I know best. That is going to create a kind of resentment.
A lot of people's answer is, well, that resentment is evidence of racism. And my answer to that is that that kind of analysis is circular and is flabby thinking. Suppose the person actually has a point. Because believe it or not, white people can sometimes have a point. Yeah. I worry, again. That is a legitimate point. I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. All that travel sounds ghastly, to tell you the truth. Boy, I like my house. But I'm glad that you feel like it was worth it. And I'll cough up my $7.