Last week, I asked you all to weigh in on whether I should appear as a guest on Tucker Carlson Today. The resulting comments were just about split down the middle: half for, half against. I did end up going on the show after all, and I’m glad I did. Tucker was a thoughtful interlocutor, and I was able to speak at length without having to simplify my positions into soundbites.
In order to view the episode in its entirety, you’ll have to subscribe to Fox News’ streaming service (you can see a short clip here). I’ve provided a transcript of part of my conversation with Tucker below. I lay out the dangers of encouraging white Americans to think of themselves as members of a unified race with shared political interests, as I think many “antiracist” thinkers do. I’ll follow it up tomorrow with part of my conversation with John McWhorter where we go into even more depth on this topic.
As always, I’m interested to hear what you think. For those of you who had counseled against my appearance, does reading any of this change your mind?
GLENN LOURY: Ruth Simmons, when she was president of Brown University—she was presiding there when I joined the faculty—had me give the opening convocation address, which is a faculty member speaking to the assembled student body on the first day of the year. Every year, there's an opening convocation. "Identity and Authenticity" was the title of my address. And I proclaimed, you know, we are these various things, but they're not what we are.
I tried to do it in a folksy way, but I said the challenge here is everybody's got to figure out how to make a life out of the raw material that they're given. Which is their sexual orientation and it is their ethnic and racial and national heritage. It is the culture everybody comes with, mother tongue and so forth. We are given these things. Those are the initial facts about ourselves. They are not a life. They're just the raw material. We still have to make a script for our lives. We still have to fashion a vision for ourselves. We still have to be in the world.
That's a challenge that everybody faces and the reason that I can read, oh, I don't know, the great Russian novelists of the nineteenth century, the Dostoevskys and the Tolstoys. The reason I can read them and be enriched by them is not because I see my life in their narrative, but it's because their narrative is in the service of this existential challenge that all of us face, which is how to grow out of where we start into the fullness of our humanity.
TUCKER CARLSON: Exactly
The fullness of our humanity. That's what the university is there for. I said that. And I got very positive responses. This was 2008. I got very positive responses from many of my colleagues and students when I gave that address, that I was putting my finger on something important. I'm pretty sure that I'd be laughed off the stage today with that same address. It's almost like invoking Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
Which used to actually have cachet. People used to get it. "Oh, I see. Higher values than our racial particularity. Oh, I see. America coming to terms finally with this great problem that has crushed us." Now it will be dismissed as, you know, "That's just a colorblind trope in the service of white supremacy." What a profound mistake.
It is a mistake. Where does it lead?
Well, I don't know. I don't have a crystal ball. And it's not over, because there are people like me—I'm certainly not alone—who are trying to voice a counterpoint here. But I think where it can lead is the loss of this great tradition that we've inherited. I think it can lead into where 1789 led in Paris. I think it can lead into a cul-de-sac, into a horrible, dark know-nothingism kind of place. I mean, I worry about academic freedom. I worry about sustaining into the next generation the same open-mindedness and objectivity and love of learning. I worry about that.
These are all longstanding trends that you've been writing about for decades, as noted. But they did accelerate with the death of George Floyd last May. There's no question. That really was a pivot point. Did you recognize that at the time, that this is when things start moving really fast?
Well, in the months that ensued after the death of George Floyd, I did recognize that I thought something really significant in our culture was taking place. I mean, I thought the country had lost its mind, to be quite honest with you.
Like I say, or maybe I haven't said it here, I'll say it now. There are a handful of cases like George Floyd. The main reality on the streets of American cities, insofar as racial risk and so forth, is violent crime. That is the thing that has to be confronted. The embrace of this "open season on Black people,” I think that's what Benjamin Crump calls it, "open season." The embrace of this framing of the problem, which distracts us from the objective threat to the integrity of the Black body, is just a profound mistake.
And to find not only African Americans embracing it, but to find the country buying it struck me as deeply problematic, deeply concerning. So, I mean it started with me reacting against people who were saying: "Oh, don't mind the looting. It's mostly peaceful protests. Don't mind the looting and rioting. People are just collecting their reparations. Don't mind the looting and rioting. After all, they have a reason to be angry. We should understand."
And I thought a couple of things. I thought, first of all, objectively, that's wrong. Our civilization rests upon exactly the opposite of what you said. And I thought, secondarily, do you think that the quiet, silent majority of this country is going to take it forever if you talk like that and act like that? Actually, they're not going to take it forever.
That's exactly right.
Heaven forbid the world we live in when they start acting on their rejection of what it is that you just said.
You're onto something, in my view. I've thought this from the beginning. I haven't fully articulated or thought it through. Can you keep going? What are you talking about, specifically? ‘Cause I think every action has a reaction. It's physics.
Here's what I'm talking about. How many times can you remind the white majority of this country that their numbers are shrinking and they're about to be dominated by a coming nonwhite coalition of Latino and Black and whatnot? How many times can you tell them that they are intrinsically racist, that their lives are built upon an unearned privilege? How many times can you accuse them of failing to see your humanity, when in fact you're living in the freest country and you are the richest people of African descent ever to have walked on the planet? I'm talking about Black Americans.
How many times can you do that and not have them get the idea that they've got an identity, too? That it's a racial identity, and it's not yours? That's not the world you want to live in. You don't want to be told in response to your iconoclasm—we're going to tear down all the statues, we don't like Mount Rushmore, we think the founding fathers are full of shit—you don't want to be told by those people, “I tell you what, where's your civilization?” You don't want that.
You don't want to be reminded that modern medicine rests upon a European intellectual foundation. You don't want to be told that the institutions that secure our liberty and allow for our prosperity came out of Europe. So if you insist on playing the race card, you better watch out. Because that's a game you can't win. If people insist on discussing violent crime in this country in terms of white police officers attacking Black citizens, how long will it be before somebody actually does the exercise that Charles Murray pursues in this recent book of his, this forthcoming book, and does the counting of who's actually committing the crimes against who in this country?
I don't want to hear about black thugs raping white women. But I'm going to hear about it soon enough if you keep telling me about white cops killing Black kids. It's not a racial thing. It's a human thing. Bad cops need to be dealt with and thugs need to be dealt with, regardless of their color. That's the position I take. But what I fear for my country is that the racialization of these conversations invites a reaction, which we will be reaping the whirlwind should we allow it to come to being.
I've thought that since day one. You don't want to live in a country where the white majority is racially aware or thinks of itself as white before American. You don't want that. I can't quite articulate as nicely as you just did why, but you don't want to live in that country.
No, we don't.
And I feel like that's such an obvious point that you sort of wonder, you know, a lot of smart people are pushing this stuff. Very smart people, actually. This hasn't occurred to them? Or what is this about? It's like, they're pushing us toward a wholly racialized America. Why are they doing that?
I don't know the answer. I can think of some reasons why. They're going to be partisan, Tucker. I know you don't have a problem with that. The Democratic Party needs the Black people to vote for them 85% or 90%, or else they're politically uncompetitive. This is Glenn Loury's analysis. You all can make of it what you will. My mouth is not a prayer book. I could be wrong, but this is what I see.
What I see is, to keep that solid support from African Americans for the left of the American political spectrum requires pushing before us this narrative about, "They're going to put y'all back in chains." That was Joseph Biden. About, "The only reason I ran for president was because he said that there were good people among the white supremacists." Well, he didn't say any such thing. That's again, Joseph Biden. "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." That's a Barack Obama.
To which my response is: no, he wouldn't. Because what he is and looks like is not the color of his skin. It's the character of his life. And if you had a son, you and Michelle, you billionaires, he wouldn't look anything like Trayvon Martin. So why did you say that? Why did Michelle Obama say that she worries that Sasha and Malia might be set upon by a rogue police officer because he sees the back of their head and she looks like somebody who did something wrong, when she knows that that's not true?
And the only conclusion that I can come to is that it is a very powerful political tool to keep African Americans aligned, when in fact the substance of the political conversation offers us very little reason why it is that we should stay aligned. I mean, Donald Trump was many things. He was wrong about many things. But, "You have nothing to lose. Take a look at your inner cities"? He was certainly right about that.
Forgive me for thinking Donald Trump was right about anything.