John McWhorter is back, and fresh off an appearance on Bill Maher’s Real Time that provides plenty of fodder for this conversation. It’s always an interesting experience comparing the relatively unrestrained version of John that I record with three times a month and the carefully crafted version of himself he presents on other programs, when he knows he only has a few minutes to make his point. This is something all of us who regularly appear in the media have to grapple with: How do we distill all of the thinking, reading, and writing we do within our areas of expertise into audience-friendly sound bites that will give some sense of our deeper reasoning? John has mastered this art, and I have to say, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it, too!
We begin by discussing that Real Time appearance. John is turning into one of Maher’s regular guests, but he wasn’t always such a skilled communicator. He recounts an earlier Bill Maher appearance where he dropped the ball. John was invited on to talk about equity and equality, and we take the opportunity to talk more expansively about the difference between the two. We are both advocates for equality, and we both think that equity is a poor substitute. We also both think that black Americans have the potential to perform at the same level as everyone else, but the test scores tell a different story. So how do we know that potential is real and not just wishful thinking? It’s a tough question. The most zealous DEI advocates come from the ranks of educated middle and upper-middle-class blacks, and I’m reminded of E. Franklin Frazier’s classic critique, Black Bourgeoisie. We move on to the question of standards in the arts, and John says it’s not such a big deal if African Americans don’t have proportional representation in classical orchestras and audiences.
We get a pretty unfiltered version of John in this one. Anybody who catches him only on TV or in the New York Times is missing out!
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0:00 John’s recent appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher
7:23 The rigors of the lecture circuit
10:29 The difference between equity and equality
22:10 How do we know that African Americans are just as smart as everyone else?
30:59 The new black bourgeoisie
38:33 Standards in the arts are relative. But how relative?
51:15 John sets the record straight on his dancing skills
Recorded March 19, 2022
Links and Readings
John’s most recent appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher
Glenn and John April 14 UATX event in New York
E. Franklin Frazier’s book, Black Bourgeoisie
Glenn and John’s conversation with pseudonymous orchestra conductor Don Baton
Don Baton’s Substack, The Podium
Glenn and John’s conversation with actor James Beaman
James Beaman’s Substack, The Cornfield
Glenn and John’s conversation with Vincent Lloyd
John’s NYT piece, “The High Art of Musical Theater”
Walter Murphy’s song, “A Fifth of Beethoven”