Glenn Loury
The Glenn Show
John McWhorter – Race, Reparations, and Jordan Neely

John McWhorter – Race, Reparations, and Jordan Neely


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I’m back again with my good friend John McWhorter for another edition of our ongoing biweekly conversation. In this edition, we discuss three heavy subjects: our respective fields’ changing attitudes toward us, the killing of Jordan Neely, and reparations. Despite the political and existential weightiness, we manage to retain our good humor.

I begin by telling John that, in preparation for my upcoming retirement from academia, I’m packing up my books and vacating my beautiful office at Brown. This leads us to reflect on the ways that our public stances on race have led certain sectors of our fields—linguistics and economics—to ignore and even disown us. We then move on to the sad case of Jordan Neely, an apparently mentally ill black man killed by ex-Marine Daniel Penny on the NYC subway. As John says, Neely didn’t deserve to die, but he likely did pose a threat to those around him. How should we deal with aggressive homeless and mentally ill people who, to put it frankly, scare the hell out of ordinary people who are just trying to go about their business? And finally, it looks like some cities are closer than ever to disbursing reparations payments—in cash and other benefits—to black Americans. You won’t be surprised to know that I think this would be disastrous for all involved. But John has a slightly different take.

As always, I’m looking forward to reading your comments.

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0:00 John: “I love linguistics, but it no longer loves me”

9:44 How Glenn and John are getting written out of their fields

19:37 Jordan Neely didn’t deserve to die …

27:28 … but the New York subway is getting scary

37:45 Glenn: Reparations would be “impractical, unfair, and divisive in the extreme”

50:50 A possible left-wing objection to reparations

57:22 Glenn goes ham on reparations

Recorded May 18, 2023

Links and Readings

Steven Pinker’s book, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language

John’s book, Talking Back, Talking Black: Truths about America’s Lingua Franca

John’s book, Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of “Pure” Standard English

John’s language podcast, Lexicon Valley

John, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English

John’s NYT piece about Jordan Neely, “A Killing on the F Train”

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2014 Atlantic essay, “The Case for Reparations”

Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Matthew Desmond’s new book, Poverty, by America

Glenn’s conversation with Norman Finkelstein

August Wilson’s play, Two Trains Running


Glenn Loury
The Glenn Show
Race, inequality, and economics in the US and throughout the world from Glenn Loury, Professor of Economics at Brown University and Paulson Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute