Mar 6 • 1HR 6M

John McWhorter – The Private Side of Public Life

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Weekly conversations on race, inequality, and more, with Glenn Loury. Bi-weekly appearances by John McWhorter.
Episode details

John and I have spent a long time under the glare of the spotlight as public intellectuals. He began opining on race matters in print back in the 1990s. I began doing the same back in the early 1980s. We’re both intellectuals by nature; it’s the “public” part that’s tricky. Figuring out how to balance both sides of the public intellectual’s brief—to bring your expertise to bear on matters of public concern and to do so before a general audience—requires calibrating your writing and speaking in subtle ways, anticipating your listeners’ skepticism, and trying to make yourself heard over the racket of the discourse.

In this episode, John and I pull back the curtain a bit and discuss what it’s really like to live and speak as black public intellectuals today. We talk about the shifting allegiances, private trash-talk, and awkward run-ins at the farmers market that constitute our day-to-day, year-to-year, and decade-to-decade experience. You can’t do what we do for as long as we’ve done it without making mistakes and enemies along the way—doubt and regret are part of the price you pay for the kind of careers we’ve had. I even press John as to why there are some topics he won’t address. We do eventually manage to pry our gazes from our navels and address the Scott Adams controversy. The popular cartoonist and entrepreneur advised white people to “get the hell away” from black people, and his mega-popular Dilbert strip was unceremoniously dropped by a number of newspapers. We talk about the economic and moral reasoning behind the decision.

This episode gets even more personal than usual. As John says, we can only do shows like this every once in a while, so I hope you enjoy this one!

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The transportation secretary’s comments on the race of hardhat workers were as misleading as they were divisive, writes Steven Malanga.

0:00 John’s awkward run-in at the farmer’s market

5:40 Will people be reading Ibram X. Kendi in 2043?

17:03 Regret, doubt, and going against the tide 

28:12 How Glenn and John negotiate their public profiles

40:50 Did Scott Adams deserve to get canceled? 

52:47 What’s going on beneath the Scott Adams controversy?

Recorded March 5, 2023

Links and Readings

Ibram X. Kendi’s Zora Neale Hurston adaptation, Magnolia Flower

Melissa Harris Perry’s radio show, The Takeaway

Ishmael Reed’s novel, Reckless Eyeballing

Ishmael Reed’s essay collection, Another Day at the Front