Discover more from Glenn Loury
When the "Racial Justice" Narrative Crumbles
with John McWhorter
Ron DeSantis has been working toward a presidential run for years now. He’s fighting the culture war in his home state of Florida, and by all appearances, he’s winning. In this process, he’s courting both the voters who enthusiastically elevated Trump to office and the voters who may have liked Trump’s policies but didn’t like his way of going about things. Democrats claim to be alarmed by what’s going on in Florida, and they should be, as DeSantis is showing himself to be a credible heir to Trumpian politics without Trump’s personal baggage and unpredictability. And yet, Democrats have hitched their wagons to fallacious narratives about black identity and systemic racism that are going to send more voters running straight into DeSantis’s arms in 2024.
In the following excerpt from our recent subscriber-only Q&A session, John McWhorter and I discuss the dubiousness and manifest unfairness of race-based affirmative action and calls for reparations that we still hear from the left. The foundation of “racial justice” on which Democrats have built so much of their politics is cracked, and it’s only a matter of time before the entire edifice comes crashing down around them. If that happens, they won’t be able to point to “white supremacy” as the culprit—they’ll have only themselves to blame.
This is an excerpt from a Substack subscriber-only Q&A. To receive early access to TGS episodes, an ad-free podcast feed, Q&As, and other exclusive content and benefits, click below.
GLENN LOURY: We're in the twenty-first century. The year is 2023. The country is changing and changing and changing. Tens of millions of non-European immigrants are making lives here. The politics of this country, the Hispanics are a more significant ethnicity than the blacks in the long term when you think about ethnic pluralism in the country. The Chinese are coming, the world is changing. Globalization. Nobody's got time for a person who can't read and who can't count.
I think this is shtick. “We were enslaved. We are black. We are owed something” is a house of cards. I think Trump was an early indication of the instability of the system. I'm not embracing or endorsing him. I'm just saying that, in challenging some of these shibboleths, he could draw tens upon tens of millions of people to the polls. And some of those shibboleths had to do with this empty-suited house of cards, which is the current posture of aggrievement on behalf of so-called justice in a multiracial country, et cetera, et cetera.
I'm sorry, I don't mean to monopolize here John, but I think backlash is inevitable. That's where I want to go. That's why Cara C. is the tip of the spear. A lot of white people agree with her. They're tired of being bullied. They're tired of being told to shut up. So affirmative action. We're gonna have this food fight. It's coming. I know. You know. The idea that, perpetually, you would warp American institutions to favor people who were not excelling on the merits because of these kinds of second and third-order claims about exclusion and racism? It shouldn't happen and it won't happen. And I'm glad the Supreme Court of the United States won't let it happen.
JOHN MCWHORTER: Glenn, I just think we need to remember if we're gonna address reparations in this very modern 2023, that the response to us now is, “We're not talking about 75 years ago. We're not talking about Jim Crow. Slavery: forget it. We're talking about that we were redlined, and therefore we could not accumulate the wealth that other people did, and that has impacted the lives of me and the roughly two generations before me, and therefore I deserve reparations.” We have to remember, that's you what the new argument is.
Well, come on. It's incorrect. Do you think that the redlining practices of urban America are responsible for the wealth disparity between blacks and whites in this country? Do you really believe that? Do you think wealth just falls from the sky or is something you inherit from your parents? Wealth is created. Wealth is a result of labor, of efficacy. I mean, people, it doesn't just fall from the sky. I mean, sure, there's an effect. The effect goes in the direction that they claim. But to account for the disparity in wealth by reference to housing policy, I don't believe it.
We have to explain why. Because that's the new thing.
Okay. I'm quite prepared to do that. Shall I move on? I didn't provoke you any further with my vituperative rejection of this whole framework? I say it's a house of cards. I say backlash is coming. You don't have any comment on that?
I don't know if backlash is coming because I have a hard time foreseeing impending high drama. It always surprises me. Things happen gradually, change happens gradually, and that's what my lens is always focused on. But no, the basic idea that we are a people always owed, that there's a shoe that hasn't dropped yet, and that has to be us, not Latinos, not the Chinese and other immigrant groups who are coming in.
Yes, it looks fake, and the claim that the only reason it looks fake to people is because they're either ignorant or racist is fake, hasty, and erroneous. Yes, there's something really wrong with the idea that we are owed at this point. And I think that the redlining argument is also weak because most people who were redlined were white. We're right back down to the issue of disproportionate versus the numbers.
And my main thing about reparations is simply this. If it happened, nothing would change. The whole race debate would continue just the way it is because of the people who are so committed to having the race debate be in a certain way. As soon as all that money was given out, there would be this mantra: “They better not think it's over. Can't treat us like animals for 400 years and then think you can just pay us off. Woo! Woo!” Nothing would change.
And so there's a part of me that opens up to the idea. Okay, let's say, like they're thinking about in San Francisco, give every black person $5 million. Suppose we did it. But the week after, everybody who's saying the sorts of things they say now would be saying the same shit. “It's still not over. That was just a beginning. America is still founded on racism and still has impacts, and handouts alone aren't the solution.” That's my main thing about reparations now. It's not based on any actual systematic sense of what creates change. It's a performance. And once they were given out, the people with three names would consider it rather inconvenient and they would say, “They better not say racism is over just because they gave us the money.” I don't see the point of even starting, but you know, we'll see.
I don't see how that can go down. And I think you're right, that's the way it would probably go without it engendering a whole lot of resentment. Quiet, silent resentment in the non-black population because it's so manifestly unfair. It's manifestly unfair to distribute $5 million to every black person in San Francisco.
Because of redlining. And the war on drugs, is what they're saying now. If you or somebody one generation before was incarcerated because of the war on drugs, so they're keeping it real concrete.
You keep at this and you're gonna make Ron DeSantis president of the United States, or somebody like him. It's not politics. That's the thing that really, really amazes me about how the mainstream left and the media get behind identity-focused bellyaching when it actually substitutes for real politics, like you said. You said it's not connected to actions on the ground that would actually remedy the underlying situation. It's performative.