BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Glenn Loury, your book is called "The Anatomy of Racial Inequality." What's it mean?
GLENN LOURY, AUTHOR, "THE ANATOMY OF RACIAL INEQUALITY": What does "The Anatomy of Racial Inequality" mean? It means I'm putting forward a theory or a framework for thinking about the problem of racial inequality, with particular emphasis on the United States.
LOURY: Well, my sense is that, notwithstanding the tremendous progress that we've made in this area since the Second World War, let's say, we still have a problem. And when you look around American society, you see African-Americans, in particular, and other non-whites also, disproportionately overrepresented among those who are on the outs, on the margins, who are not doing well in America. I think that's a problem worth thinking about.
LAMB: What's the reason?
LOURY: Well, I don't know that there's one reason. The argument that I make in the book is that among the reasons is the continuing detrimental effects of the stigma that attaches to racial identity in American society, particularly to African-American identity.
LAMB: You use the word "stigma" a lot in your book. What's it mean?
LOURY: "Stigma" is the withholding of a presumption that that other guy is more or less just like me. When I see him in trouble, probably it's the kind of fix I could get myself into, as well, and so I need to think about what it is I might do to help him out. When you withhold that presumption, when that other guy is "them" and not "us," when you're prepared to entertain the idea that he's different in some fundamental way and that that difference accounts for his poor condition, then that's when I say the guy is stigmatized.
LAMB: Who is stigmatized the most, in your opinion?
LOURY: Well, I think the easiest illustration of racial stigma -- and I argue this in the book -- is found when one would set the condition of the poor in the central cities, the so-called underclass, the African-Americans who are on Rikers Island, who live in the public housing projects in the worst districts, who fill up the jails. So here you have a group of people who are in American political culture, I think, a people apart.
They're feared. They're not understood. They're not sympathized with. They are people we want to get away from. We don't want to live near them. We don't want to go to school with them. They are, you know, reaping what they have sown. They are people who have failed to exhibit morality, who have not tried hard enough in America. They're getting their just desserts. To the extent that this is an attitude that's, I think, widespread about people and the poor.
LAMB: Is there any reason to ever have fear of certain kinds of people from certain areas?
LOURY: Absolutely. Indeed, part of my argument is that these fears are not unreasonable. That's what makes them so difficult to deal with, that they are rooted in people's reaction, in part, to the actual facts on the ground -- crime, decay in communities, people not taking advantage of opportunities that are there.
But the problem, I claim, is not that there's no basis in fact for the concerns, it's that our reflections don't go deeply enough. We don't see that, even though some communities are dangerous, they are also communities that are a product of a history in which people didn't really have a fair and equal chance. And so while they are dangerous, and while a prudent person might be careful in going through them, one also wants to look with a certain degree of sympathy and a certain responsibility for the conditions in those communities and not just set them aside as some place on the other side of the world somewhere.
LAMB: What book is this for you?
LOURY: This is my second book.
LAMB: What was the first one about?
LOURY: First one was called "One By One From the Inside Out." It was a collection of essays and reviews on race and responsibility in America, and it reflected my writings on this subject from, I'd say, the mid-1980s through the early 1990s.
LAMB: When was it published?
LOURY: It was published in 1995.
LAMB: Now, you were in a different world then than you are now.
LOURY: Well, yes. I would agree with that. Politically, ideologically, I suppose, my coloration was rather different then, yes.
LAMB: What's the difference?
LOURY: Easiest way to say it is that I was more conservative and prepared more readily to allow myself to be identified with conservative movement, conservative politics. And now I like to think of myself as more independent and, in some ways, critical of some of the stances that I would have taken in the past.
LAMB: Where'd you grow up?
LOURY: I grew up in Chicago, on the south side of that city.
LAMB: Exactly where on the south side?
LOURY: Well, the neighborhood was called Park Manor, 73rd Street and Michigan Avenue, I'd say three miles southwest of the University of Chicago's campus.
LAMB: What was your early childhood like?
LOURY: I think it was typical of working, lower-middle-class young people, young African-Americans in that city. I grew up in the 1950s and the 1960s. My parents were divorced, but we were not impoverished. We had an adequate, I think, material base, and a close-knit family, the sort of things that you'd expect.
LAMB: What did your parents do?
LOURY: My father retired recently from the Internal Revenue Service, where he had worked his way up to a high position in the management of the Internal Revenue Service. He is a lawyer and an accountant. Though, as I say, my mom and dad were divorced, and when I was growing up, my dad was still working his way through law school and things like that. My mom was a secretary.
LAMB: When did you first know that you were going to be an intellectual?
LOURY: Well, that's a very nice question to be asked, very personal. When I was in college at Northwestern University and doing very well, I reckoned myself getting ready for law school. And I thought, you know, a person goes to school so that they can make money. By the time I finished at Northwestern, though, I knew that I wanted to be a scholar, that I wanted to be a researcher, that I wanted to work probably in economics and hoped to be able to perform at the frontier of that discipline.
The change happened in a matter of a couple of years, and it happened because I got exposed to extraordinary teachers and I saw the power of certain ideas. And I discovered that, you know, I was pretty good at this stuff. So my -- the last two years of college.
LAMB: Where did you go to get your doctorate degree?
LOURY: I went to MIT.
LAMB: Why there?
LOURY: Well, you know, I had been admitted at a number of graduate schools, and being from Chicago and being married with children at the time that I was going off to graduate school, staying in Chicago was the easiest route. But I was disabused by some of my advisers of the idea that the University of Chicago, which is the place that I would have studied if I'd stayed in Chicago, was a -- was the right place for me. It was thought to be too ideologically right, too...
LOURY: Yes, too free-market-oriented, that the philosophy of economics -- my advisers were economists, of course, at Northwestern, where I was an undergraduate. The philosophy of economics at the University of Chicago was thought by many of my advisers to be too arch, too pro-market, too Milton Friedmanesque. And when I got admitted at MIT, they were unanimous in urging me to study at MIT instead of Chicago. And I took them up on that. I won't say that I regret it. I had a wonderful time at MIT. But I do think that they were wrong about the University of Chicago, which is a great institution, and I might have -- I would have done just as well, I think, from my developmental point of view, if I had gone to Chicago.
LAMB: Looking back on that moment, how much pressure did you feel about -- when they tried to steer you away from the University of Chicago?
LOURY: Not much. There was the family issue, moving from Chicago to Boston, Massachusetts, was a traumatic event for us -- two young children, a young wife. And it would have -- there would have been a lot more support and it would have just been a lot easier to live in Chicago. From a professional point of view, though, as soon as I got to MIT, I knew that I was going to be fine because it was a first-rate place. So I didn't feel torn. I didn't have a stake. I was prepared to take people's advice about what to do.
LAMB: Who's Uncle Alfred?
LOURY: Uncle Alfred is my mother's brother. He is now the patriarch of our extended family, the Cartmans -- that's my middle name -- back in Chicago -- my mother's maiden name. And he is a figure who looms in my imagination, in one way or another, because as the years have gone by and I've gone back to Chicago, the distance from my childhood and the emotions and memories of that time increases, but there he is, kind of a bulwark to always pull me back and challenge me and make me think about the long trajectory of my life.
LAMB: One of the things people say about you is that you're a "race man." What does that mean?
LOURY: Yes. I don't say that about myself, but I'm not going to argue with people about it. What a "race man" is, is a man who cares passionately about the wellbeing of the race, of African-Americans. He's a loyalist. He's a partisan, somebody who takes it upon himself to try to better the race. I think that's traditionally what is meant by that term.
LAMB: What would you be if you weren't a race man?
LOURY: You might be assimilated. You might be indifferent or removed or distant from your racial identity. It might not be quite so important to you. You might be just a man.
LAMB: How many kids do you have?
LOURY: I have five kids altogether.
LAMB: And how old are they?
LOURY: Well, the oldest is 35, the youngest is 10.
LAMB: What year did you get your Ph.D.?
LOURY: Got my Ph.D. in 1976.
LAMB: So then what did you do?
LOURY: I went to teach at Northwestern. I went back to Chicago. Unfortunately, my first wife and I had gotten divorced during the graduate school years. She and the kids moved back to Chicago. I moved back to Chicago, which was not such a bad arrangement, and I taught at Northwestern for three years, and then from there, went on to other teaching posts.
LAMB: In 1976, what would you say was your politics?
LOURY: I didn't have much politics in 1976. I'm almost certain that I did not vote in the 1976 presidential election. I voted in 1980, and I voted for Jimmy Carter. But I was apolitical. I wasn't very active politically. I would have been categorized as a more or less liberal Democrat, but it wouldn't have meant very much.
LAMB: But you lived in -- you've lived in two completely different worlds, when it comes to politics. I mean, you've been inside the conservative world, about as close as you can get. When were you the most conservative, known as the most conservative, writing the most conservative things?
LOURY: So what happened to me was that after teaching in a fairly conventional academic economics mode for a few years, I started writing essays about race, somewhat outside of the purview of my expertise. I began to write about questions of labor markets and urban economics, and so on, which drew more on economics, but quickly I got into more political and social questions. That was in the early 1980s -- 1981, 1982, 1983.
LAMB: Had you gone to Harvard yet?
LOURY: I went to Harvard in '82, and I...
LAMB: First --
LOURY: ... started this just before.
LAMB: First black tenured professor in the history of Harvard?
LOURY: In the economics...
LOURY: ... department. In the economics...
LAMB: Economics department?
LOURY: ... department.
LAMB: At age 35.
LOURY: That's right.
LAMB: And your politics when you're there, at that point -- this is in the early '80s.
LOURY: Yes. You know, the thing about this politics is, it's not only left and right. Some of it is just about being willing to stand out and say things that are known to be unpopular, whatever the content of the thing that's been said.
So when I got to Harvard and I was doing more of this popular writing, I became politicized, even though I did not think of myself as being very political, because I wrote essays that said the Civil Rights movement is over, African-American leadership needs to rethink the way in which it is trying to pursue the interests of our people, it's not only about discrimination, we also have to pay attention to internal issues of behavior and values, and things of this kind. I did not regard myself as a conservative in writing those things. I just thought these were more or less commonsense observations that I was making that few others were prepared to make.
Now, whether I was right or wrong about that, the reaction of people to those observations was politicizing. I found that people to the right of center were very happy to welcome me, to solicit my input, to invite me to do things, and so on. And people to the left of center were annoyed with me, were angry with me. I found myself becoming a part of a political thing, but I didn't start out with a political agenda.
LAMB: What's it feel like when you find white conservatives excited about what you're saying and black liberals saying "You're not one of us"? And did that happen?
LOURY: Yes, that...
LAMB: Just like that.
LOURY: ... sort of happened. I mean, my initial entre into the sort of center-right world of policy studies came largely from neo-conservative intellectuals, people like Nathan Glazer, people like Kristol, Irving Kristol, and others who invited me to write -- and Martin Peretz of "The New Republic" -- invited me to write pieces for their magazines. And it feels good, of course, to be invited to write pieces for people's magazines, to be invited to a state dinner at the White House, as I was in 1985, because certain people on the White House staff had noticed my work. That's pretty exciting.
To be vilified, called "Uncle Tom," sell-out, a lackey of the right -- that doesn't feel good. It makes one mad. So I found myself upset and reacting defensively to attacks from blacks and others who thought that my writing was politically dangerous, and I found myself really gratified and exhilarated, to a certain degree, at the opportunities that were opening for me as I was becoming more popular on the right.
LAMB: Do white people that you've come close to in the conservative movement care about race?
LOURY: I fear that I would be engaging in stereotype if I were to say yes or no to that question categorically.
LAMB: Which is all -- what your book's all about.
LOURY: I do talk a lot about stereotypes in the book. So white conservatives are varied -- and I do mean this genuinely -- in their reaction to the race issue. Many, I think, don't care much about race. It is a problem to be managed. But there are some.
I served for some years, for example, on the board of directors of the Prison Fellowship Ministries, which Charles Colson, the former Nixon aide and Watergate figure, directs. And these are conservatives. There's no doubt about that. Most of the people on that board are conservative. But they cared a great deal about race both within their own organization and more broadly in the society because, after all, prisons are very substantially non-white places. It would have been quite wrong to say that those white conservatives didn't care about race.
But there are others. And when I look at the sort of overarching structure of conservatism in the United States, I'm inclined to say that race is not something that people care deeply about.
LAMB: Do white liberals care about race?
LOURY: Fair question, too. OK, so everybody is using everybody. That's kind of the going-in assumption, right? People have their own agendas. Race is a factor in American public life. That one can advance one's agenda by playing the race issue this way or that is something that both liberals and conservatives are, I suppose, guilty of. But again, without getting into a stereotype, I'm inclined to say that on the whole, when I look at liberalism as a political force in American life, it has cared a great deal about trying to do the right thing on the race question. It hasn't always done the right thing, one might argue, but I say, yes, they care.
LAMB: But when you're inside these groups, I mean, did you notice the way people would deal with you on a personal basis? You know, "You're one of us." I mean, are there any -- anybody that you knew when you were in the conservative movement would be embarrassed, now that you're no longer a part, that you were there, you saw how they really operate? Was there any cynicism there?
LOURY: No, I...
LAMB: Were they using you at any point? Were you using them at any point?
LOURY: Yes, everybody's using everybody, right? And yes, they were -- some of them were using me. And I'll try to say more about what I mean by that. And yes, of course, I was using my access and my connections for my own ends. But it's complicated. Personal relations are complicated. I have very good friends from -- and still -- my years as active, you know, out-of-the-closet black conservative. I've had people, conservatives, write me saying they don't know how I can stand the racism that they see in the conservative political culture. How do I live with it? They had written me long before, you know, I broke. So there's that.
I think many of the people that I was intimate with back in those years cared genuinely about me as a human being, and not only about the fact that it was convenient to have me saying things that I was saying. But it's complicated, and the fact is, it was convenient to have me saying things that I was saying. And the deeper commitments that were motivating me turned out not to be the same as the deeper commitments, on my judgment, that I think were motivating many of the others I was dealing with.
LAMB: Well, you -- there are two black men you write about in the -- you write about one in the book, one of them is -- I've seen quoted about you -- and one's a conservative and one's a liberal, and both of them you've had a falling-out with at one or another point in your life. Orlando Patterson -- Harvard professor, black man -- was he originally from Jamaica?
LOURY: He's a Jamaican, yes.
LAMB: Jamaican. You had a -- what, a 10-year period where you didn't talk to each other.
LOURY: Yes. He said that in "The New York Times," and I didn't actually realize it until after he said it and I thought about it, that, yes, that's true. There was a long period of time when we didn't have much to say to each other.
LAMB: Is that because you were then conservative, at that point?
LOURY: I think he'd written me off. Now, I should say that he and I were not really close friends in those years, but we were colleagues and we -- and acquaintances, more than acquaintances. And there would have been every reason for us to get together for lunch or to have dinner with our respective spouse or whatever. And I think he basically came to the conclusion that I was so far out there, so, you know, arch and flaming in my politics, a politics which he disagreed with, that he didn't see much point in talking to me. I was blissfully unaware of the fact that he wasn't talking to me.
LAMB: But the other side of that's Shelby Steele, who supposedly hasn't talked to you since, what, 1995 or '96?
LAMB: Because of the -- you went the other way.
LOURY: Ninety-six. Yes, and Shelby and I were friends, and we haven't talked. We had a falling-out about Affirmative Action, and we haven't talked.
LAMB: I guess the point is if you can't talk -- I mean, if this happens to you inside your own world, what makes you or us think that we can get this problem solved?
LOURY: I don't see that...
LAMB: If there...
LAMB: If there's a falling-out over just your own views in these different communities and people won't talk to you anymore, what's going on here?
LOURY: Well, some measure of the difficulty of the problem. I don't think we have any alternative but to try to work on it. But I think that, you know, the heat of controversy can put a lot of strain on personal relations because they're issues of trust.
And I think in the case with Shelby Steele, you know, he and I thought we saw the world the same way. It turned out we saw the world quite differently. We thought we were on this side of a sharply drawn line with lots of enemies on the other side. It turned out that one of us -- me -- was straddling that line. That kind of "Aren't you with me? Whose side are you on? I thought we understood. I thought we agreed. Turns out that you don't agree." And then the matters are sometimes personal and, you know, emotional, that can put a strain on any friendship.
LAMB: How long did you stay at Harvard?
LOURY: I stayed at Harvard for nine years, from 1982 to 1991.
LAMB: What'd you do then?
LOURY: I moved to Boston University.
LOURY: Well, I've often asked myself that question, and it, of course, comes up. People want to know why someone would leave Harvard. The best answer I can give you is that I persuaded myself that I wanted to get out of the limelight and get back to doing, you know, serious scientific work as an economist, that I'd just wearied of the pressures of the public life that I was leading as a spokesperson and a, you know, pundit, and I just wanted to get out of the limelight, get to a place where my life would be quieter.
I had gone through some fairly traumatic personal experiences. I wanted a fresh start. I wanted to change my life. Here was an opportunity to change my life. As it turns out, I hadn't been at Boston University more than a couple of years before I found myself sliding back into more or less the same practice with respect to the subjects I was writing about and matters that interested me.
So it wasn't so easy, after all. And you know, as they say, geographic cures, changing one's position in space, don't always work because they don't change the more fundamental things.
But in any case, that's what I was thinking at the time. And I don't regret it. I want to say that. I've been very happy at Boston University.
LAMB: You have tenure?
LOURY: Oh, yes.
LAMB: You run something called the Institute on Race and Social Division.
LAMB: What is it?
LOURY: That is a small research institute at Boston University concerned about questions of race in the United States, but in other countries, as well, that serves as a host, a home, to scholars in a number of disciplines who come to Boston University for a year to pursue their work and to talk with each other.
LAMB: In your book, you say that the Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation and the Bradley Foundation have all contributed to the book or the background of the -- they also contribute to the -- to the Institute on Race and Social Division?
LOURY: Yes. It was grants from those foundations to the Institute that I'm referring to here when I thank them for their assistance.
LAMB: How many of those organizations would contribute to your institute if you were conservative today?
LOURY: Well, I don't want to, you know, malign the good people at those institutions who might yet continue to support me by saying that they are ideologically blinkered, but my guess is the Bradley Foundation is the only one on that list that I could reliably expect might respond favorably to a grant request from me if I were an overtly conservatively identified scholar.
LOURY: Now, this is about foundation politics and how people play that game, and I'm not an expert at it. But again, my sense from my experience over the years is that like other areas of American life, philanthropy is influenced by politics and people there have agendas. They go into that work because they have a vision that they're trying to realize. The boards of directors that oversee the grant-making have ideas about how they think America should be and about what the issues are. Those things often divide as between people to the left and to the right, and the foundation funding practices follow that division, to some degree.
LAMB: When you were involved with Shelby Steele, it was the Center for the New Black Leadership.
LOURY: There was another institution that I was involved with, right, called Center for New Black Leadership. Had nothing to do with Boston University.
LAMB: Yes, but what was that? Now, what would that do?
LOURY: Now, that was back in 1995, '96. That was not a scholarly enterprise like the institute that I direct now at Boston University, it was an advocacy and, you know, sort of public interest group. And our goal was to try to inject fresh thinking into the public debate about race questions, to bring a more center-right, if you want, political perspective to bear on talking about those questions.
LAMB: What is the basic tenet of the center-right thinkers? What do they think should be done about race?
LOURY: Actually, Shelby Steele and I had a piece in "The Wall Street Journal" published shortly after the Center for New Black Leadership that you're talking about now was founded, in which we set out our philosophy. And it was that the same structure of opportunity that has worked for new Americans over the many decades, the many generations of the development of American society can, too, work for African-Americans, that to take African-Americans seriously means to hold us to the same standards of performance and responsibility as anyone else would be held and that the fundamental barrier to full equality for African-Americans is a developmental problem. It's a problem of not having fully reached the human potential for people, and therefore focus has to be on development, as opposed to on limited opportunity, unfair treatment, and things of that kind.
LAMB: Do you still believe that?
LOURY: The answer is, only in a qualified way do I still believe it. Let me put it this way. I still believe each one of the things that I just got through saying is, to some degree, true. But those things do not for me add up to a worldview in the way in which they did before.
I think they are -- those observations that I just got through making -- that America's an open society and basically people can make it here, that blacks need to be taken seriously, which is to say expected to perform just like anybody else and that the fundamental barriers are developmental barriers to the full equality of African-Americans -- I think those things are true, as broad statements of description.
But they don't add up for me to a program, that program being "Therefore let's get rid of Affirmative Action, therefore let's stop bellyaching about racial unfairness and let's get busy, and therefore let's take note of the fact that because American society has been working well for new peoples overall, we can have every expectation that it will work in a similar fashion for those blacks who haven't made it." Those are not statements that I would -- conclusions, I should say, that I would draw today, but from the same set of facts.
LAMB: Because you talk about this in your book, I want to ask you to talk about African-American from the standpoint of a white person sitting back and looking at the National Basketball Association.
LAMB: Because you bring the whole athletic thing up.
LAMB: I mean what would you do if you're a White person sitting out looking at, you know, basketball players in the NBA, which is what? I don't know, what's the percentage?
LOURY: I don't know the percent but it's high.
LAMB: I'll just say 90 percent African-Americans.
LAMB: How would you deal with that narrow subject there if you were a White person?
LOURY: Hard to say not being a White person, but I can play along for a moment. My guess is that my view would be that well, in the NBA talent is the thing that matters. If you can make the ball go in the hoop, you get to play. Therefore, it's a meritocracy and when we look and we see that Blacks are disproportionately represented, well they're better players on the average for whatever reasons, and then we could go into what those reasons might be.
And, I suppose I would think since the goal here is to entertain fans by having the best basketball play that can be played, that's as it should be. Now, I might, if I were a little bit more sophisticated White guy observing this stuff say, well you know maybe there is a little bit of affirmative action in the NBA. Let me look carefully at players' salaries and see whether or not marginal players who ride the bench tend to be disproportionately White, et cetera, et cetera.
In other words, you could play a game and find out that a certain franchise was willing to pay a certain player, in part because the fans were brought in to watch the game because of the success of that player, and if that player is being White, a White point guard who can really play like John Stockton or a White guy who can make the moves to the bucket like Kobe Bryant or somebody like that, they do better than a Black guy with similar talent because his Whiteness is value. I mean I could go into something like that.
LAMB: Would I be stigmatizing if I said, if I saw a 6'9" or taller Black man over there, boy I bet that guy can really dunk the ball?
LOURY: That would be a stereotype. I wouldn't say you'd be engaging in a stigma.
LAMB: Not a stigma.
LOURY: That's a stereotype, yes.
LAMB: What's the difference?
LOURY: Well, a stereotype is you impute traits to somebody on the basis of how they look. Okay, so you think well he can probably play basketball because he's tall and Black. Well, you know, maybe on average, tall, Black guys can play ball, but there could be some who don't. So, that's a stereotype.
The stigma, like I said earlier, is it's a deeper skepticism about the person. It's not just imputing a trait to him. It's having doubt about really whether or not that person is honorable, whether or not they are fit for intimacy, whether they're competent in some generalized way. So, if a kid comes in dressed in a certain way and listening to hip hop music and you think well, this person is a thug. This person is dangerous. This person is criminal. That begins to be stigma.
LAMB: But you say you changed, I don't know if you say this directly, but you've changed your mind on affirmative action or you explained it differently or whatever. But I bring up the example of the NBA to ask you then, if you apply it to the general society, where is it that affirmative action should be applied and what does that mean?
LOURY: OK. Now see, I like the NBA example because it helps to show why there are venues where there's a lot at stake and then there are venues where there's not so much at stake. I mean the racial composition of professional basketball players is not a big deal. It may be a source of pride for some African-Americans and it may be that some White Americans would be happier if there were more White players in the NBA, but not a whole lot rides on it.
It's not like who's working on the human genome project. Who's working on the human genome project? It's not like who are members of the bar in Cook County, which includes Chicago? Who are the lawyers? Who can be the judges? Who goes into court?
Those are matters it seems to me for who matriculates at the University of Michigan, a state taxpayer-funded public institution of higher education? Those are venues where the absence of African-Americans let's say, the overt, visible absence of African-American participation, could be argued to injure our society, a bad thing for us, undermining the legitimacy of our institutions, interfering with the securing of genuine equality, of opportunity and participation, depriving us of the benefit of the input from the - et cetera, et cetera.
The NBA is not such a venue, so that's one aspect of my answer to you. When we talk about affirmative action broadly, we're talking about should we take special efforts to try to make sure that we have racially balanced or at least more representative outcomes in important venues of our public life?
LAMB: Who decides what venue? I mean, the NBA, let's go over here and talk about surgeons for a minute, you know. Who decides who's going to become a surgeon, or who decides who's going to become a judge or a teacher? Who makes that determination, and should there be "X" percent of people in those jobs?
LOURY: I wouldn't say there should be "X" percent and, of course, it's a complex sequence of events that results finally in somebody becoming a judge or a surgeon. With respect to affirmative action, we talk mainly about education in those areas, and so we talk mainly about who gets into medical school and who gets into law school and, of course, who decides that are the admissions decision makers for those institutions.
LAMB: Have you ever felt like you're a token?
LOURY: No, I'm not going to say - I've sort of consciously said oh, you know, I'm just a token here. I think there have been times when I wondered whether or not the kind of demonstration value of my racial presence wasn't the most important thing about me, but for that particular reason.
LAMB: When you're sitting around and talking to just say your Black friends, have you ever had this discussion about being, the whole tokenism thing of what it would feel like if somebody plucked you out only because of your skin color?
LAMB: And what's your feeling about that?
LOURY: Well, one wants not to be so treated. One wants to be taken seriously on one's merits. One wants that others will see more deeply into one's character than that one happens to be, you know, of a particular racial group. One doesn't like being treated in that way.
LAMB: So how do you avoid that with affirmative action?
LOURY: OK, now my position on affirmative action is that we ought not to bar it as a matter of principle standing on some moral high ground of color blindness. But, that there will be many instances where people might advise affirmative action that it would be unwise to undertake affirmative action in those instances.
Some of those instances are going to be instances where it's impossible to avoid tokenism if you engage in affirmative action and that's a good reason not to do it. So, for example, if someone said not enough Blacks have won the Pulitzer Prize, not enough Blacks are getting the Nobel Prize in the sciences. Why don't we do something about that?
This is a very bad idea in my view because the advocacy for affirmative action in the giving out of these honors destroys the very distinction that the honors are meant to bestow because it raises in the general population the presumption that well, if a Black wins the Nobel Prize, now it must be because of that political campaign that was going on. That would be a very bad idea. I'm sure that that example can be multiplied many times over.
On the other hand, when someone asks me what should be the composition of the police department in Los Angeles, or racial composition on New York City or something like that, ought responsible officials attend to trying to insure that there are racial representatives and perhaps even engage in affirmative action to secure that outcome? There would be many questions to be resolved, and exactly how that might be done, but tokenism is not, in my mind, a big deal with respect to civil service employment when one thinks about the history of how it is that people got those jobs over decades past.
LAMB: When did you make your, I don't know if it's a reentry or your entry in to the, I don't know even what group you would call it, the liberal Black world, I guess? You can put a label on it if you like.
LOURY: Yes, I don't know. I want to back up a bit. Yes, when I was this bad boy Black conservative at Harvard getting invited to the Reagan White House and writing these pieces in "Commentary" Magazine and elsewhere criticizing people like Jesse Jackson, I was persona non grata amongst the establishment of Black elites in the country. People would get mad when they saw me and would show it.
LAMB: What was the worst thing that ever happened?
LOURY: Oh, OK. I think actually I can answer that question. I'm at Vassar College. I'm giving a talk to students about race. The audience is divided in the way they're sitting. The Blacks are over here. The Whites are over there. I'm basically saying my line circa 1989 or whatever it is. That's more conservative than the Black students want to hear. Half of them walk out and the other half turn their backs on me. They literally turned their back.
LAMB: Got up, stood, and turned their back at you?
LOURY: Yes, they turned their backs. They were shunning me. Now that was silly on their part, and at the time, I took it almost as a badge of honor. You know, I mean look how badly these people behaved, how badly they treated me just because of my idealism. Are my ideas so terrifying as that? If they could refute my ideas, they wouldn't have to treat me that way, I would say. But as I think back on it, it just plain hurt. It just hurt.
LAMB: What did you say to them?
LOURY: I don't even remember exactly and maybe the year was '92 instead of '89, but I think some event had happened in New York City, some police-related event. Some kid had been shot under some circumstance and the banter was that this proves that there's no opportunity for Blacks in American society, that it's implacably racist, blah, blah, blah, blah.
I said, I believe, it proves no such thing. What do you mean there's no opportunity? We are the most privileged people, the richest, and confronted with the greatest opportunity of people of African descent who have ever lived. We African-Americans here in the United States right now, the world is our oyster.
I'm talking to Vassar College undergraduates. You can do anything. There's nothing you can't do. Why would you adopt the posture that because some cop shot some kid in Brooklyn somewhere that your possibilities are truncated because of your race? That's foolhardy. I said something like that.
LAMB: Go back to though the so-called reentry. I mean you know the New York Times article talks about your arriving at the Charles Hotel up in Cambridge, and meeting the Jesse Jackson group and all that stuff.
LAMB: Did you write that article?
LOURY: Yes, the article is all right. I did not much like that the author; a fine journalist named Adam Shatt (ph) concluded that my change of mind on some of these ideas, like affirmative action, had more to do with my desire to be embraced by other African-Americans than it did with my actual intellectual development. That seemed to be his conclusion. I take issue with that.
LAMB: This article is this year.
LOURY: Yes, it was in January. What the story refers to that you just mentioned is an event where Jesse Jackson comes to the Boston area to meet with some people to discuss the aftermath of September 11th and so on. I'm invited to that meeting. That's already a step forward from the old days when I wouldn't have been invited, and I get there and I'm treated very warmly by many of the people there.
Some of them, like Cornell West, or Charles Ogletree, the attorney, Harvard professors who were very prominent, Black intellectuals, and Reverend Jackson himself makes a point during his remarks of singling me out and saying, well I didn't always agree with this guy but you know he's OK. So that for the magazine writer just was too good to let go as a hook, as a story that symbolized my reacceptance among many African-Americans as a person.
LAMB: Have you been reaccepted?
LOURY: I'd say so, yes.
LAMB: And what was the moment?
LOURY: I don't want to overdo this rejection, acceptance, because it's not as if there's a committee that said well he's no good and then changed their minds, and I'm not sure that there's one moment. But I think over time, as I was writing and you know coming on television programs and stuff and people were seeing that the sort of tone of my writing had gotten, you know, more complex they would say and so on, that people started reevaluating.
LAMB: Was it, and I'm not sure you've ever acknowledged this, the dispute over Dinesh D'Souza's work at American Enterprise Institute, was that it?
LOURY: Well, that certainly helped. D'Souza -
LAMB: When did that happen?
LOURY: That happened in, let me get this right. That happened in 1996. No, that happened in 1995. That happened in the fall of 1995. The book had been published. I wrote a review for the Weekly Standard of the book that was critical and then there was a kind of firestorm and I decided, along with Robert Woodson, another African-American on the sort of right of center spectrum, to step down from the American Enterprise Institute's Board of Advisers because of my feeling that I just didn't want any longer to be associated with the institute given the kind of work that they were putting out.
LAMB: And what was so bad about it?
LOURY: Well, D'Souza who is a successful journalist, writer, and a good writer, had written a popular book about racism that I felt was so contemptuous in its language and its use of example and so on; it's characterization of African-American community life, the reasons for our marginality and so forth.
It was so disrespectful. It had an air of a smart-alecky sneer about it in my judgment as I read it, and it was so weak again in my judgment as I read it and the substantive quality of its argument so full of historical inaccuracy, of exaggeration, of sort of only kind of one-sided characterization of the story that I thought it really reflected very poorly on the American Enterprise Institute.
And I thought it actually set us back with respect to race relations because the book was relatively popular and seized upon by people as an exemplar of the - so I'll give one example. D'Souza argues in that book that well, if you're a taxi driver you wouldn't stop for these young Black men either because they're thugs.
Well, true. If you're a taxi driver and all you can see is the color of a man's skin, you're going to take note of the fact that disproportionately people who rob taxis tend to look like this and not like that. They're not old White women. They tend to be young men of color. Therefore, you might be more wary when you encounter one than the other.
But that can hardly be the end of the story. Why would I use that example as a way of, in effect, justifying racism? He says it's rational for the cab driver to avoid but that's not the end of the story and in my own book I discuss that example. I can say more about it if you like, but I simply want to say here that D'Souza's book was full of kind of half thought through argument about race.
All of it seemed at the end to come around to supporting this particular view, which is that the Blacks have done it to themselves. Let them stew in their own juices. America is a great and open society and the best way to get beyond race is to stop talking about it and I just think that was wrong.
LAMB: How would you characterize race, its relations, but the attitude of race in this society today? I mean how do you feel on a day-to-day basis?
LOURY: Well, OK. If we're talking about petty apartheid that is about the constrained imposition of racial animas as it manifests itself in daily life, it has essentially been eliminated. There are, you know, the instances that one can talk about, racial profiling, you know.
I could tell my story too driving my Acura along and being pulled over and asked to open the trunk two blocks from where I live in a nice suburban community, being embarrassed there in my own neighborhood for no good reason. Why is a police officer looking in my trunk because I didn't stop at a stop sign, that sort of thing? That happens.
It happens that I can, if I'm not dressed in a certain way, show up at an institution and be treated by the security people as if I don't have any standing to be there when someone else might have been just passed through without comment. That sort of thing happens. On the whole, however, petty apartheid is dead in American life and it has been for some time and that's a good thing too.
LAMB: This book is, as books go, 226 pages. Having read it, I would say it's an intellectual treatise. Is that fair?
LOURY: Yes, that's more than fair. Say it again.
LAMB: The reason I mention that, it's put out by Harvard Press. Who do you want to read this and what do you want it to do?
LOURY: I appreciate that question too. Yes, it's an intellectual treatise. It was derived from a series of lectures I gave at Harvard, and in the first instance, its audience is a scholarly audience. I mean the book is not inaccessible, I think, but it is intended to have an impact on the way in which sociologists, economists, political scientists, and social psychologists, think about race.
I'm putting forward a theory. I've got a framework of thought, my own sort of conceptual universe that I create there, and I hope that people will take it seriously enough to ask whether there's any value in it for the kind of work that they do.
So in the first instance, I wanted to impress my colleagues and my peers that you know I'm doing innovative and useful thinking about this question. But, I eschewed any formal, technical language. I have some tables at the back but I don't make much use of them in the text. I tried to write the thing in a way that it can be engaging to read and I hope that people interested in this question broadly will you know look at my book.
LAMB: This is not fair to you. This is Page 28 but I want to read this couple of lines because it goes to the intellectualism of it all. I'm going through this and I need you to interpret some of this.
LOURY: All right.
LAMB: I just want to give you a little slice of this. "Race conventions emerge as byproducts of happenstance of observable, morphological variability in human populations. Put differently, race matters in the equilibrium, as we economists would say, as a result of the inexorable logic of self confirming feedback loops."
LOURY: Yes, sorry.
LAMB: What does that mean?
LOURY: Here's what this means. OK. Observable, morphological variability just means that there are differences among people in the shape of the bones in their face, the color of their skin, and the texture of their hair that can be readily observed. So we have these marks on our bodies.
Now my standpoint is that the marks on the bodies are in and of themselves of no significance. They don't connote lower intelligence or greater intrinsic athletic ability or anything. Nevertheless, marks on the body, the color of the skin, the texture of the hair can have great social significance, OK. That's what I'm talking about.
When I say, we attend to, whether or not the eyes slant or are straight, whether or not the skin is pale or is brown, that we attend to that. We take note of it. When we meet a person, we don't fail to observe it. We file it away and often our actions toward people are at least some degree conditioned on those observations.
What I'm saying is race is a byproduct of the happenstance of these differences in morphology. That those differences come to have significance can be rationalized by thinking in an economist-like way as the equilibrium outcome of social interaction and that I try to explain with examples in the text. I'll give an example.
The taxi example, I mentioned this in the context of D'Souza. So I say the following thing. I say look if you're waiting for a cab and you know the cabs are unlikely to stop for people like you, then you anticipate a long wait. Now, if you're a guy who's out to rob, a long wait may not be such a big deal. You only need one cab to stop and get in your day's work.
If you're a guy who's just trying to get home from the movies, that a cab is not going to stop for you is a problem and so you don't even look to take taxis in the first place. You take the bus or you bring your own car or whatever.
Now, if most taxi drivers think that Blacks are more likely to rob them and so they won't stop for them, then most Blacks who are just trying to get home will probably not rely on taxi transportation or at least disproportionately they would be inclined to not do so; whereas most Blacks who are bent on robbery won't be so much affected by the cab driver slowdown.
The consequence is that the cab drivers not picking up Blacks creates a set of incentives which, when African-Americans react to those incentives, leads to the very circumstance that the cab drivers had feared and which justified their not picking up the Blacks.
LAMB: How often is that?
LOURY: That's the equilibrium that I'm talking about.
LAMB: How often is that cab driver Black thinking the same thing?
LOURY: One of my points is that it doesn't matter whether the cab driver is Black or White. This is rational human reflection as D'Souza said. It's rational discrimination, but the end of the story is not that the Blacks are thugs and the cab drivers are justified. The end of the story is a tragic happenstance in which the cab driver's perception that Blacks are more likely to rob causes them to behave in ways that encourages the very selective reliance on taxi transportation by African-Americans that gives credence to the cab driver's beliefs.
LAMB: I kind of asked you this earlier but I'll ask you again, how do you stop this?
LOURY: Well, in the case of taxis, if you wanted to do something about it, you would have to interfere with the decision making that individual cab driver's make by creating some kind of incentive or cost to them for avoiding one group versus the other.
For example, you pass a law fining or in other ways imposing costs on cab drivers for not stopping and then you'd enforce that law with, for example, sending out people to hail cabs and find out whether they're taking note of their numbers and so on like that.
I'm not recommending that as policy. I think that, in fact, it would be a bad idea. I think in some instances you can't stop the consequences of this kind of reasoning with any kind of sensible policy. There are other instances, however, which I think you can do a great deal.
So another example that I give is that well people think that Black neighborhoods are more likely to decline. They feel that if a few Blacks move in, the neighborhood is likely to go all Black and then it won't be so nice a place to live. So when a few Blacks start moving in, they panic and they sell and they move out. That's a self fulfilling prophecy. They think the showing up of a few Blacks signals the end of their tranquil domesticity and in their flight they produce the very circumstance that they feared.
Well, it's easy to imagine policies that might be put in place to at least inhibit that kind of process to give more people more confidence, to you know not allow that kind of self fulfilling feedback process to get going in the first place.
LAMB: You dedicate this book to Thomas C. Schelling.
LOURY: I do.
LAMB: "Mentor, colleague, and friend whose example I strive to emulate." Who is he?
LOURY: Tom Schelling is an economist. He was for many, many years a professor of economics at Harvard. He is one of the fathers of gang theory and strategic analysis in the social sciences. His book in 1960 called "The Strategy of Conflict" was a classic and had a very broad impact and is still read, and he was my colleague at Harvard when I came there in 1982 as a young professor.
He was at the Kennedy School of Government and eventually I moved over to the Kennedy School's Faculty, after a couple of years at Harvard, and his office was next to mine. We worked closely together. We taught a course at the Kennedy School during the 1980s called Public Policy in Divided Societies, which experience of teaching with him had a big impact on me. And beyond that, we became good friends and he was a sort of father figure for me in many ways. He's celebrated his 80th birthday recently.
LAMB: Are any of these folks that you've known over your life that you are not friends with now because of political views, and you want them back, who would they be? People you don't see anymore?
LOURY: Oh, there are plenty. I wouldn't want to name names. That seems, you know, unfair but there are plenty of people who I don't see because we don't travel in the same circles. It's not as if I think there's necessarily some decision to not see, but I don't think there is.
LAMB: Are you in the end an example of where if we don't agree with one another we don't socialize with them? If we don't have the same political views then we don't accept the other side. But as you've seen yourself go from side to side in this situation, does it bode well for the future? I mean you're just one person that's trying to move one segment to the other.
LOURY: As I said in response to a similar question earlier, I think this is tough stuff. I mean what we're talking about here is not just ideas. It's also people's sense of trust and security and gratification in the personal relations that they have with others who are of like mind.
And when, I'm thinking now of my friendship with Justice Clarence Thomas, whom I've known for many, many years, back to the mid-1980s, and whom I visited in his chambers and whom I've had meals with and had - I'm not just namedropping here. I'm trying to make this point. I'm making the point that I like to think that my relationship with Clarence Thomas has been based over the years on something other than or more, beyond the fact that he and I happen to agree on some things that a lot of people disagree with us about, certainly a lot of African-Americans disagree with us about.
Now my position on affirmative action has changed. I don't expect Justice Thomas' position on affirmative action to change, but I'd like to think that it would be possible, and I believe that it would be possible for us to nevertheless be friends, notwithstanding the fact that I'm not on the other side of that question.
LAMB: Is there any reason why it's not possible? Have you talked to him?
LOURY: No and that's what I was getting to. While it may be possible in principle, it hasn't been happening in fact and it hasn't happened, I think, because we don't travel in the same circles and because perhaps neither of us has made the effort in the condition of our disagreement to reach out and say you know let's have a drink anyway, what the heck.
LAMB: Our guest has been Glen C. Loury, Professor at Boston University, and the book is "The Anatomy of Racial Inequality." Thank you very much for joining us.
LOURY: Thank you for having me, Brian.
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