Earlier today, we had as one of our “picks” at the top of the homepage an article called “Race and Equality.” This is an interview with Glenn Loury conducted by one of his former students, Glenn Yu.
We have new picks up now, but I wanted to capture this interview (or conversation) permanently on Power Line.
Loury is an economist who teaches at Brown. He made news recently by objecting to a letter from Brown’s president to the “Brown community.” The letter, co-signed by many of Brown’s senior administrators and deans, was a political document — a manifesto — that, as Loury says, “trafficked in the social-justice warriors’ pedantic language and sophomoric nostrums” and “invoked ‘race’ gratuitously.”
Loury, who is African-American, found the letter disturbing. He explained why in an article for City Journal, and he does so again in the interview with Yu.
In that interview, Loury also takes on the concept (or non-concept) of “structural racism.” Here is what he said about that subject:
People cry, “structural racism.” Is that why the homicide rate is an order of magnitude higher among young black men? They say structural racism. Is that why the SAT test-score gap is as big as it is? They say structural racism. Is that why two in three black American kids are born to women without a husband? Is it all about structural racism? Is everything structural racism? It has become a tautology explaining everything. All racial disparities are due to structural racism, evidently. Covid-19 comes along and there’s a disparity in the health incidence. It’s due to structural racism.
They’re naming partners at a New York City law firm and there are few black faces. Structural racism. They’re admitting people to specialized exam schools in New York City and the Asians do better. This has to be structural racism, with a twist—the twist being that this time, the structural racism somehow comes out favoring the Asians.
This is not social science. This is propaganda. It’s religion. People are trying to win arguments by using words as if they were weapons.
They point to history. But the history is complicated. Yes, there was slavery. Yes, there was segregation. Yes, there was redlining. There were other things, too. A lot has happened in American history. Is the relatively marginal position of African-Americans taken within American political economy a causal result of Jim Crow segregation? Nobody knows the answer to that question. I’m not saying that you won’t find many patterns or practices of racial mistreatment in history, but I’m saying that the link between them and the contemporary circumstances of African-American communities, especially at the bottom end, is woefully inadequate to explain what we see.
And just so I don’t sound like a right-winger, observe that if I were a Marxist, I’d be furious at these people going around talking about “structural racism.” Structure, yes. Racism, no. Because if I were a Marxist, which I’m not, I’d understand the driving force of history to be the interaction between class relations and the means of production, the struggle between workers and capital in the quest for profit given the logic of capitalism. Though I don’t subscribe to it, that’s at least an intellectually serious theory. I know what people are talking about when they say we need more unions, when they say we need to break up big companies, when they say that the accumulation of wealth has gotten too great. When someone says that the logic of profit-seeking leads to war, at least I know what they’re talking about. I don’t necessarily have to agree with Das Kapital to understand that it’s a serious engagement with history.
Structural racism, by contrast, is a bluff. It’s not an engagement with history. It’s a bullying tactic. In effect, it’s telling you to shut up.
Take structural racism’s narrative of incarceration. It’s supposed to be self-evident that if there’s a racial disparity in the incidence of punishment from law-breaking, then the law is illegitimate. Well, an alternative hypothesis is that, for reasons that we could perhaps spend lots of time pursuing, behaviors are different. Behaviors that bear on lawbreaking are different between races, on average. Violence is one behavior, but it’s not the only one I’m talking about. People have tried to do these studies. They’ve examined whether policing practices can accommodate disparity in arrest rates. They’ve examined whether court dispositions are somehow structurally biased, finding blacks guilty when whites would have been found innocent; whether judges systematically pronounce longer sentences for blacks than for whites. The net finding was no.
There’s much more to the interview. The whole thing is worth reading.