From City Journal we have a short piece (an edited version of a talk) by Brown economist Glenn Loury, who is of course African-American. Here he makes the case that although the Woke and extreme Left often seem to vilify America, black Americans should recognize not only the progress they’ve made, but also join in with all Americans in helping improve the country, which he sees as a beacon of liberty. I guess this is all done in the cause of comity and racial harmony, though I suspect that people like Ibram Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates would disagree. (Nobody, least of all me, thinks we’re perfect, or the best country in the world!)
Click on the screenshot to read.
Three excerpts and one comment:
There is a fashionable standoffishness characteristic of much elite thinking about blacks’ relationship to America—as exemplified, for instance, by the New York Times’s 1619 Project. Does this posture serve the interests, rightly understood, of black Americans? I think that it does not.
Indeed, a case can be made that the correct narrative to adopt today is one of unabashed black patriotism—a forthright embrace of American nationalism by black people. Black Americans’ birthright citizenship in what is arguably history’s greatest republic is an inheritance of immense value. My answer for black Americans to Frederick Douglass’s famous question—“Whose Fourth of July?”—is, “Ours!”
Is this a venal, immoral, and rapacious bandit-society of plundering white supremacists, founded in genocide and slavery and propelled by capitalist greed, or a good country that affords boundless opportunity to all fortunate enough to enjoy the privileges and bear the responsibilities of citizenship? Of course, there is some warrant in the historical record for both sentiments, but the weight of the evidence overwhelmingly favors the latter. The founding of the United States of America was a world-historic event by means of which Enlightenment ideals about the rights of individual persons and the legitimacy of state power were instantiated for the first time in real institutions.
African slavery flourished at the time of the Founding, true enough. And yet, within a century of the Founding, slavery was gone and people who had been chattel became citizens of the United States of America. Not equal citizens, not at first. That took another century. But African-descended Americans became, in the fullness of time, equal citizens of this republic.
After listing some of the successes of black Americans, Loury issues his call to action—or at least a call to civil debate:
The central issue, then, is a question of narrative. Are we going to look through the dark lens of the U.S. as a racist, genocidal, white supremacist, illegitimate force? Or are we going to see it for what it has become over the course of the last three centuries: the greatest force for human liberty on the planet? This conflict of narratives is worth arguing about—with Ta-Nehisi Coates; with Colin Kaepernick; with the Black Lives Matter activists; with the officials who will exercise power in the Biden administration; and with the editorial staff of the New York Times. The narrative we blacks settle upon about the American project is fundamentally important to our nation’s future.
This is a debate that I’m not sure I can adjudicate as I’m neither black nor a historian. But I will point out one odd thing that Loury says, which I’ve put in bold.
In the last 75 years, a vast black middle class has developed. There are black billionaires. The influence of black people on the culture of America is stunning and has global resonance. Some 40 million strong, black Americans are the richest and most powerful population of African descent on the planet. There are 200 million Nigerians, and the gross national product of Nigeria is just about $1 trillion per year. America’s GNP is over $20 trillion a year, and we 40 million African-Americans have claim to roughly 10 percent of it. We have access to ten times the income of a typical Nigerian. What is more, the very fact that the cultural barons and elites of America—who run the New York Times and the Washington Post, who give out Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards, who make the grants at the MacArthur Foundation and run the human resources departments of corporate America—have bought in to the new woke racial sensibility hook, line, and sinker gives the lie to the pessimism that the American dream doesn’t apply to blacks. It most certainly and emphatically does apply, and it is coming to fruition daily.
It seems strange that Loury touts the ubiquity of the “woke racial sensibility” as a sign of progress for blacks when he intensely dislikes the woke racial sensibility. Yes, I can see the point that wokeness affecting the Powers that Be might be a sign that those Powers don’t intend to impede the African-American route to equality. But Loury also thinks (or so I suspect) that the woke sensibility isn’t only impotent at helping blacks, but actually impedes their progress. That’s because, if I read the man right, he thinks Wokeness is not only largely performative, and doesn’t really help people fulfill the American dream, but is also divisive and patronizng, and in that way makes the American dream recede. After all, wasn’t it Loury who fuliminated against watering down mathematics so it would be less “white” (i.e., less rigorous)? If competency in math is part of the American Dream, as it was for Loury, then wokeness isn’t doing jack for it.
Read the bit in bold as you will.