You can think of Glenn C. Loury (accurately) as one of the new breed of "black conservatives" -- out of step with the mainstream black leadership and insufficiently critical of the Reagan administration -- and dismiss him out of hand.
Or you can listen to this Harvard professor of political economy, judging his analysis of the problems confronting the black "underclass" and his prescriptions for change by the yardstick of common sense.
Perhaps because his views, in the current issue of The Public Interest, sound so much like what I have been trying to say, I prefer to listen to him when he says that much of the cure for what ails black America must be provided by black America itself.
He begins with a statement of the opposite point of view: that the problems that beset the black underclass, including family instability and crime, "are themselves manifestations of oppression -- the historical and ongoing racism of the 'enemy without' -- and that to focus on self-help strategies aimed at the behavior of blacks is to treat the symptoms of oppression, not its causes.
"If jobs were provided for those seeking work (still making the counter-argument), and if a commitment to civil rights could be restored at top levels of government, these internal problems would surely take care of themselves."
But: "I believe this argument to be seriously mistaken, and under certain circumstances possibly quite dangerous, for it invariably ends by placing the responsibility for the maintenance of personal values and social norms among poor blacks on the shoulders of those who do not have an abiding interest in such matters."
Loury is trying, in short, to distinguish between "fault" (the link between racism and the pathology of the ghetto) and "responsibility" (the question of who must take the lead in resolving the problems).
It may be fair to assign the fault to racist whites, he argues, but the responsibility rests on blacks, because "no people can be genuinely free so long as they look to others for their deliverance."
To some degree, Loury is pummeling a horse that is, if not dead, at least on its death bed. Most of the black leadership has begun to accept the notion that the next steps in the march toward equality must be choreographed and directed by blacks themselves. The question is not so much who should do it as what to do. Loury offers a suggestion:
"The next frontier for the (civil rights) movement should be a concerted effort to grapple directly with the difficult, internal problems which lower-class blacks now face. . . . To the extent that we can foster institutions within the black community that encourage responsible male involvement in parenting, help prevent unplanned pregnancies and support young unwed mothers in their efforts to return to school and become self- supporting, important changes in the lives of the most vulnerable segment of the black population can be made."
Loury is talking, quite unabashedly, about the necessity of changing the behavior of the black underclass -- something the black leadership (until quite recently) has been reluctant to discuss for fear of lending support to the claim of bigots that blacks are somehow unworthy and inferior.
But, says Loury, it is beyond debate that the "values, social norms and personal behaviors often observed among the poorest members of the black community are quite distinct from those characteristic of the black middle class." This "growing divergence," if unaddressed, will make it virtually impossible for the poorest of blacks to improve their circumstances -- even "with the return of economic prosperity, with the election of a liberal Democrat to the presidency, or with the doubling in size of the Congressional Black Caucus."
The fundamental requirement for change, says Loury, is a revitalized and intensified moral leadership. And that is something that only blacks themselves can provide.