Glazer and Sleeper grapple with issues of race, culture

Harvard sociology professor Nathan Glazer and Yale’s Jim Sleeper, a political scientist, both drew on their experiences growing up in urban New York when they tackled the issue of race in the United States at a panel held in Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Monday night.

Addressing an audience of about 50, Glazer and Sleeper each spoke on the challenges that black males have continued to face since the 1960s. The informal debate was moderated by African-American studies and history professor Jonathan Holloway.

Glazer began by discussing two approaches to combating racism — “hard” solutions feature structural change, while “soft” solutions involve the promotion of therapy and behavior change — and advocated for the latter type of solution. He framed his presentation around a landmark 1965 report by former U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the root causes of socioeconomic inequality between different races. The report concentrated on the breakdown of the family unit in black America, a situation that resulted in an increasing number of children being raised by single mothers. Glazer said he thinks changing the national culture is necessary, though it presents a formidable task.

“The structural arguments … have lost conviction,” he said. “We do have to address the cultural issue, though we don’t have a very clear map to do it.”

Sleeper, who spoke second, said he thinks America is approaching the continuing problem of racism incorrectly by ignoring the underlying inability of the nation to accommodate a greater influx of blacks into higher occupational levels. Sleeper took a stance against what he called the method of “racial preferences and color-coding” that he said ignores these deeper causes.

“The real cause is not just black culture,” Sleeper said. “It’s our general inability to focus on the real cause. … The problem is the dissolution of a common civic-republican bond.”

Ishaan Tharoor ’06, the founder and editor-in-chief of The Hippolytic, which co-sponsored the event along with Yale College’s Program in Ethics, Politics and Economics, said he was pleased with the turnout and the manner in which the speakers approached the topic.

“Obviously, it’s a hugely broad topic,” he said. “Although both the speakers have immense experience grappling with the question of race, no one will be really satisfied with their answers.”

Other students agreed that the large issue of race was a difficult one for the speakers to tackle.

“One of my criticisms is that the debate was couched continuously in terms of culture versus structure,” Marcus Leonard ’07 said. “I felt that they were simply regurgitating arguments without resolution.”

Matt Traldi ’06 said that although he enjoyed the discussion, he was disappointed by the audience’s reaction.

“I thought it was a good event to have, if only because it underlined really problematic issues of limited vision and the academy of race,” he said. “The mostly white audience asked questions I didn’t think dealt too effectively with the issue of race.”

Glazer, a co-editor of the national political and cultural journal The Public Interest, is well-known for his work on race, immigration, urban development and social policy in the United States. He has also served on presidential task forces on education and urban policy, as well as the National Academy of Science’s committees on urban policy and minority issues. Some of his more influential books include “We Are All Multiculturalists Now” and “Beyond the Melting Pot.”

Sleeper, who has taught courses at Yale on the intersection of journalism and liberalism as well as on conceptions of American identity, also writes for various journals, including the New York Daily News and American Prospect. He is the author of “The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York” and “Liberal Racism.”

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