What is the outlook for black Americans today- is the black experience glass half full or half empty? Is racial discrimination the root of all problems in Black America? In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes the Wall Street Journal‘s Jason Riley, who argues the current situation has been distorted by activists with conflicting interests. Says Riley, “I’m not someone who believes that racism has been vanquished from America. The question is: does racism explain the outcomes we see today…?”

Now we’d like to turn the conversation over to you. After listening to the episode, consider the prompts below and share your replies. We’d love to see them here online, but we’re equally pleased if we can help you start a conversation with someone offline.



1- The conversation begins with a discussion of police violence. Riley argues that the media preoccupied with breaking down police encounters by race, but not criminality by race. Which is the bigger problem- policing or black criminality? To what extent do you agree this presents a distorted view to the public? What are some of the unintended consequences Riley says results from this media (and social media) attention?


2- Riley notes that during the period between the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement, black lives improved greatly and in a great many ways. What does he suggest we should learn from that? How does this relate to what Riley call the problem of black elites? How does Riley use the case of immigration as a comparison to black Americans today?


3. For what reasons does Riley argue that the Drug War has become a victim of revisionist history? To what extent do you agree with his statement that, “if your goal is to a). reduce mass incarceration, or b). reduce the racial disparities among our incarcerated population, among the prison population, going after the drug war is barking up the wrong tree.”


4- Riley sadly suggests he thinks racism is a part of human nature. Is that true? As he and Roberts speculate at the end of the conversation, would everything really be hunky-dory if  the US eliminated racism?


5- The episode ends with a brief discussion of Riley’s new biography of Thomas Sowell. What do Riley and Roberts see as Sowell’s legacy?