Boston Review turns forty this year. In a world filled with endless temptations to produce bullshit, we take pride in having resisted those temptations. We are not in the business of making money. Independent and not for profit, we are in the business of fostering serious discussion of important public issues. That is the kind of discussion that democracy depends on. We do it on the pages of the magazine, on the Web (since 1995), through social media, in books, and in public events.
Our mission is crystallized in our signature feature, a forum that models democratic deliberation. In this issue the forum focuses on the killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests about racial injustice in Ferguson and around the country. Glenn Loury (Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University) leads the debate. Loury appreciates how tragedies such as this can galvanize activism. But he fears that focusing on instances of police violence against black men straitjackets the pursuit of equality to the facts of particular cases, generates politically toxic resentment of police, obscures the realities of violence within African American communities, and distracts from persistent, structural problems of poverty and racial inequality. Indeed Loury—a fierce critic of the American system of mass incarceration—doesn’t find Michael Brown’s shooting worthy of the media attention it received.
Responses to Loury take him to task for not considering seriously enough the deep history and pervasive pattern of police violence against people of color, or the function of police violence in sustaining racial subordination. Some respondents think he is too worried about public order rather than the safety of residents in poor communities. But all agree that the injustices are innumerable, that the fight for racial justice is long, and that the strategies for pursuing it need to be different from those that prevailed during the Civil Rights Movement, when legal inclusion was the goal.
As Loury argues, “There are no shortcuts” when it comes to building a more just society. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka shares that insight, as Amy Dean explains in her profile of the charismatic labor leader. Trumka has a novel approach to reviving American unions, which questions received wisdom about what unions are, what they do, and what role they play in that larger project of justice.
Boston Review is a magazine of ideas, and elsewhere in the issue you will find illuminating exploration of important ones. Steven Shapin considers whether scientific inquiry, with its commitment to the truth, is especially virtuous; Samuel Moyn dissects the idea that liberalism originates in Christianity; and Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig argues that feminists championing affirmative consent legislation have not fully understood the implications of such rules for how we think about sex and intimacy.
Big ideas, seriously examined. That is what we do. Help us celebrate our fortieth anniversary by reading Boston Review, getting it to your friends and colleagues, and supporting our independence as a magazine of ideas.