ON the street Glenn C. Loury appears to be just another middle-class black man, moving up the economic ladder, definitely a beneficiary of the civil rights movement, a product of the Martin Luther King era of demonstrations, sit-ins, and marches. But to a growing number of critics, he is an ingrate who dares write or speak about a crisis in moral leadership in the black community, a lack of fresh ideas from black leaders, and racism in American society.
``It's about time that black leaders change their direction in the fight against racism, discrimination, and lack of progress for black people in America,'' says Dr. Loury, a professor of economics at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. ``It's time that they reshape their concept of black power. It's time to take a long, lingering, pensive look at black moral values.''
Loury, who is spending the current school year at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University, is not a civil rights activist. But he is becoming a familiar participant in college workshops, on television panels, and on the banquet and lecture circuits. He offers an alternative view, a message often offensive to civil rights advocates.
Professor Loury summarizes his formula for achievement of first-class citizenship:
``It's about time we stop talking about white racism, the enemy without, and start taking action against black apathy, the enemy within. We talk about economic independence, but we produce no products, create no jobs. We talk about quality education, but we don't learn to read, to write, to speak good English, to guide our own youth. We rumble and mumble about the quality of life, the prevalence of crime and drugs in our neighborhoods, but we do nothing about discipline of black youths, the reduction of the number of black babies born to teen-age mothers.''
As a conservative black voice emerging from academic America, he delivers a basic message to listeners whether at a National Urban League convention, a Harvard public forum, a scholarly seminar, a college public lecture, or on a television program. His message is:
American blacks face a crisis in moral leadership.
Black leaders offer retreads rather than fresh ideas to move their followers into the promised land of equity with whites.
Racism is the underlying problem in American society.
Although the United States is making great strides in economic progress, black people are not part of the success parade.
Too many blacks have become ``gimme'' people, too willing to accept welfare, affirmative action, and government assistance, and the rewards from white people's guilt.
Loury knows the streets of black America. He grew up in Chicago's sprawling South Side ghetto. He is a product of that city's public schools.
``I consider myself a partisan in behalf of the inner-city poor, a black American dedicated and deeply concerned about solutions to problems faced by poor blacks,'' he says. ``I'm less concerned about the future of the affluent black. And why not? This successful black has weapons to deal with racism -- college degrees, credentials, healthy income,'' he says.
Lack is the story of the other black -- the poor, the welfare recipient, the teen-age dropout, the under-age mother, he says. ``These blacks haven't the artillery to meet the issues they face,'' he adds. ``I feel concerned about this -- and them.''
How does Loury propose to help these have-nots?
Not by lobbying for affirmative action, for housing subsidies, for handouts, he says. Not by joining demonstrations in the street, not by pitting ``us blacks against them racists,'' or by extremism to the right or to the left, he adds.
Nor does Loury suggest making President Reagan ``a whipping boy'' by labeling him a racist or by denouncing his civil rights policies.
He promises answers in a forthcoming book, tentatively titled ``Free at Last?'' It will not be a dissertation for scholars, Loury says, then adds: ``Black and whites alike will be able to pick up this book and understand that racism is the fundamental issue of American life.''
Loury defines freedom for blacks by answering the question: ``Are you a black first or an American first?''
``We're Americans with no place to go,'' he responds. ``Africa's a vast continent. We may have had ancestors over there, but them I can't identify. The USA is our home. We blacks are more indigenous to this land than anyone except the native American Indian. We have our rights as first-class American citizens.''
People misunderstand him, he says. ``I'm not against our civil rights leaders, but I do think it's time that they leave the 19th century of abolition and civil war and move into the 21st century of high technology.''
He is displeased at what he sees black people becoming. ``We send out messages, not positive or redeeming,'' he says. ``We cry the blues about some mystic institutional racism, yet we say nothing about crime and drugs destroying the black community. We ignore black-family dissolution, sex and drugs, and babies and abandonment. Our heroes are athletes and entertainers, but we rarely honor the student scholar, the young achiever in science and physics.''
Loury notes signs of life among some black leaders. He describes what blacks should seek in several arenas:
Civil rights. A shift in strategy is due. Julius L. Chambers is leading the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in the right direction as he shifts the group's focus from desegregation by the numbers to quality education, full preparation for self-support after school.
Public safety. Crime rules street life in big-city ghettos. ``We must take a stand. We must look into sex, drugs, muggings, break-ins that disrupt our communities. We must support law enforcement against crime.''
Economics. ``I hate to be negative, but I must debunk panaceas. Minister Louis Farrakhan (Black Muslims) is correct to challenge idle young black men. . . . Then he offers a panacea of factories and selling products to blacks. There is no quick fix.''
Blacks must deal with productivity. ``And the tragedy is that our youth are not prepared to deal with productivity. They are not punctual; they are not prepared to work. We must deal with this.''
A youth opportunity wage, below the minimum wage, can open summer and after-school jobs to black youth. ``We should try this although unions oppose the idea.''
Black power. Blacks have power in the nation's cities. ``Our job is to make the city work with a black mayor or otherwise. We have the emotional power to hold positions we've never held before. We must recognize there's as much apartheid in South Carolina as there is in South Africa. Civil rights is more than removing obstacles to black achievement. Equality is the winning of respect on the basis of accomplishments. We can do much in our cities.''
Black problems cannot be solved by laying them at the feet of white people, Loury says. ``I regret the way many blacks look at me,'' he says, ``but I hope to change all that. But really, all black people don't think the same. Black people are a diverse people with a variety of abilities. I say we can do much for ourselves.''