Book Review: Black Rednecks and White Liberals
Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Thomas Sowell, one of America's foremost black conservative intellectuals and Hoover Institute Fellow, has given us a collection of contrarian essays, first published in 2005, arguing that the “internal” cultural habits of industriousness, thriftiness, family solidarity and reverence for education often play a greater role in the success of ethnic minorities than do civil-rights laws or majority prejudices.
Most people tend to think of the history of Black people as the history of White peoples treatment of Black people but this type of misconception concerning the history of an entire group of people often cuts them off from the truth about some of the internal causes of their own problems, making a solution for what ails them that much more remote.
The title essay posits a "Black Redneck" culture inherited from the White redneck culture of the South and characterized by violent machismo, shiftlessness and disdain for schooling. Sowell points out that much of what passes for Black identity today is a modern version of the self-defeating culture slaves inherited from poor redneck Whites who came from the poor sections of Britain and settled in southern states. Many aspects of Southern life that some observers have attributed to race or racism, or to slavery, were common to Southern Blacks and Whites alike — and were common in those parts of Britain from which Southern Whites came, where there were no slaves and where most people had never seen anyone Black. White liberals, gangsta-rap aficionados and others who lionize its ghetto remnants as an authentic Black identity, Sowell contends, have their history wrong and help perpetuate cultural pathologies that only serve to hold Blacks back.
The author also defends Western culture itself against charges that it was uniquely culpable for slavery; in fact, he contends, Western culture was uniquely responsible for eradicating slavery and these vigorously argued essays present a stimulating challenge to the conventional wisdom espoused today in many universities across America and especially in today’s polarizing media landscape.
Some of the supporting research that Sowell draws from is a study that indicated that most of the Black alumni of Harvard were from either the West Indies or Africa or were the children of West Indian or African immigrants. "These people are the same race as American Blacks, which greatly outnumber either or both. If this disparity is not due to race, it is equally hard to explain by racism. To a racist, one Black is pretty much the same as another. But, even if a racist somehow let his racism stop at the water's edge, how could he tell which student was the son or daughter or someone born in the West Indies or in Africa, especially since their American-born off-spring probably do not even have a foreign accent? What then could explain such large disparities in demographic "representation" among these three groups? Perhaps they have different patterns of behavior and different cultures and values behind their behavior. Slavery also cannot explain the difference between American Blacks and West Indian Blacks living in the United States, because the ancestors of both were enslaved. When race, racism and slavery all fail the empirical test, what is left?" Sowell's answer is culture.
Poor White communities are often blamed for whatever troubles them, but the poor Black communities are all too often told it’s not their fault for whatever troubles them.
As Eric Hoffer put it: “There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.”
Christopher DeGroot, writing in Taki magazine, had this to say about leftist ideology, “What leftists—and people shaped by leftists—generally don’t understand is that life is hard for most people, and always has been. They act as if the whole material edifice of civilization just naturally exists. They don’t think of poverty (i.e., an absence) as a natural fact (as absence is everywhere in nature) and with this point of view it’s only a step to the belief that other people are to blame for what you don’t have. And indeed, the sufferer wants to believe this, for it not only gives him someone to punish, it absolves him from facing up to his own failure. Since the former is enjoyable, and the latter is painful, on such occasions the will to delusion is quite strong.” Adding, “It is tragic to see how easily and frequently the young are now warped by such bad ideas, their natural good impulses applied to pernicious ends. Case in point: 17-year-old David Hogg. About mass shootings recently said: “There is a lot of racial disparity in the way that this is covered. If this happened in a place of a lower socio-economic status or a place like a black community, no matter how well those people spoke, I don’t think the media would cover it the same…. We have to use our white privilege now to make sure that all of the voices—all of the people that have died as a result of this and haven’t been covered the same—can now be heard. It’s sad, but it’s true.”
A sincere and well-meaning young man, to be sure. And yet, look at what the media has done to his mind. Black men are killing themselves (and others) every day on the streets of America’s inner cities. From Baltimore to L.A., “the black community” is singularly violent. Still, to expect Blacks to be accountable, just as Whites are supposed to be, is unacceptable in polite (read: cowardly) society. Between Black resentment on the one hand and decadent White guilt on the other, such social justice is far out of reach.”
The very word “racism” has even been redefined to exclude groups without “power,” even though power had never been a prerequisite for defining racism before. By this logic however the Ku Klux Klan today can not be called racist because they have lost most of the power they once had.
The final essay in this collection, “History Versus Visions,” is a takedown of multiculturalism. Sowell says, “Few things attract less attention than the achievements of the West.” He continues, ‘‘Multiculturalism’ has not meant warts-and-all portraits of different societies around the world. For many, it has meant virtually a warts-only portrait of the West and a no-warts portrait of non-Western peoples.”
This book should be required reading at every educational institution in America, as most Americans today seem to have largely, and to an even greater extent willfully, forgotten that history is always going to be infinitely more complex and infinitely more nuanced than some bumper sticker slogan could ever capture.