Saturday, October 13, 2007

Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual: "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" by Thomas Sowell, Part I.

I have had my eye on this book for four or five years. The title in combination with my knowledge of the author, noted conservative African American Professor, Thomas Sowell, intrigued me. Buying a copy in July, and reading it only on Friday evenings, it took me longer to complete than anticipated. I must confess that the book's title made me a bit apprehensive as far as blogging is concerned. I was, and am, a little anxious that those who have no knowledge of Thomas Sowell would be offended because of the title. Yet I think it worth the risk. Sowell's views of history and race relations are totally different from the liberal establishment. Giving these views as wide as possible circulation could foster a new climate that could demolish current assumptions and policies that keep the poor in poverty.

The first chapter, also entitled "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," attempts to explain the roots of all the problems currently plaguing African American society: poverty, high crime rates, high illegitimacy rates, disappointingly low academic achievement. Conventional wisdom, perpetuated by the liberal establishment, places the blame squarely on white racism. Liberals claim that the black community has yet to recover from the effects of slavery. Slavery destroyed the black family, and continued white racism has prevented blacks from the same level of educational and vocational achievement as whites. This same racism has sparked justifiable outrage in the black community, resulting in violent behavior. While Sowell does not dismiss the factor of racism or the historical experience of slavery, he places the blame for these maladies elsewhere.

Sowell places the blame for the social problems currently being experienced by African Americans not on slavery, but on the exposure of Africans to a white, Southern redneck culture. This culture originated in the backward regions of England, Scotland and Ireland, and was transported through immigration to this continent. The habits of this transplanted culture discouraged work and individual effort and devalued education, resulting in a high poverty rate and the lack of a skilled labor force. Violence was not only common among these immigrants, but celebrated. Not to engage one's enemies in mortal combat marked one as a coward (which is today reflected in the behavior code of gangs: if you or your gang is "dissed", the offender must be punished). Lax sexual standards produced a high rate of illegitimacy among these white immigrants from British lands. It was exposure this culture that sowed the seeds of the current plight of American blacks, Sowell argues. And it is the liberal establishment, he charges, that won't let these negative cultural influences die. The perpetuation of this redneck culture, in such forms as Hip Hop, is continuing to hold back African Americans from the same level of educational and economic achievement as their white counterparts.

Those who hail from the South and Appalachia (like myself) may at first be offended by what appears to be an unfair stereotype of Southerners and Appalachians perpetuated by Sowell. Yet he makes a solid historical case that this indeed was the cultural climate of the South during its formative period. (I will examine his historical evidence in the next post on this book.) My own study of the South and Appalachia, which consisted of reading books by Southern and Appalachian historians, which was conducted at West Virginia University, under the direction of a professor from Kentucky, only confirms the truth of the portrait painted by Sowell.

Yet I must disagree with Sowell's argument. To me, it is inconsistent. He is right in his denial that the roots of black America's current problems originated with slavery. He does not diminish the evil slavery was, nor does he ignore the effects it had on later generations. Sowell presents credible evidence that blacks for the most part had overcome the effects of slavery prior to the 1960's. Since we cannot blame slavery, that died out as an institution one hundred forty years ago, it is then illogical to blame a culture that existed long before American slavery developed and has since mostly died out. I place the blame not where the liberal (mostly white) establishment tells me to, but I blame the liberal establishment itself for much of the problems faced by black Americans.

Still, so much of what Sowell presents is worth looking into that it makes reading this chapter worth your while. ( )In the next post on this book, I will examine Sowell's evidence for the truth of his portrait of the South and how after slavery the former slaves overcame the effects of bondage. This will be enough to make white liberals and modern day Confederates howl. After the howling is done, hopefully enlightenment will set in.

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