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Redneck Blacks and White Liberals – Review

Thomas Sowell

Reviewed by:
On November 8, 2018
Last modified:November 8, 2018


It is not true that “no one can speak honestly about race.” Thomas Sowell does that and more in this book of essays. “Facts matter,” he writes in the Preface, especially when they challenge widely held beliefs based on false premises.

Thomas Sowell is an honest and courageous man who, this reviewer suspects, enjoys violating political correctness. His vita says he is an economist, but that is incomplete. Readers of his books may know him, at a minimum, as an historian, philosopher, and social theorist. Those familiar with his interviews would add humorist.

Black Rednecks and White LiberalsBlack Rednecks and White Liberals

By Thomas Sowell 

It is not true that “no one can speak honestly about race.” Thomas Sowell does that and more in this book of essays. “Facts matter,” he writes in the Preface, especially when they challenge widely held beliefs based on false premises. In his 1987 book, A Conflict of Visions Sowell explained:

When there is a conflict of visions, those most powerfully affected by a particular vision may be the least aware of its underlying assumptions—or the least interested in stopping to examine such theoretical questions when there are urgent “practical’ issues to be confronted, crusades to launch, or values to be defended at all costs.

He expands on that theme in Black Rednecks and White Liberals.

…(W)hen visions and agendas suppress history, that not only distorts the achievements of groups, nations, or civilizations, it forfeits valuable knowledge as to the things that have led to past progress and can lead to progress for others who are still lagging today. In short, it sacrifices the material interests of millions for the ideological or other parochial interests of a few.   

This book is about correcting the record. Blacks inherited the cultural patterns of Southern rednecks as opposed to African cultures with which they had lost contact. (Even in colonial times, most blacks on American soil were born on American soil.)

These cultural traits followed blacks out of the Southern countrysides and into the urban ghettos—North and South—where many settled. The very way of talking, later to be christened “black English,” closely followed dialects brought over from those parts of Britain from which many white Southerners came, though these speech patterns died out in Britain while surviving in the American South.

Gunnar Myrdal1.pointed out that “the so-called ‘Negro dialect’ is simply a variation on the ordinary Southern accent. Lacking the advantages of modern transportation and communication, such regional differences persisted.

We do not live in the past, but the past in us. *

Appalachian Region Settlement…Most of the common white people of the South came from the northern borderlands of England—for centuries a no-man’s land between Scotland and England—as well as from the Scottish highlands and from Ulster County, Ireland. All these fringe areas were turbulent, if not lawless, regions… Whether called a “Celtic fringe” or “north Britons,” these were people from outside the cultural heartland of England, as their behavior on both sides of the Atlantic showed….

…The cultural values and social patterns prevalent among Southern whites included an aversion to work, proneness to violence, neglect of education, sexual promiscuity, improvidence, drunkenness, lack of entrepreneurship, reckless searches for excitement, lively music and dance and a style of religious oratory marked by strident rhetoric, unbridled emotions, and flamboyant imagery…

They were not confined to the South. Emigrants from the borderlands, Ulster, and the Scottish highlands who settled in northern enclaves of colonial America displayed the same characteristics.

The speech patterns died out in among middle-class blacks, (for reasons Sowell explains) while surviving in the poorer black ghettos after the Civil War. These characteristics have been attributed to the influence of slavery while the cultural influence of white Southerners and their forebears in Britain are ignored. He points out:

“…Black soldiers from some Northern states scored higher on mental tests than whites from some Southern states during the First World War. From that same era, European immigrants from cultures where education was not a high priority for ordinary people—parts of Eastern and Southern Europe, for example—scored no higher on mental tests than American blacks and, in some communities, their children scored lower than Northern black children attending the same schools.

Sowell traces the history of Asians, British West Indians and others who overcame poverty and achieved prosperity. He examines the cultural achievements of “middleman minorities,” such as Jews and expatriate Chinese. These middlemen were frequently persecuted out of resentment and envy. Yet, because of their skills, they were essential to communities’ economic health. His point is that 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.

Blaming economic and academic inequality on slavery justifies exactly the wrong social policies in the name of social injustice. Sowell makes a distinction between, what he calls, social injustice and cosmic injustice. The former occurs when inequality of outcome is the result of the actions of an outside group. Cosmic injustice occurs when geographic isolation and other circumstances beyond human volition negatively impact the cultural progress of a people. He provides the example of delayed acquisition of literacy due to geographical barriers, wars or migration patterns, which cannot rationally be called unfair.

Assigning inequality to the moral evil of slavery is an evil in itself because it takes attention from the cultural attitudes that produce success and help perpetuate cultural pathologies that hold blacks back.

Sowell points out that neglect of and disdain for education among antebellum white Southerners is echoed not only in low academic performance among ghetto blacks, but perhaps most dramatically, in a hostility toward conscientious black students who are accused of “acting white.”

Statistical data show that black students typically perform below the level of white students with the same mental test scores; in contrast, Asian American students perform better than white students with the same test scores as themselves.

In short, even though black students average lower test scores than either white or Asian American students, those test scores are not necessarily the sole, nor perhaps even the predominant, reason for lower black academic achievement. Indeed, it is possible that the lower test scores may be a result of cultural attitudes—and of actions or inactions over a period of years, based on those attitudes—more so than a cause of academic failures.

A study of West Indian blacks in the United States found that “Negro immigrants, particularly the British West Indians, bring a zest of learning that is not typical of the native-born population.” …This finding is supported by the 1970 census, which showed that “black West Indian families in the New York metropolitan area had 28 percent higher incomes than the families of American blacks. The incomes of second-generation West Indian families living in the same area exceeded that of black families by 58 percent.“ Neither race, racism nor slavery can explain these differences. Both native-born blacks and West Indian blacks have a history of slavery. Studies published in 2004 indicate that an absolute majority of the black alumni of Harvard were either West Indian or African immigrants, or the children of these immigrants.

However much the achievements of these individuals have been celebrated, the culture behind those achievements has been ignored. The culture celebrated in much of the media and in schools is not the culture that succeeded, but the culture that failed—the black redneck culture. Cultural differences led to striking socioeconomic differences among both blacks, and whites. Those who lived within the redneck culture lagged far behind those who did not. 

The general orientation of white liberals has been one of “What can we do for them?” What blacks can do for themselves has not only been of lesser interest, much of what blacks have …already done for themselves has been overshadowed by liberal attempts to get them special dispensations—whether affirmative action, reparations for slavery, or other race-based benefits—even when the net effect of these dispensations has been much less than the effects of blacks’ own self-advancement. For example, although the greatest reduction in poverty among blacks occurred before the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, the liberal vision in which black lags are explained by white oppression requires black advances to be explained by the fight against such oppression, symbolized by the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. This scenario has been repeated so often, through so many channels, that it has become a “well-known fact” by sheer repetition. Moreover, this protest-and-government-action model has become the liberals’ preferred, if not universal, model for future black advancement.   

From the 1960s onward, education gurus would claim transplanted Southern culture, like “black English,” sacrosanct features of a distinctive black “identity.” Among other misguided policy inventions The National Council of Teachers urged urban teachers to incorporate Hip Hop in their classrooms.

The disintegration of the black family is another manifestation of 1960’s white liberalism.

The raw facts are these: As of 1960, 51 percent of black females between the ages of 15 and 44 were married and living with their husbands, another 20 percent were divorced, widowed, or separated, and only 28 percent had never been married. Twenty years later, only 31 percent of black women in these age brackets were married and living with their husbands, while 48 percent had never married. By 1994, an absolute majority—56 percent—of black women in these age brackets were never married and only 25 percent were married and living with their husbands. Accordingly, while two-thirds of black children were living with both parents in 1960, only one-third were by 1994.  While only 22 percent of black children were born to unmarried women in 1960, 70 percent were by 1994.

White liberals, instead of comparing what has happened to the black family since the liberal welfare state policies of the 1960s were put into practice, compare black families to white families and conclude that the higher rates of broken homes and unwed motherhood among blacks are due to “a legacy of slavery.”

Why the large-scale disintegration of the black family should have begun a hundred years after slavery is not explained.

It is clear that broken homes were far more common among blacks at the end of the twentieth century than they were in the middle of that century or at the beginning of that century —even though blacks at the beginning of the twentieth century were just one generation out of slavery.

In several essays, Sowell points out that not all blacks today are part of the redneck culture, nor has that culture been the only culture in which blacks lived in the past.

There were small but significant enclaves of New England culture introduced into Southern black communities by teachers from New England who poured into the South immediately after the end of the Civil War, to establish schools and to teach and acculturate the children of freed slaves…

W. E. B. Du Bois called attention to the work of these missionaries and the number who volunteered. He called their dedication “the finest thing in American history.”

…The descendants of “free persons of color” had a cultural history that served them better than the cultural history of the descendants of slaves, even after the abolition of slavery ended differences in their legal status. Whether by individual escapes from slavery, by voluntary manumissions in the antebellum South, or by general emancipation by law in the Northern states, a black class of “free persons of color” emerged long before the Emancipation Proclamation…

And they lived in integrated northern communities until the advent of large-scale migrations of southern blacks. (Sowell provides the dates and circumstances of these relocations, as well as the negative reactions and newly segregated communities they produced.) 

In many roles—as intellectuals, politicians, celebrities, judges, and teachers—white liberals have aided and abetted the perpetuation of a counterproductive and self-destructive lifestyle among black rednecks. The welfare state made it economically possible to avoid many of the consequences of a counterproductive lifestyle that forced previous generations of blacks and whites to discard the redneck culture.  The burgeoning welfare state, especially since the 1960s, has spread an indiscriminate charity—in both money and attitudes—that has given the black redneck culture a new lease on life. Both black and white Intellectuals “turned the black redneck culture into a sacrosanct symbol of “racial identity.“

Projecting the conception that “the problems of blacks are consequences of the actions of whites, either immediately or in times past,” white liberals promoted a blanket excuse for shortcomings and even crimes by blacks. Even posing the possibility that the problems of blacks stem from internal cultural sources is banished from consideration by the fashionable phrase “blaming the victim.”

But no one can be blamed for being born into a culture that evolved in centuries past, even though moving beyond such a culture may do more for future advancement than blaming others or seeking special dispensations. Blaming others for anything in which blacks lag has become standard operating procedure among white liberals… If blacks do not pass bar exams or medical board tests as often as whites or Asians, then that shows that something is wrong with those tests, … The blame is on white colleges because such colleges use curricula that “are white in logic and learning,” Why this does not seem to be a problem for Asian students remains unexplained.

Thomas SowellOther essays address the fallacies of Multiculturalism, analyze black education, enumerate the contributions of Western Civilization, and examine Germans in the light of German history. Each chapter ends with “Summary and Implications.” But readers should not expect grand solutions to the complex social issues delineated on these pages. In Sowell’s view, we suffer from a plethora of grand solutions, most of them flawed. He is a realist. The author contends that there are only tradeoffs2 and they will vary according to the values individuals bring to the discussion. This book, like his others, eschews jargon for clarity.

Thomas Sowell is an honest and courageous man who, this reviewer suspects, enjoys violating political correctness. His vita says he is an economist, but that is incomplete. Readers of his books may know him, at a minimum, as an historian, philosopher, and social theorist. Those familiar with his interviews would add humorist.

This reviewer has been a Sowell fan since 1987. In the unlikely event that Black Rednecks and White Liberals is a first exposure to his work, this book is a good way to get acquainted. 

* U. B. Phillips

     1. An American Dilemma

2. In one of his many interviews Sowell suggests three questions that would destroy the left if people could ask them:

What are the facts?

What are the consequences of what you are going to do?

What is the trade-off?

By way of clarification, he applies the third question to ratifying the Kyoto Treaty: At what price, and what benefits would there be to offset that price?




1 Mary North { 11.09.18 at 12:53 pm }

Excellent. Follows important points he made in previous books and essays, e.g., Dismantling


2 herbert r richmond { 11.16.18 at 2:03 pm }

I have 9 of his books, all are treasured readings on history, freedom and the fallacies of Marxism.


Marcia Reply:

I think I am ahead on his books. Last I looked I had ten! Thanks for commenting.


3 Curtice Mang { 01.28.19 at 4:01 pm }

Excellent review, Marcia! Sowell’s reasoning is always sound and rational. At last count, I have 11 of his books, including this one. I believe P.J. O’Rourke is the only author that outnumbers Sowell on my bookshelves.


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