From Bob's archive: Thomas Sowell on black rednecks and white liberals

I am away this week, so scheduling a couple of items from the archive. This post was originally published back in May 2005 here: Thomas Sowell on black rednecks and white liberals I didn't have many readers then, so thought it worth re-injecting into the public sphere. I am not happy with the way I formulated my thoughts, but I think one key point is important: that we need to hold in play both cultural and structural explanations for social problems; the neglect of either leads to skewed politics. Please leave a comment.

Important read: Thomas Sowell in OpinionJournal.

I think Sowell's first premise is interesting and worth thinking about - that southern blacks absorbed redneck culture and brought it north - but I don't follow his second premise - that this is what holds blacks back. I think that cultural factors are one of the reasons African-Americans lose out, but that structural reasons, to do with racial divisions in the housing market and labor market in the post-slavery years. So, I might like to read Thomas Sowell alongside Thomas Sugrue.

On redneck culture, Sowell argues that it was formed before the whites got into boats to cross the Atlantic. This is obviously partly true, but needs to be complicated a little. Australia's white population came from the same roots, but white Australians perform well educationally, so you need more than the culture to explain it - for example, the plantation system, the relationship between the agrarian South and the industrial North.

Similarly, Sowell is right to draw attention to the historic economic disparities between southern and northern whites. But again, culture can't be the main factor. The difference between an agrarian economy and an industrial economy is also key. He also doesn't speak about the huge disparities within the white population of the North.

Sowell's arguments have some relevance to the British case, and the emergence of what is seen as a new poor white underclass. In Britain's cities, white working class boys do worse educationally than any non-white ethnic group, enter worse jobs, are less likely to end with any job. This is something that needs thinking about, and perhaps Sowell offers some help in doing so, but probably only on half of the story.


Anonymous said…
Culture plus resources are the key.

White Southerners perform on par with white Northerners. Blacks in teh North and the South perform under them.

The White Southerners culture was not that of just lacked resources. One reason why it lacked resources is because the North burned it to ashes with a total war on economic infrastructure. Then the North as the victors abandoned Reconstruction as the vast resources of the West were beckoning to be exploited and an agreement was reached that the South would be segregregated and the blacks relegated to second class status but would be subserviant to the industrial masters of the North.

I think Thomas Sowell is emitting classic anti Southern bigotry. That Southern Whites are rednecks, hillbillies, yahoos...etc.

But he is correct that it is culture that is the root and branch of the African Americans problems.'

Resources matter too.

Blacks real problems started if you follow the data in the late 60s, post MLK and Civil Rights Act of 1969, when Blacks turned to militancy and in their fervor actively rejected American Middle Class values. (I would say white America but they are really American values that cut across racial and ethnic lines). The instead chose an aggressive posture and low class ghetto values as authentically black. At the same time, the American Left coddled them, with Affirmative Action programs, quotas, and most destructively the The Great Society Welfare State. White guilt was assuaged and to (White) Americas institutions moral authority was returned in exchange for cash payouts and special priveleges and programs, handouts. This amounted to a racket, however it was very destructive to the Black community. And that has been the dealio for the last 30 or so years. You can see that access to resources has helped those blacks who adopted middle class American values (or never rejected them) and used the opportunities to advance. However that has only been partially successful....the single mother rate is 70 percent in black families....the high school failure dropout rate is 50 percent for black boys. The culture of rejection and low class is prevalent and expressed clearly in the Rap music.

If you are interested in the subject, may I point you to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's (D from NewYork) work in the mid 60s on African Americans. Ill see if I can dig up a link to it.

The link Sowell is trying to make is best. There is probably a little something there, but its very small compared to what happened in teh 60s. Blacks were mostly law abiding and had strong families that stayed together for the most part pre 60s.

Sorry for rambling. African Americans and Race in America are 2 subjects of great interest to me. Im a White Pro Confederate Southern American Conservative...please dont read that as a meaning "racist redneck" like Sowell aparently does! LOL! Just kidding I like Sowell and deeply respect him.

May I suggest a book for further study. Content of Our Character by Shelby Steele.
Anonymous said…
Just a clarification. Black militants actively sought to reject American middle class values and chose instead low class poor black culture in ghettos as authentically black. You can also see this rejection in the move towards Islam(or rather the Nation of Islam).

That was combined with the destructive effect that Welfare dependency has on populations(any population)....weakening families and whatnot.

And furthermore angry militant blacks saw these new handouts and special priveleges as reparations for past discrimition, ill treatment, and slavery (and many guilty whites(usually on the Left) did too.

If you are interested we can talk about how this disproportionately negatively affected Southern opposed to Northern Whites....and the reasons why that is so.
Anonymous said…
Here is a snip from Moynihan's wikipedia page...

Moynihan was an Assistant Secretary of Labor for policy in the Kennedy Administration and in the early part of the Lyndon Johnson Administration. In that capacity, he did not have operational responsibilities, allowing him to devote all of his time to trying to formulate national policy for what would become the War on Poverty. He had a small staff including Paul Barton, Ellen Broderick, and Ralph Nader (who at 29 years of age, hitchhiked to Washington, D.C. and got a job working for Moynihan in 1963).

They took inspiration from the book Slavery written by Stanley Elkins. Elkins essentially contended that slavery had made black Americans dependent on the dominant society, and that that dependence still existed a century later, supporting a view that the government must go beyond simply ensuring that members of minority races have the same rights as everyone else, and offering minority members benefits that others did not get on the grounds that those benefits were necessary to counteract that lingering effects of past actions.

Moynihan found data at the Labor Department that showed that even as fewer people were unemployed, more people were joining the welfare rolls — these recipients were families with children, but only one parent (almost invariably the mother). The laws at that time permitted such families to receive welfare payments in certain parts of the United States.

Moynihan's report[3] was seen by people on the left as "blaming the victim",[4] a slogan coined by William Ryan.[5] He was also seen as propagating the views of racists,[6] because much of the press coverage of his reports focused on the discussion of children being born out of wedlock. Despite Moynihan's warnings, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program had the "Man out of the house rule." Critics said that the nation was paying poor women to throw their husbands out of the house. Moynihan supported Richard Nixon's idea of a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI). Daniel Patrick Moynihan had significant discussions concerning a Basic Income Guarantee with Russell B. Long and Louis O. Kelso.

After the 1994 Republican sweep of Congress, Moynihan agreed that something had to be done about the welfare system possibly encouraging women to raise their children without fathers: "The Republicans are saying we have a helluva problem, and we do."[7]

In 1970, he wrote a memo to President Nixon saying: "the issue of race could benefit from a period of 'benign neglect.' The subject has been too much talked about… We need a period in which Negro progress continues and racial rhetoric fades."


The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, also known as the Moynihan Report

Links off the page...

The Feminist Movement also attacked the nuclear family at the same time and made much progress in that area...making divorces easier to obtain, among many other things. This didnt help white families either, not to mention the black family already under stress from multiple angles already.
Anonymous said…
The shared culture thesis is interesting but I think it is important to make a distinction between ghetto culture (for lack of a better term) and red-neck culture. They are not synonymous.

One obvious distinction is red-neck culture tends towards patriotism while ghetto culture tends to be anti-American, view America as racist, etc. Another way of putting it, red-necks are generally not known for chanting “off the pigs!”

Still have not read the Sugrue book. My wife read it years ago and recommended it highly. Someday…

Sort of unrelated to the main point of the article but I think Sowell is on to something here:

“Although Southern whites were only about one-third of the white population of the U.S., an absolute majority of all the illiterate whites in the country were in the South. The North had four times as many schools as the South, attended by more than four times as many students. Children in Massachusetts spent more than twice as many years in school as children in Virginia. Such disparities obviously produce other disparities...”

As Sowell points out, white northerners (I would add mid-westerners) were generally more educated than white southerners. This was particularly the case with non-elites. A white mechanic or small-scale farmer living in New York, or Massachusetts or Illinois would have had much greater access to education, literature, etc. than a white southerner from a similar class background. In the case of the elites, southerners were as educated and in some cases more educated than their northern counterparts.

One thing missing, it is my understanding that southern society was marked by a much more rigid class structure that that of the north. The southern elite were an aristocracy based on ownership of land (plantations) and slavery. The northern elite were businessmen and merchants. There was always the hope, even the possibility, that someone from the “lower ranks” of society could achieve success through business acumen in the north. In the south, your position was largely based on blood relations. If you were born poor, you would die poor. There was little opportunity for poor white folks to accumulate land and slaves and become elites themselves.

N.W.O. writes:

“Just a clarification. Black militants actively sought to reject American middle class values and chose instead low class poor black culture in ghettos as authentically black. You can also see this rejection in the move towards Islam(or rather the Nation of Islam).”

The Nation of Islam was around for quite a while before the 1960s (founded in 1930) and the organization has always promoted black capitalism, the development of a black professional class and other “middle class values.” I am no fan of the NOI but they absolutely do not promote “poor black culture in ghettos as authentically black.”
Anonymous said…
The point I was making about the Nation of Islam was Blacks rejecting White American culture.....not about its value system.

The point you are making about "ghetto culture" being unpatriotic vs "redneck culture" is covered by what I am describing in the rejection of middle class American values.

Your class thesis and immobility of classes is an accurate discription, however once education became available widely (white Southerners had the resources to provide it) then the whites did very well in school within a generation or 2. Contrary to what you may believe, the South isnt full of a bunch of ignorant white rednecks, the differences between education performance in K-12 between the South and the rest of the country that is so widely reported is largely attributable to the large Black population which still remains massively in the South (and only in certain cities around the North and other areas of the country.) This large black population also degrades the school environment often for the white students....thus making their achievements more difficult.

I also wanted to comment that Thomas Sowell is missing the other shoe, in his rush to place blame on the white immigrants to the South(and Sowell doesnt usually rush to such accusations), the Black African immigrants werent royalty and highly skilled trademans, they were coming from culture(s) that were considered by Europeans to be savage, undeveloped, simple villages and grass huts. These werent a highly developed bunch. So to lay black cultural failures on uneducated white Southerners seems to be quite the stretch.
Anonymous said…
Another clarification, the embracing of Nation of Islam was on its face a rejection of white Americas Christianity, and a pro black organization which in its doctrine is anti White.
Anonymous said…
Continuing on, my comments about "savage African" culture....are less relevant than the 60s militancy movement....just as Sowells "redneck European Southerner" culture argument.

Black Americans between the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement were largely assimilated into the American culture....but they lacked equal opportunity and equal treatment before the law. Yes they lacked resources as well. But the Civil Rights movement was about opportunity and legal equality primarily.

Unfortunately when the resources came, Black America caught a really bad attitude, and thus have wasted much of them.

This bad attitude is the Black Communities largest problem. Racism hasnt totally disappeared, but its largely been overcome....Bill Cosby and John McWhorter are right....Black Folks are now their own worst enemy, and have been for quite some time, decades.
Anonymous said…
This "bad attitude" has been nutured by the Left as "righteous indignation." And European/White American and Western Civilization has been attacked viciously and condemned by the Left(many groups), villified, and demonized.....and the victimhood mindset(resentment and hatred of whitey) of the Black American(and dark skinned folks in general worldwide) has been groomed by the Left for their assault on Western Culture and Civilization. However, this isnt in the best interests of Black Americans.

How unfortunate this turn of events.
Anonymous said…
"the Black African immigrants werent royalty and highly skilled trademans, they were coming from culture(s) that were considered by Europeans to be savage, undeveloped, simple villages and grass huts."

Well, they might have been so considered by Europeans, but I don't think the historical evidence bears that out. Africans sold into slavery included those from quite remote "grass hut" tribes AND those from highly complex nations with quite sophisticated and stratified cultures, such as the Ashante and Benin.

But going back that far for some "explanation" of today's culture is futile. African Americans started creating new forms of culture as soon as they got on the ships, and these flourished in the shadows of the plantation system: African Ameicans became creole (became American) almost immediately.

And, sure, this meant they absorbed a lot of the culture of their "redneck" white neighbours - who were also culturally influenced by them.

But I agree with NWO that the current cultures of rejection and "righteous indignation" took root much, much more recently, largely after the Civil Rights movement succeeded. And I agree with NWO that white liberal guilt has aided and abetted this culture of rejection.

Time to break the cycle and move on.
Anonymous said…
"Africans sold into slavery included those from quite remote "grass hut" tribes AND those from highly complex nations with quite sophisticated and stratified cultures, such as the Ashante and Benin."

I am glad you provided this comment, Mintzian. Not only did Africans who arrived as slaves come from a variety of different cultures but they also arrived with a variety of skills from agriculture to metalsmithing.

There were also people of African descent arriving from the Caribbean who were involved in the sugar production process. Some planted and cultivated the cane, others worked in the boiling houses. The latter--turning cane juice into crystallized sugar--was highly skilled work.


American and Caribbean slaves often have been portrayed merely as unskilled agricultural field hands and domestic servants. However, as Stanley Engerman and Robert Fogel point out, "the common belief that all slaves were menial laborers is false;" similar to slaves in other eras and cultures, bound laborers in the colonies and early United States worked at a multitude of semi-skilled and skilled professions.
Anonymous said…
I hardly think that a small minority of exceptions to the rule, negate the generalization. The point wasnt to belittle Black folks or Africans....but if you are going to assign blame for failed culture to other groups, then certainly it isnt impolite to bring up African's own cultural failures and limited success.

It should be noted that the Ashante political confederation rose on the backs of European guns traded for African know those other unfortunate souls that did not yield to the Ashante regime.

An interesting aside, the Ashante Confederation was the second largest economy in the world in the last decade of the 18th century, second only to the dominant Great Britain.

But we are largely in agreement, this culture arose mostly after the success of the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement was supported heavily by Assimilated Black Christians working within the Western Tradition, the Neo Marxist Blacks and Nation of Islam types didnt drive it...but they took advantage of it.
Anonymous said…
BTW, something similar is playing out with regards to the Palestinians and Israelis, where the Left are justifying and enabling(aiding and abetting) Palestinian culture of negativity(promoted by the Arabs), in order to attack Israel....but this is not beneficial for the Palestinian people. Dont try to blame the victim you fascist racist pig!

What a shame...

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