By Chet Yarbrough
Black Rednecks and White Liberals
By: Thomas Sowell
Narrated by Hugh Mann
Thomas Sowell (Author, Economist, Political Pundit)
Thomas Sowell offers a scholarly and cogent history of discrimination, and slavery, but like all who report facts of the past, Sowell’s book narrows the complete story.
Thomas Sowell seems to have agreed to a book title to create sales; not promote an insightful analysis of discrimination. He fails to convince one of an inheritable “Redneck/Liberal” meme that permeates the American South to perpetuate human discrimination.
Sowell’s argument is a Redneck culture and White Liberals explain the plight of Black Americans. It is a false theory because of his selective collection and use of facts. Unequal treatment and opportunity are based on difference, a much broader human label than redneck, liberal, or conservative.
The color of one’s skin is such an obvious difference; it magnifies discrimination.
This is not to say, as Sowell notes, that history shows Blacks did not victimize their own people. It is that color of one’s skin entails a host of false assumptions about people of color, particularly by those in positions of power.
Sowell is certainly correct about culture as an identifiable difference that causes discrimination, but skin color magnifies difference, particularly when those in power are white. Putting aside that disagreement, Sowell’s book is a first-rate history of what has happened to minorities who are different from those in power.
One might agree with Sowell that both Blacks and whites can be “Rednecks” but there is no “Redneck” culture. There are rich who live in fine houses. There are poor who are homeless. There are unemployed looking for work. There are unemployed not looking for work. There are able-bodied and disabled; some of which work, some not. Any of them can be “Rednecks”, “Liberals”, or “Conservatives”. Many came from Europe and England to settle in America. There cultures evolved in America from what they were in the countries from which they left. The circumstances of America changed them. What did not change is human nature’s habit of discrimination based on difference.
Sowell suggests that “Redneck” culture originated in parts of England. He characterizes the culture as uneducated, mean-spirited, and violent.
Sowell suggests poor education, meanness, and violence are inherited by the American south’s settlement by English immigrants. This is a distortion of the South’s history, England’s lower economic class, and the south’s environment.
Many abolitionist thinkers and doers in the world came from the American South. Some were white. Robert Carter III, the grandson of a Virginia land baron manumitted 500 slaves in the 1700s, Robert Purvis born in Charleston, South Carolina helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, the Grimke sisters deplored slavery in the south and limitations on the rights of women, Francis White founded the Nashoba Commune in Tennessee that was formed to prepare slaves for emancipation, John Brown led the insurrection at Harpers Ferry Virginia because he believed “moral suasion is hopeless” in abolishing slavery.
Some were black. Martin Delany, born in Virginia, insisted on Negroes controlling their destiny, James Bradley from Kentucky, who was a transported slave from Africa. He purchased his freedom and became an anti-slavery advocate in the Arkansas Territory.
Sowell is on firmer ground when writing about the middlemen merchant class. The middleman and woman are between producer and consumer that rise from an industrialized and now technocratic society. This middleman is the manufacturing and distributing class. These middlemen and women are workers, and intermediaries who package, deliver, and sell product. They are a cohort that includes “Rednecks”, “Liberals”, and “Conservatives”.
Middlemen and women are not the superrich, but they grow into cultural groups that wield power. They create different cultures that clash with each other because they can be identified as different.
They are different because of their religion, their wealth, their profession, their use of language, their ethnicity, or their skin color. It is those differences that create an opportunity to act against, or in support of those in power. It is difference, not exclusively one thing but anything that sets a minority apart from the majority.
Sowell enlightens listeners with information about the history of slavery, the details of difference among populations in countries where Jews, Armenians, Africans, Pakistanis, Indians, and many more ethnic groups were tortured, enslaved, raped, and murdered.
Today, it is Blacks in America, Uighurs in China, castes in India, Armenians in Eastern Europe, Christians in Turkey, Palestinians in Israel, Chechens in Russia, and so on, and so on. Not because they were “Redneck”, “Liberal”, or “Conservative” but because they were different, clannish, and semi-independent.
“Suppression of equal opportunity” is another name for slavery. What is galling about Sowell’s selection of facts is the idea that slavery has always existed in the world. That is true but how does that justify today’s slavery by another name.
Sowell goes on to suggest “Brown vs. Board of Education” ruined high achieving schools for Black Americans by destroying neighborhood schools.
Some would argue America’s public school system is simply getting what it pays for.
Without contesting Sowell’s research on Black schools that deteriorated because of the “Brown” decision, he chooses to ignore what improvement there may have been for Black students that went to public schools that were largely white.
Good teachers are underpaid and often leave teaching because they can find better paying jobs in other professions. America’s public school system is becoming more of a child care system than a teaching institution.
Integration is meant to ameliorate inequality. Sowell’s research is more a criticism of the quality of public schools than the goal of ameliorating inequality
A conclusion one draws from Sowell’s history is the human need of tolerance for difference. Not everyone wants the same thing out of life. Not everyone lives life in the same way. The Wall Street Journal editorializes on October 10, 2020 that tolerance is the bane of the 21st century. It argues that tolerance allows equal rights for gays, lesbians, and transsexuals’ as though they are something less than human beings. This is conservatism at its worst. Lack of tolerance is the sine non quo of slavery and discrimination.