Crippled by Their Culture
For most of the history of this country, differences between the black and the white population -- whether in income, IQ, crime rates, or whatever -- have been attributed to either race or racism. For much of the first half of the 20th century, these differences were attributed to race -- that is, to an assumption that blacks just did not have it in their genes to do as well as white people. The tide began to turn in the second half of the 20th century, when the assumption developed that black-white differences were due to racism on the part of whites.
decades of my own research lead me to believe that neither of those
explanations will stand up under scrutiny of the facts. As one small example, a study published
last year indicated that most of the black alumni of Harvard were from either
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 of someone born in the West Indies or in Africa, especially since their American-born offspring probably do not even have a foreign accent?
What then could explain such large disparities in demographic "representation" among these three groups of blacks? Perhaps they have different patterns of behavior and different cultures and values behind their behavior.
There have always been
large disparities, even within the native black population of the
The North had four
times as many schools as the South, attended by more than four times as many
students. Children in
Disparities between Southern whites and Northern whites extended across the board from rates of violence to rates of illegitimacy. American writers from both the antebellum South and the North commented on the great differences between the white people in the two regions. So did famed French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville.
None of these disparities can be attributed to either race or racism. Many contemporary observers attributed these differences to the existence of slavery in the South, as many in later times would likewise attribute both the difference between Northern and Southern whites, and between blacks and whites nationwide, to slavery. But slavery doesn't stand up under scrutiny of historical facts any better than race or racism as explanations of North-South differences or black-white differences. The people who settled in the South came from different regions of Britain than the people who settled in the North -- and they differed as radically on the other side of the Atlantic as they did here -- that is, before they had ever seen a black slave.
Slavery also cannot
explain the difference between American blacks and West Indian blacks living in
Culture is left.
The culture of the
people who were called "rednecks" and "crackers" before
they ever got on the boats to cross the
Although that style
originated on the other side of the
While a third of the
white population of the
process took a long time. As late as the First World War, white soldiers from
The redneck culture proved to be a major handicap for both whites and blacks who absorbed it. Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South. The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today's ghettos is regarded by many as the only "authentic" black culture -- and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with. Their talk, their attitudes, and their behavior are regarded as sacrosanct.
The people who take this view may think of themselves as friends of blacks. But they are the kinds of friends who can do more harm than enemies.
Mr. Sowell, the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," published this week by Encounter Books.