[March 9, 2023] Yesterday, I saw a Robin in my backyard for the first time this winter. The annual arrival of birds, especially Robins, heralds springtime’s arrival and affirm that life continues. And so it was, as I grew up in the Deep South with so many of my relatives who still live there, influenced by “southern culture” and our very own way of life. While I do not write much about that culture, it still has a grip on my being and affects my thinking and what I do. When I read about my childhood culture, growing up poor, I am often transfixed and hope to reinforce the positive self-attributes I gained that led to a successful career in the U.S. military. In today’s Reading List, I highlight Thomas Sowell and his book Black Rednecks and White Liberals. He discusses this southern culture and gives us its background and its positive and negative impact on Blacks and folks like me. I am drawn to this book, and I do show my biases by doing a short review, but I do believe anyone reading it will become a better person and have a much better perspective on race relations. Thomas Sowell is a conservative, as I am, so there will be that bias. And that bias might be a good thing.
Black Rednecks and White Liberals, Thomas Sowell, 2005
Tomas Sowell’s book is a collection of essays examining race relations, ethnicity, and culture. Sowell gives us a helpful corrective response to a progressive, leftist vision of racism, justice, and government. His book begins with a provocative quote: “These people are creating a terrible problem in our cities. They can’t or won’t hold a job, they flout the law constantly and neglect their children, they drink too much and their moral standards would shame an alley cat. For some reason or other, they absolutely refuse to accommodate themselves to any kind of decent, civilized life.” This was said in 1956, not about Blacks or other minorities, but about poor whites from the South. Interestingly, white Southerners were considered “undesirable” by 21 percent of those surveyed, compared to 13 percent who ranked Blacks the same way. Sowell’s central thesis is that what we know today as “Black culture” is actually “white redneck culture” or “cracker culture,” which originated not in the South but in parts of the British Isles from which white Southerners came. That culture long ago died out where it originated in Britain while surviving in the American South. Then it largely died out among both white and black Southerners while still surviving today in the poorest and worst of the urban Black ghettos.
Sowell offers several observations about language, work habits, pride, violence, and economic activity. He argues that these characteristics are common to “Black culture” in urban ghettoes, “cracker culture” in the South, and the culture of the “northern borderlands of England” from which “most of the common white people of the South came.” Thus, the culture of 21st-century ghettos did not originate with Blacks but with 17th-century whites in England. In terms of education, he notes that: “As late as the census of 1850, more than one-fifth of Southern whites were still illiterate, compared to less than one percent of New Englanders” and “As late as the First World War, white soldiers from Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi scored lower on mental tests than black soldiers from Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.” What’s clever about Sowell’s argument here is that progressives tend to attribute poverty to injustice, minimizing the effects of culture and personal choice. Yet it seems difficult to characterize white antebellum Southerners as “oppressed.” There is much more to Sowell’s book that will push you off your mental position and force you to rethink the position of Blacks and whites in America.
Please read my books:
- “55 Rules for a Good Life,” on Amazon (link here).
- “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” on Amazon (link here).
To go to the complete Professional Reading list, click on this direct link: www.theleadermaker.com/reading-list/
Side Note: Please remember and take a look at Tom Copeland’s reading blog. His website, which I highly recommend, can be found here: https://militaryreadinglists.com/map