The Best Quotes From Thomas Sowell’s ‘Black Rednecks & White Liberals’

by John Hawkins | May 7, 2019 8:04 pm

Thomas Sowell is most famous for writing about the economy, but his take on our culture is genius as well. You’ll see this as you read the best quotes from, Black Rednecks & White Liberals: Hope, Mercy, Justice and Autonomy in the American Health Care System[1].

* However, even a work seeking primarily to untangle a complex set of historic social issues can provoke the fashionable question:“But what is your solution?”Yet there is not the slightest danger that there will be a shortage of solutions. On the contrary, an abundance of uninformed solutions has been one of our biggest social problems.

* 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 IN INDIANAPOLIS, not about blacks or other minorities, but about poor whites from the South. Nor was Indianapolis unique in this respect.A 1951 survey in Detroit found that white Southerners living there were considered “undesirable” by 21 percent of those surveyed, compared to 13 percent who ranked blacks the same way. In the late 1940s, a Chicago employer said frankly,“I told the guard at the plant gate to tell the hillbillies that there were no openings.”When poor whites from the South moved into Northern cities to work in war plants during the Second World War,“occasionally a white southerner would find that a flat or furnished room had ‘just been rented’ when the landlord heard his southern accent.”

* Centuries before “black pride” became a fashionable phrase, there was cracker pride—and it was very much the same kind of pride. It was not pride in any particular achievement or set of behavioral standards or moral principles adhered to. It was instead a touchiness about anything that might be even remotely construed as a personal slight, much less an insult, combined with a willingness to erupt into violence over it.

* At lower social levels, Southern feuds such as that between the Hatfields and the McCoys—which began in a dispute over a pig and ultimately claimed more than 20 lives40—became legendary.

* The violence for which white Southerners became most lastingly notorious was lynching. Like other aspects of the redneck and cracker culture, it has often been attributed to race or slavery. In fact, however, most lynching victims in the antebellum South were white.

* 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.

* 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, New York, and Pennsylvania.

* Women dressed more revealingly in the South and both sexes spoke more freely about sex than was common in New England. In the seventeenth century, “most Virginia girls found a husband by the age of seventeen,” while in Massachusetts, the average age at which women married was twenty-three. In that era, fornication and rape were acts severely punished in New England. Rape was a hanging offense in New England, while in the Chesapeake Bay colonies it was sometimes punished less severely than petty theft.

* The slaves’ custom of marking their marriages by jumping over a broomstick—a custom resurrected at a posh wedding among blacks in twentieth-century New York, as a mark of racial identity —was in fact a pagan custom in Europe in centuries past and survived for a time among Southern whites.

* While it has long been known that, historically, the average IQ of blacks has been about 85, compared to a national average of 100, what has not been so widely known is that the average IQ of blacks in the North was for years consistently higher than that of blacks in the South. A 1942 study of freshmen at black colleges found:“The superiority of freshmen from northern schools over those from southern schools was found to persist throughout the colleges.” As already noted, 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.

* In business-ownership, as in other ways, the pattern among black Americans has followed the pattern of rednecks in earlier times, with people from other groups owning most of the businesses in black neighborhoods. Some may try to explain the lack of locally-owned businesses in the ghettos by racial discrimination or poverty but, as early as the 1920s, there were numerous black-owned businesses in Harlem—the majority of which were owned by blacks from the Caribbean, not blacks from the American South, who were the majority population of Harlem. Although New York was the principal destination of blacks from the Caribbean, then as now, the 1930 census showed that there were more than four times as many native-born blacks in Manhattan as there were foreign-born blacks.

* Nowhere was the effect of the white liberalism of the 1960s on the social evolution of black culture more devastating than in the disintegration of the black family. 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.186 Accordingly, while two-thirds of black children were living with both parents in 1960, only one-third were by 1994.187 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.” But why the large-scale disintegration of the black family should have begun a hundred years after slavery is left unexplained.Whatever the situation of the black family relative to the white family, in the past or the present, 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.

* The point here is that cultural differences led to striking socioeconomic differences among blacks, as they did among whites. In both races, those who lived within the redneck culture lagged far behind those who did not. That these cultural differences among blacks also coincided with biological differences did not mean that biology explained the differences in performance.

* In Detroit, blacks who had been denied the vote in 1850 were voting in the 1880s, and in the 1890s blacks were being elected to public office by a predominantly white electorate in Michigan.The black upper class in Detroit at that time had regular social interactions with whites and their children attended high schools and colleges with whites.

* The sheer numbers of these new black migrants from the South not only overwhelmed the relatively small black populations in Northern cities demographically in the early twentieth century, their very different behavior patterns shocked both blacks and whites at the time, as witnessed by adverse comments from earlier black settlers and the black press, denouncing the new arrivals from the South as vulgar, rowdy, unwashed, and criminal. Nor were these conclusions without foundation. For example, a study in early twentieth century Pennsylvania found that the rate of violent crimes by blacks who had migrated there was nearly five times the rate of such crimes by blacks born in Pennsylvania.

* In Detroit, as early as 1860, no neighborhood was even 50 percent black. In Chicago, as late as 1910, more than two-thirds of the black population lived in neighborhoods where most residents were white but, after the mass migrations of blacks from the South, attempts by blacks to move into white neighborhoods in Chicago were met with violence, including bombings. New York, Philadelphia, and Washington were also cities which began to restrict blacks to ghettoes only after the massive influx of Southern blacks and their redneck culture. In many cities, blacks were prevented from moving into existing white neighborhoods but, in other cases, whites simply moved out when blacks moved in. Harlem, the first of the great Northern black ghettoes, was still predominantly white as late as 1910. Racial segregation in housing became an explicit law in Baltimore in 1911. In one way or another, residential segregation became the norm in Northern cities.

* Between 1940 and 1960, the percent of black families with incomes below the official poverty line fell from 87 percent to 47 percent. In various skilled trades, the income of blacks relative to whites more than doubled between 1936 and 1959.259 The principal factor that raised black incomes during that period, both absolutely and relative to white income, was migration—from low-income areas to higher-income areas.

* The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 dealt major blows to racial restrictions, especially in the South, and had dramatic effects on the number of black elected officials. Economically, however, the upward trends in black income and occupations that had begun decades earlier simply continued, but at no accelerated rate. The rise of blacks into professional and other high-level occupations was in fact greater in the years preceding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than in the years afterward, and was greater in the 1940s than in the 1950s.263 Behind such developments was the fact that blacks were closing the gap between themselves and whites in years of schooling during this era.

* By projecting a vision of a world in which the problems of blacks are consequences of the actions of whites, either immediately or in times past, white liberals have provided a blanket excuse for shortcomings and even crimes by blacks.

* Blaming others for anything in which blacks lag has become standard operating procedure among white liberals.

* Apparently there can only be external reasons for anything negative that happens to blacks.

* The fact that black rednecks exhibit the same hostility and violence toward other minorities long associated with bigoted white rednecks in the South presents white liberals with another challenge to find a way to evade the obvious.

* Black hostility to other minorities, such as the Koreans, has likewise often been ignored by such liberal publications as the New York Times or even defined out of existence by a variety of white liberal writers on grounds that racism requires power, which blacks do not have. Following that logic, Nazis were not anti-Semites until they gained control of the German government and the Ku Klux Klan today would not be called racist any more because it has lost the power it once had. But the arbitrary proviso of “power” was never part of the definition of racism until racism among blacks became widespread enough to require a convenient evasion.

* When discussing both blacks and Southern whites, slavery has served as an all-purpose explanation of many social phenomena, ranging from broken families to poor education, lower labor force participation rates, and high rates of crime and violence. Often evidence has been neither asked for nor given.

* Census data, for example, show that labor force participation rates were higher among non-whites than among whites in 1920 and 1930.

* By cheering on counterproductive attitudes, making excuses for self-defeating behavior, and promoting the belief that “racism” accounts for most of blacks’ problems, white intellectuals serve their own psychic, ideological, and political interests.They are the kinds of friends who can do more harm than enemies.

* A crucial fact about white liberals must be kept in mind: They are not simply in favor of blacks in general. Their solicitude is poured out for blacks as victims, blacks as welfare mothers, criminals, political activists against the larger society, as well as those blacks who serve as general counter-cultural symbols against the larger society. White liberals have nothing approaching the same interest in blacks as the principal victims of black criminals or as people advancing themselves within the existing framework of American society, including many who have risen within the military, nor do they get particularly worked up over blacks who build up their own human capital or business capital. None of the many reports of black schools that excel academically seems to arouse any great interest among white liberals. It was not the liberals in Washington, but the Reagan administration, which offered successful black educator Marva Collins an appointment as Secretary of Education.

* Intellectuals in the 1960s began promoting the idea that those blacks who exhibited a culture different from the ghetto or black redneck culture were not “really” authentic blacks.

* The notion that the ghetto black was the authentic black not only spread among both white and black intellectuals, it had social repercussions far beyond the intellectual community. Rooting black identity in a counterproductive culture not only reduced incentives to move beyond that culture, it cut off those within that culture from other blacks who had advanced beyond it, who might otherwise have been sources of examples, knowledge, and experience that could have been useful to those less fortunate. The painful irony is that those who make this accusation are themselves “acting white” when they perpetuate a redneck culture from a bygone era. Even such a modern ghetto creation as gangsta rap echoes the violence, arrogance, loose sexuality, and self-dramatization common for centuries in white redneck culture, and speaks in exaggerated cadences common in the oratory of rednecks in both the antebellum South and those parts of Britain from which their ancestors came.

* As Eric Hoffer put it: There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life. However, as he said elsewhere: America is the worst place for alibis. Sooner or later the most solid alibi begins to sound hollow.

* When people are presented with the alternatives of hating themselves for their failure or hating others for their success, they seldom choose to hate themselves.

  1. Black Rednecks & White Liberals: Hope, Mercy, Justice and Autonomy in the American Health Care System:

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