Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Not Race or Racism, But Culture

We first became aware of Thomas Sowell in the 1980s, when he was a regular part of the discussion period at the end of each episode of "Free to Choose," Milton Friedman's award-winning series about economics on PBS. He was PhD economist, an excellent advocate of free markets, quick in a debate, tough-minded, and black. He and fellow economist, Walter Williams. used to joke that they had to be sure they never both rode on the same planes. Today they are both regular columnists at TownHall.com, two of many reasons to visit that site.

In Tuesday's edition of the free OpinionJournal site from The Wall Street Journal, Sowell again tackles the question of the root cause of differences in outcomes among racial groups:
"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.

Three 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 the West Indies or Africa, or were the children of West Indian or African immigrants. These people are the same race as American blacks, who greatly outnumber either or both.

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."
The common theme of those who are unsuccessful, whatever their race, is what Sowell calls "redneck culture," which is characterized by low achievement (and expectations) in education and economics, out of wedlock births, and single parent households. This culture was shared by people of all races. It came over from England and predated slavery.
"While a third of the white population of the U.S. lived within the redneck culture, more than 90% of the black population did. Although that culture eroded away over the generations, it did so at different rates in different places and among different people. It eroded away much faster in Britain than in the U.S. and somewhat faster among Southern whites than among Southern blacks, who had fewer opportunities for education or for the rewards that came with escape from that counterproductive culture."
Unfortunately, the "redneck culture" is the dominant culture in the black ghettos, and it is viewed by some as the only "authentic" black, American culture. Thus those trying to escape from the trap must also deal with being accused of "acting white."

Read the rest.

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