Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell. Specifically it will contain and analysis and discussion of the book and its thesis. Author Sowell states his thesis early on in the Prologue of his book. He writes, “The purpose of this book is to expose some of the more blatant misconceptions poising race relations in our time” (Sowell ix). His book is an attempt to dispel these misconceptions while he gives a unique and interesting history of both black and white culture as it evolved in the American South.
Sowell supports his thesis through his own 25 years of research on the subject, combined with numerous scholarly essays he has collected for this work. Another aspect of his thesis in preparing this work is to provoke thought and discussion, and because this book is decidedly different from many looks into southern history, it will surely do just that. Sowell’s copious notes, which stretch nearly 60 pages at the end of the book, clearly show the intensity of his research and interest in this subject, and they also indicate how diligently he has researched and thought out his thesis.
First, it is important to define “cracker” or “redneck” culture as it is used in the book, and to look at the surprising origins of that culture. The original cracker or redneck culture did not evolve in the American South, as many might think. Instead, it originated in the British Isles and migrated to America. Sowell writes, “Most of the common white people of the South came from the northern borderlands of England – for centuries an no-man’s land between Scotland and England – as well as from the Scottish Highlands and from Ulster County, Ireland” (Sowell 3). Not all of these groups, the author notes, formed the backbone of English culture; rather they were fringe or unorthodox cultures at odds with English tradition, and often English law, as well. In addition, these areas were much more uncivilized than other areas of Britain, and these are the major areas that populated the American South. Thus, “cracker” culture is actually an offshoot of uncivilized British culture, and it remained largely unchanged for centuries after the British came to the southern part of the country.
Sowell maintains these immigrants brought certain values, including lack of education, sexual promiscuity, alcoholism and drunkenness, lack of ambition and interest in work, violence, interesting dances and music, pride, vanity, a need to prove themselves (especially the men), and an outgoing type of religious oratory (Sowell 6). Because many of the immigrants were from the same area in Britain, and settled in the same areas in America, their customs remained with them, and more importantly, they were transferred to their black slaves when they acquired them. It is interesting to note that a majority of the people who settled the North were from different areas of Britain, and they would not allow some of the immigrants from the borderlands or Ulster to land in northern ports (Sowell 10).
Many of these characteristics have often been used in general terms to describe modern black ghetto dwellers, and this should come as no surprise after reading Sowell’s evidence. Imported to the South as slaves, they adsorbed the culture surrounding them and of their masters, so much that they continue to mimic the culture long after it has died out in many areas of the South among blacks and whites. Sowell proves this thesis by introducing information on blacks from other areas, such as blacks who lived in the North or in the Caribbean, who displayed markedly different characteristics than southern blacks, including a quest for knowledge, higher IQs, and even more recently, higher income levels and skills (Sowell 32). In addition, there have long been “New England Enclaves” in the South where northern white teachers moved into the area after the Civil War to help educate black children. Sowell notes, “These teachers brought a wholly different culture into the South” (Sowell 36). Thus, in some areas, the New England influence changed the culture in that they grew an appreciation of education, they began to speak “proper” English, and they appreciated industry and innovation. Therefore, there were some enclaves in the South where the cracker culture did not take over, and many blacks resisted this culture or changed to represent a more northern culture. All this helps show how the cracker culture rubbed off on southern blacks, and it continues to motivate and dominate their culture today, but there are certainly pockets of blacks around the country who have many other influences in their culture and belief systems.
The author also notes that not all African-Americans are part of the ghetto culture, and that cracker culture is not the only factor in their continued life of poverty and violence. In fact, Sowell believes that white liberals and the liberalizing of society, including social reforms such as welfare and food stamps, help perpetuate these early southern values, as well. He notes that white liberals look at inner city black culture today and blame it on the effects of slavery, when in fact, black culture in the inner cities has deteriorated more since the 1960s, removing the people entirely from the effects of slavery (Sowell 34-35). By creating social reforms that support the traditions of non-work, violence, alcohol and substance abuse, and lack of education, white liberals are perpetuating the cracker culture of the South, only now they perpetuate it in the country’s black ghettos. In addition, the liberal idea of “celebrating” black culture and beliefs has actually helped perpetuate the black condition in this country by attempting to accept the black cracker culture as morally acceptable because it is their “heritage,” when clearly many aspects of the cracker culture are anything but celebratory or black heritage. In fact, the culture of the borderlands cracker from the British Isles died out long ago, and about the only place it remains is here in America, in black ghettos. Thus, white liberalism has simply perpetuated an undesirable culture, and now, it threatens the black ghetto communities and white communities, as well.
Sowell cites violent “gangsta rap” as another way black cracker culture is perpetuated by whites. He writes, “The thuggish gutter words and brutal hoodlum lifestyle of “gangsta rap” musicians are not merely condoned but glorified by many white intellectuals” (Sowell 55), another way liberal thought is perpetuating cracker culture, violence, and subjugation of women in the black community. Sowell believes whites have to stop looking at blacks as victims, and instead, give them the tools to help themselves, instead of perpetuating the very things that are keeping them in the ghettos.
All of this is incredibly important in the criminal justice system because blacks make up a majority of prisoners in the system, and whites are calling out that many police departments are unfairly targeting blacks as perpetrators of crimes. In reality, Sowell believes that white liberals are perpetuating this problem as well, because again, they are looking at blacks as victims, rather than as masters of their own fate. Instead of giving blacks education and the other tools they need to get out of the ghetto and the cracker culture, they instead give them social programs, teach Ebonics in the school system, and encourage them to explore their “heritage,” which includes violence, excessive pride, and lack of ambition and innovation. The social programs seem to be designed to keep them where they are, rather than empowering them to change and grow, and so, the white liberal culture, no matter how “open and fair” it thinks it is, is really in the way of the cracker culture disappearing at all. Part of that white culture is the criminal justice system, which may treat blacks harsher than they treat whites, but still make it possible for the cracker culture to live in prison and in the system. Instead of accepting or punishing violent and other abusive behaviors, the system should attempt to change the culture and the individual, so they no longer respect violence, disrespect, and hatred, but instead respect education, positive growth, and non-violence, much as the New England Enclave teachers attempted to do when they went South to teach black children after the Civil War.
The history of slavery, as related by Sowell, is full of myths and misconceptions. When we think of slavery, we often tend to think of America’s legacy of slavery and why it lasted so long. Little attention is given to slavery that existed all over the world, and in some cases, still exists today. In addition, we tend to think of slavery as racially motivated, but quite often, that is simply not the case. Sowell writes, “People were enslaved because they were vulnerable, not because of how they looked” (Sowell 113). That is certainly the case with African blacks that were imported to America. They were vulnerable, and did not know to fight the white men that herded them up and took them away, and so, they were black, but that was not why they were enslaved, they came here because they were easier to catch and less wary than other people around Africa and the world. In addition, they were often enslaved by fellow blacks, capitalizing on the white man’s desires, and so, another misconception about slavery is demolished, races did not band together; they worked against each other when enslaving their neighbors.
Slavery ended due to several instances, such as nations becoming larger and larger, taking over more territory, and thus reducing the areas available for slave capture. These areas tended to be small and weak, and when they were taken over, they were no longer acceptable for slave capture (Sowell 115). Serfdom, a popular agricultural solution in Europe, tended to supplant slavery, ending it there, as well. A true philosophy of ending enslavement began in Britain in the 18th century, before that, most civilizations did not view slavery as a problem at all. In fact, the people who first objected were extremely conservation religious members of society, but this is often overlooked or ignored. It was a Western ideal, and it spread from Britain into the Western world, including the United States. Sowell writes, “No non-Western nation or civilization shared this animosity toward slavery that began to develop in the Western world in the late eighteenth century” (Sowell 117). This was not a universal attitude, and that is perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions about slavery and how it ended throughout the world. We also think the end of slavery came about relatively rapidly, as it did in America as a result of the Civil War, but in most parts of the world, it took centuries to be eradicated. It is notable that many of the founding fathers, such as Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, did not approve of slavery (even though they owned slaves), but that they thought freeing the slaves would create a race war, and that was more dangerous than allowing slavery to continue (Sowell 139). They did not end slavery, but they did limit its growth, and that ultimately did lead to the end of the institution.
White liberals like to point to the “legacy of slavery” as a cause for the current problems in much of black culture, but Sowell shows that one of the enduring legacies of slavery is guilt by whites and shame and resentment among blacks. However, the modern “legacy of slavery” cannot be blamed for poverty and broken families, because this phenomenon has actually increased since the 1960s, a time when Civil Rights were finally approved and things were supposed to get better for blacks and other races. Instead, things have gotten worse, well over 100 years after the end of slavery, and that is largely due to the violent, cracker culture that is still part of the black ghetto culture.
Some people tend to distort these ideas about slavery because it supports their own prejudices and hatred of other races, while others do it because there are so many myths about slavery that still exist. These distortions tend to make some blacks believe the myths, while others just become more resentful and angry, creating more violence and distrust between the races. This can certainly affect the criminal justice system on both sides. Blacks resent any whites in a position of authority, while whites believe many of the myths of slavery, including somehow, blacks were weak and “wanted” to be enslaved. These can create misunderstandings and even prejudices in the criminal justice system, which is why it is so important to understand the real truth about slavery and racism in this country, and at least some of what perpetuates it.
Poverty causes poor academic performance in a number of ways. First, children who are cold, hungry, and fearful of their home life are not in the best condition to learn anything. In addition, many modern curriculums are designed especially for minority schools, and they are in effect, “dumbing down” the educational process instead of requiring the same academic standards for all students. These “educational dogmas” as Sowell refers to them, are often difficult to overthrow and getting rid of them is often seen as not “politically correct.” Therefore, many minority children receive inferior educations because of white liberal ideas about supplementing their culture and history in the educational process, instead of ensuring they are receiving the same education as their white counterparts. Using trendy teaching methods does not often work, while relying on tried and true measures, such as work, responsibility, and the basic ingredients of education, like reading, are making a big difference in many black schools. This shows that poverty and lifestyle can affect performance, but those factors can be overcome by dedicated teachers and administrators who care more about their children than education dogma. Sadly, in the black community, education is still seen as a step toward becoming “white,” and the cracker culture of the South is one reason this idea still exists in the black, ghetto community.
Liberals love to cite “oppression” as the cause of many black contemporary problems because they have guilt about the institution of slavery, and they want to appear understanding and sympathetic to the black culture. People are attempting to be politically correct and appear unbiased, and so they go too far the other way, and blame the inadequacies of a culture on outside forces, because it could not be “their” fault. Sowell notes, “A prevailing vision can become the default setting for thought and action” (Sowell 253), and that is certainly the case, here. Alternative explanations may not be the most palatable, but they include the fact that this liberal viewpoint has helped create this legacy of poverty and crime, and now, it needs to take another approach to stop it.
Western civilization has been misrepresented often in history, largely because certain myths about classes, races, and culture in general are accepted and perpetuated by most people. For example, the author cites the examples of many Asian immigrants who have suffered as much (or more) than blacks in the country, and have still managed to make successes out of their lives. He writes, [T]hese stories undermine the fundamental beliefs and general thrust of welfare state government” (Sowell 254). Liberals see these views as counterproductive and even racist, and so, the stories do not become nearly as important or available as those stories about “oppressed” blacks who are still suffering from that “legacy of slavery,” even if it is not true.
Sowell uses the term “cosmic justice” as a term that many people use to deal with the common inequities that exist in every society. Cosmic justice refers to the ultimate paying back of ancestors sins, such as the movement to remunerate the living ancestors of American slaves, in an attempt to make up for the “sins of the fathers.” This idea of cosmic justice wants everything to come out nice and even, no matter what occurred before. He writes, “Yet those with the vision of cosmic justice want both groups to have the same effects without the same causes, when both are living in the same country” (Sowell 265). Clearly, that is not possible. Both groups are not the same, through no fault of their own, and to attempt to hand out cosmic justice in the end only shows how many disparities truly exist between the different cultures of our country, including the cracker culture of the modern American black ghettos.
Sowell, Thomas. Black Rednecks and White Liberals. San Francisco, Encounter Books, 2005.
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