From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]


Black Rednecks and White Liberals
BY Thomas Sowell / May 13, 2005
Black identity has become a hot item in the movies, on television and in schools and colleges. But few are aware of how much of what passes as black identity today, including “black English,” has its roots in the history of those whites called “rednecks” and “crackers” centuries ago in Britain, before they crossed the Atlantic and settled in the South.

    Saying “acrost” for “across” or “ax” for “ask” are today considered part of black English. But this way of talking was common centuries ago in regions of Britain from which white Southerners came. They brought with them more than their dialect. They brought a whole way of life that made antebellum white Southerners very different from white Northerners.

    Violence was far more common in the South — and in those parts of Britain from which Southerners came. So was illegitimacy, lively music and dance, and a style of religious oratory marked by strident rhetoric, unbridled emotions, and flamboyant imagery. All of this would become part of the cultural legacy of blacks, who lived for centuries in the midst of the redneck culture of the South.

    That culture was as notable for what it did not have as for what it had. It did not emphasize education, for example, or intellectual interests in general.

    Illiteracy was far more common among whites in the antebellum South than among whites in the North, and of course the blacks held in bondage in the South were virtually all illiterate. On into the early 20th century, Southern whites scored lower on mental tests than whites in other parts of the country, as blacks continued to do.

    Many aspects of Southern life some observers have attributed to race or racism, or to slavery, were common to Southern blacks and whites alike — and were common in those parts of Britain from which Southern whites came, where there were no slaves and most people had never seen a black person.

    Most Southern blacks and whites moved away from that redneck culture over the generations, as its consequences proved counterproductive or even disastrous. But it survives today among the poorest and least educated ghetto blacks.

    This is a much bigger story than can fit into a newspaper column, which is why I wrote my latest book, “Black Rednecks and White Liberals.”

    White liberals come into this story because, since the 1960s, they have aided and abetted a counterproductive ghetto lifestyle that is essentially a remnant of the redneck culture that handicapped Southern whites and blacks alike for generations. Many among the intelligentsia portray the black redneck culture today as the only “authentic” black culture and even glamorize it. They denounce any criticism of the ghetto lifestyle or any attempt to change it.

    Teachers are not supposed to correct black youngsters who speak “black English” and no one is supposed to be judgmental about the whole lifestyle of black rednecks. In that culture, belligerence is considered manly and crudity is considered cool, while being civilized is regarded as “acting white.”

    These are devastating, self-imposed handicaps that prevent many young ghetto blacks from getting a decent education or an opportunity to rise.

    Multiculturalism today celebrates all cultures. But the poor ultimately pay the price of that celebration in stunted development, missed opportunities and blighted lives.

    No one today would dare to do what Northern missionaries did after the Civil War, set up schools for newly freed black children in the South with the explicit purpose of removing them from the redneck culture holding back both races there.

    A wholly disproportionate number of future black leaders and pioneers in many fields came out of the relatively few and small enclaves of Northern culture deliberately planted in the post-Civil War South. What they did worked, and what the multiculturalists are doing today repeatedly fails.

    But results are no longer the test. The test is whether what you say makes you feel good as someone who is a “friend” of blacks. But friends like that can do more damage than enemies.
BY William Raspberry / May 17, 2005

The plight of have-not blacks in America’s urban ghettos, says economist Thomas Sowell, can be laid at the feet of white people.

And not just any white folks. The culprits are that particular breed of white people known as “rednecks.”
If you’ve followed the writings of Sowell for as long as I have, you’ll know that he’s not saying anything as simple as racism accounts for today’s black poverty. He’s saying something much more complex and, to my mind, far more intriguing.

Immigration from the British Isles to the New World was not so random as many of us imagine. Most of the settlers of Massachusetts, for instance, came from near Haverhill in East Anglia. Virginia aristocrats came from the south and west of England.

And the Deep South was populated largely by immigrants from the northern borderlands, Ulster and the Scottish Highlands — from “among people who were called ‘rednecks’ and ‘crackers’ in Britain before they ever saw America.” And these are the people who formed the culture — the speech patterns, preaching styles, social behaviors, propensity for violence and attitudes toward schooling — that became the culture of Southern blacks, Sowell claims in his new book, “Black Rednecks and White Liberals.”

And it is this cultural heritage, he argues, “more so than survivals of African cultures,” that has produced the urban black culture of today.

So what? So this, says Sowell: The redneck culture has been a developmental millstone for both blacks and whites imbued in it — witness the lower academic achievement in the Deep South.

But he says it has been preserved most faithfully in the black ghettos — just as the French spoken in Quebec retains formulations now considered archaic in France. Indeed, in a fascinating switcheroo, the redneck culture has become, to many of its defenders, the authentic black culture and, on that account, sacrosanct.

And it continues to be a millstone, though many of the penalties it extracts are blamed on racism.

But as Sowell argues — and has been arguing for decades — the racism explanation cannot account for differential outcomes among blacks from within and without the redneck culture. For instance, a recent study found that most of Harvard’s black alumni were either from the Caribbean or Africa or were children of Caribbean or African immigrants.