In this era, when indignation has replaced thought for many people, it should not be surprising that the very title of my book “Black Rednecks and White Liberals” should have provoked angry reactions and bitter denunciations, even from people who never read it.
Some whites in the South have reacted with resentment at the thought that they are being stereotyped as rednecks while some blacks resent anything that suggests anything negative about themselves. However, it would require reading no further than the preface to learn that neither most Southern whites today, nor most blacks, are considered to be part of the redneck culture that once dominated the South.
I came out of that Southern culture and could have been considered one of the black rednecks. More important, vast amounts of historical research by dedicated scholars have shown sharp differences between the white population of the antebellum South and the white population of the North.
While those differences have eroded over the generations, they have not completely disappeared among the poorest and least educated blacks living today in urban ghettos, North and South. Many of the differences between blacks and whites nationwide today are strikingly similar to the differences between Southern whites and Northern whites in the 19th and early 20th century.
What are those differences?
They include rates of violence, rates of sexual promiscuity, and — most explosive of all — differences in intellectual development. The biggest taboo that people are most afraid to talk about is that blacks do much worse on mental tests or in schools and colleges.
Some try to deny that there is any such difference, that it is all due to biased tests or bad schools or whatever other evasion comes to mind. The great unspoken fear is that it is racial.
In reality, antebellum Southern whites likewise lagged behind Northern whites in intellectual or educational achievement, though this could not be explained by race or racism or other factors used to explain similarly lagging intellectual and educational performances among blacks today.
As late as the First World War, whites from a number of Southern states scored lower on mental tests than blacks from some Northern states.
During the antebellum era, before there were mental tests, there were other clear indications that the redneck culture did not promote intellectual development.
Southern whites did not go to school, buy books, read newspapers, patent inventions, much less supply their share of leading intellectual figures, to anywhere near the extent that their white contemporaries in the North did. Nor was this due simply to poverty.
Books were not common even in the homes of many white Southerners who could have afforded books. That was just not part of the redneck culture.
My own personal experiences reinforce what scholars have shown from history. When I came out of the South as a child, I was immediately transformed from the top student in my class down in North Carolina to the bottom student in my class in Harlem.
I can remember crying over my homework because I could not do it. At the end of the term, I received a commendation card from the principal as the most improved student in the class — and I was still no higher than midway the class then.
We didn’t have books in our home and I didn’t even know what a magazine subscription or a public library was. It was common in those days for kids coming out of Southern schools to be put back a year in New York — as I should have been.
Blacks have suffered more from the redneck culture than whites have. First of all, only about a third of the white population lived in the South during the 19th century, while 90 percent of blacks did. Moreover, whites in the South had more educational and other opportunities to rise out of the redneck culture.
This is not about “blaming the victim.” Nobody can be blamed for the culture he was born into. But neither should he be kept mired in that culture, in the name of “identity” or with the pretense that all cultures are equal.
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