Sowell and Williams: Grace under fire
1/4/2001 12:00:00 AM - Larry Elder
Someday, many of their critics will apologize. Who am I talking about?
Two economists, who happen to be black, Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams.
For over 30 years, Thomas Sowell, currently with the Hoover Institution, and Walter Williams, chairman of the economics department at George Mason University, led the charge against the "victicrat" mindset. Through decades of weekly columns, books, speeches and lectures before often-hostile crowds, they long argued that racism cannot be blamed for poverty, crime, illegitimacy, and under-performing schools.
Over 20 years ago, Sowell appeared on William F. Buckley Jr.'s PBS show, "Firing Line," and calmly dismantled the basis for affirmative action, arguing it immoral, divisive, and unconstitutional. In his 1989 book, "South Africa's War against Capitalism," Williams noted that white racists under South Africa's apartheid used minimum wage laws to suppress black employment. Both men demonstrated with -- get this -- facts, data, studies, experience, and personal observation that, no, the black middle class did not spring from affirmative action, urban renewal programs, enterprise zones, welfare benefits or set-aside programs. Racism, they point out persuasively, is bad for capitalism.
In Thomas Sowell's masterful trilogy, "Race and Culture"; "Migrations and Cultures"; and "Conquests and Cultures," Sowell traveled around the world seeking an answer to this question: Why do some groups survive and thrive under the most adverse conditions while others disappear? His answer? People who possess cultural capital -- a reverence for education, strength in family, and self-reliance -- endure.
Their reward? Former NAACP President Benjamin Hooks called people like Sowell and Williams "a new breed of Uncle Tom ... some of the biggest liars the world ever saw." Liars? For saying that the welfare state has done more to destabilize the black family than Jim Crow laws ever did?
Oreo. Uncle Tom. Boot-licking Uncle Tom. Straight-up Uncle Tom. Judas. Boy. Bug-eyed. Foot-shuffling. Sugarcane Negro. Handkerchief head. Trojan Horse. Anti-black. Pro-white. Remus. Sambo. Sambo-Tom. The Anti-Christ. Clarence Thomas supporter. Sniveling weasel. Evil. Ass-kisser. Coconut. Wannabe white. Nickering nabob of negativity. This catalog of names I've been called comes from my new book, "The Ten Things You Can't Say in America." Can you imagine the hate mail, including death threats, bombarding Sowell's and Williams' mailboxes for the last 30 years?
Black conservatives, goes the attack, take their marching orders and receive funds from the "White Racist Power Structure." Yet, according to Peter Noel of the "Village Voice," Jesse Jackson's Wall Street contributors forced Jackson to tone down his rhetoric (he called President-elect Bush "illegitimate") and put in a call to Bush!
Similarly, a few years ago, the NAACP faced a financial crisis. Declining membership and a sex-discrimination scandal by then-President Ben Chavis made headlines. One of the NAACP's principal donors, the Ford Foundation, withheld its $500,000 contribution until the organization cleaned up its act. So who's singing and who's dancing?
A few years ago, Rev. Jesse Jackson and I appeared on television to discuss whether blacks, at last, possess full civil rights. Jackson spoke about the wealth gap between blacks and whites, the lack of "access to capital." Problems remain, I said, but blacks now enjoy full "civil rights." Wealth, while desirable, is not something guaranteed by the Constitution. Rev. Jackson responded, "Mr. Elder identifies with white males." Typical. Dodge the merits of the argument and malign your opponent through the practiced, if unfair, use of the "if-you're-black-and-don't-think-of-yourself-as-a-victim-you-must-be-a-self-loathing-Uncle-Tom" attack.
Virtually every big city newspaper has the obligatory Angry Black Writer sounding the same themes: The country screws blacks; banks refuse to lend them money; cops routinely brutalize blacks; the SAT is culturally biased; racist insurance companies practice red-lining. Addressing these issues, Sowell and Williams expose the truth, a truth far less sinister than the race-hustlers claim.
The verdict is in. We now see the damage done by LBJ's War on Poverty, during which time the black illegitimacy rate grew from 25 percent to today's nearly 70 percent. Evidence shows the existence of a growing, thriving, black middle class well before the advent of affirmative action. Nor does history support the hysterical, emotional view that affirmative action accelerated the black middle class growth.
Sowell and Williams urge blacks to reject welfare in favor of self-help -- breaking the monopoly of public education, privatization of Social Security, and the adherence to responsible moral, personal, and sexual behavior. So who's the Uncle Tom? Those proposing the same old "solutions," or those, like Sowell and Williams, recommending real change?
Will Sowell and Williams get their apology? Hey, many pundits, present company included, felt Vice President Al Gore unlikely to use the "C" (concession) word in his speech. He did. So maybe, just maybe, we can begin a healthy, personal attack-free debate about what's right, just, and proper in America. An apology to Sowell and Williams would be an excellent start.
OK, if not an apology, how about a well-deserved round of applause?