Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that there are some intelligent people out there who have never read anything by Thomas Sowell. (I know, I know, the chances are remote, but work with me here.) They've never enjoyed his fascinating excursion into group traits in "Ethnic America," nor his penetrating analysis of what has gone wrong with the schools in "Inside American Education," nor his brilliant dissection of the inevitable pitfalls of regulation in "Knowledge and Decisions." There is hope. His new volume, "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," offers a taste of some of his earlier work as well as a cornucopia of new insights. Indeed, the new book is so clarifying and so wise that even experienced Sowell readers will find much that is new.
The title refers to the first essay, which argues that many of the traits commonly considered "authentically black" are actually the inheritance of the white redneck culture amid which many blacks lived for centuries. These include hair-trigger touchiness on the part of men, anti-intellectualism, pride, sexual license, backwardness and laziness. Speech patterns that persist among ghetto blacks today -- "ax" for ask, "bile" for boil, "do'" for door, and "dis" for this -- are traceable to the regions of Great Britain from which white Southerners came. Black and white children from the South lagged academically behind their peers in the rest of the nation throughout the 20th century. This is well-known. What is less well-known is that "black soldiers from some Northern states scored higher on mental tests than whites from some Southern states during the First World War."
Further, schools established for blacks by 19th-century New Englanders in the South imported a very different set of values and expectations, and black youngsters, like W.E.B. Du Bois, rose to the challenge. "In 1871, the Georgia legislature created a board of visitors to attend public examinations at Atlanta University. The chairman . . . reportedly said that he expected the examinations to confirm the Negro's inferiority. But the recitations of former slaves in Latin, Greek, and geometry forced from him the confession that 'we were impressed with the fallacy of the popular idea . . . that the members of the African race are not capable of a high grade of intellectual culture.'"