In a chapter entitled "Are Jews Generic?" Sowell explores the contribution and fate of "middleman minorities" around the globe. From the Ibos in Nigeria, to the Armenians in Turkey, to the ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia, to the Lebanese in Africa, to the (Indian) Gujaratis in the South Pacific, to the Jews in Europe, middleman minorities have served to lubricate the economies of the nations they have lived among. Additionally, these groups have resembled one another in many respects: a willingness to work long hours, maintenance of strong families and an emphasis on education. They have suffered similar fates as well, as they have repeatedly been the victims of furious violence from their neighbors. The irony, Sowell writes, is that the middlemen are most deeply resented and hated where they are the most indispensable. Such was the hatred for Indians and Pakistanis who served as middlemen in Uganda that the government forcibly exiled them all (50,000) in the 1970s. Economic devastation followed. The story was similar with Jews in Eastern Poland in the 17th century.
Sowell's majestic intelligence and humane sympathy shine through on every page. The chapter on "Black Education: Achievements, Myths and Tragedies" is especially powerful. Here is an elegy to Dunbar High School, a public school in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1870, Dunbar produced academic excellence among its black students at a rate that today seems out of reach. "During the period from 1918 to 1923, graduates of this school went on to earn 25 degrees from Ivy League colleges, Amherst, Williams, and Wellesley. . . . At one time, the reputation of Dunbar graduates was such that they did not have to take entrance examinations to be admitted to Dartmouth, Harvard, and some other selective colleges." Dunbar was undermined by politics and now resembles other failing inner city schools.
"Black Rednecks and White Liberals" ranges widely -- from a learned essay on slavery worldwide to an examination of the German national character. This book affirms Thomas Sowell's status as one of America's most eminent intellectuals.
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