Thomas Sowell

WHAT is called Black History Month might more accurately be called "the sins of white people" month. The sins of any branch of the human race are virtually inexhaustible, but the history of blacks in America includes a lot more than the sins of white people, which are put front and center each February.

Obviously, there is current political mileage to be gotten from historic grievances. At a minimum, politicians and activists get the media attention that is the lifeblood of their careers. Then there are racial quotas, money for special minority programs and hopes for reparations for slavery. If nothing else, some people get excuses for their own shortcomings -- and excuses are very important.

One of the many penetrating insights of the late Eric Hoffer was that, for many people, an excuse is better than an achievement. That is because an achievement, no matter how great, leaves you having to prove yourself again in the future. But an excuse can last for life.

Those black achievements which did not involve fighting the sins of white people get little attention during Black History Month. Indeed, many of those achievements undermine the blanket excuse that white sins are what prevent blacks from accomplishing more. How many people have heard of Paul Williams, who became a prominent black architect long before the civil rights revolution, or about successful black writers in the 19th century?

There was also an outstanding black high school in Washington, D.C., which had remarkable achievements from 1870 to 1955. For example, most of its graduates during that period went on to college, even though most white high school graduates did not make it to college during that era. As far back as 1899, this school's students scored higher on standardized tests than two of the three white academic high schools in the District of Columbia.

Given the terrible educational performances of so many ghetto schools, you might think that there would be great interest in how this particular school succeeded when so many others failed. But you would be wrong. Where there was any reaction at all from the black establishment to an article I wrote about the history of this school, that reaction was hostility.

Dunbar High School was an achievement, but it destroyed a thousand excuses. The prevailing dogma is that all the failures of black schools were due to the sins of white people, including inadequate funding and racial segregation. But Dunbar was inadequately funded -- its class sizes were 40 or more -- and it was racially segregated for more than 80 years. Its history of success was therefore not welcomed by black "leaders."

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate