Crippled by their Culture

Thomas Sowell:

“The redneck culture proved to be a major handicap for both whites and blacks who absorbed it. Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South. The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today’s ghettos is regarded by many as the only ‘authentic’ black culture–and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with. Their talk, their attitudes, and their behavior are regarded as sacrosanct.

The people who take this view may think of themselves as friends of blacks. But they are the kinds of friends who can do more harm than enemies.” (WSJ Opinion Journal)

This article by a scholar at the conservative Hoover Institute thinktank argues, in a new form, that the institutionalized racism of American society has not disadvantaged African Americans as much as their own ignorant attitudes. On the surface, he cites credible evidence that the ‘cracker’ or ‘redneck’ culture of the South, applying to blacks and whites alike, has profound effects such as illegitimacy, increased violence, and decreased mental aptitude.

The problem, Sowell says in explaining the disproportionate impact of redneck ignorance on blacks, is that while only about a third of the American white population lived within redneck culture more than 90% of American blacks came through it. In attempting to explain black disadvantage by cultural rather than racist influences, Sowell further claims that redneck culture has faded away faster among whites than among blacks, even with the dispersion of southern blacks to northern cities in the decades after the Civil War. But this is fallacious; I would argue that redneck cultural attributes are largely alive and well in white rural culture, both southern and northern, today, and that they form the foundation for the red states’ support of the GOP. For example, see the persuasive work Ed Fitzgerald has done since the 2004 election on his weblog contrasting the red and the blue voters on numerous sociocultural and demographic dimensions. If it were cracker ignorance rather than disenfranchisement and oppression that shaped black disadvantage, wouldn’t you expect them to perform more like their white redneck brethren at the polls?? Digby did a wonderful series after the election about understanding the Republican appeal to the white exurban populace in terms of exploitation of their xenophobic tribal instincts and the fear of government giveaways by effete liberals to people who don’t look like themselves in the urban ghettoes.

The distinctions Sowell attempts to draw are a perfect example of one’s agenda — to blame the victims and explain away the victimization — shaping one’s argument. He is essentially saying ignorant people are ignorant people, white or black, and that there just happen to be a higher proportion of black rednecks because of demographic and historical forces. But it seems absurd to claim equal access even to ignorant cultural influences. By far the greater influence was the estrangement from the culture achieved by slavery and the decades of racist oppression since. Mr. Sowell too seems crippled by his own culture, that of white conservative racism with an academic veneer. [Error: see the comments. I hadn’t realized that Sowell is an African American himself. In fact, it makes more sense that way. — FmH]