Black Rednecks and White Liberals
The title essay is based on Sowell’s thesis about the origins of the “black ghetto” culture.
Sowell argues that the black ghetto culture, which is claimed to be “authentic black culture”, is historically neither authentic nor black in origin. Instead, Sowell argues that the black ghetto culture is in fact a relic of a highly dysfunctional white southern redneck culture which existed during the antebellum South. This culture came, in turn, from the “Cracker culture” of the North Britons and Scots-Irish who migrated from the generally lawless border regions of Britain.
Sowell gives a number of examples that he regards as supporting the lineage, e.g.,
an aversion to work, proneness to violence, neglect of education, sexual promiscuity, improvidence, drunkenness, lack of entrepreneurship,… and a style of religious oratory marked by strident rhetoric, unbridled emotions, and flamboyant imagery.
Sowell further argues that this “culture” did not exist uniformly among blacks, especially those considered “free persons of color”, those trained in schools operated by people immersed in New England culture (who were, in turn, passing that culture to black students, specifically the need for a strong work ethic), and black immigrants from Caribbean islands (where slavery also existed). His essay argues that, among those groups, educational statistics were on par with similarly-trained whites (and higher than southern whites in general), and continued on an upward trend until the advent of multiculturalism.
Are Jews Generic?
In the collection’s second essay, Sowell explores the origins of anti-Semitism among those harboring jealousy toward Jews for their financial and entrepreneurial successes.
Sowell argues that the jealousy is historically quite common among ethnic groups who have had historic success as economic “middlemen” who derive a profit from the service of bringing needed items to the marketplace. Among other historically persecuted “middlemen minorities” were Lebanese and Chinese immigrant merchants. The resentment is due to a perceived “lack of added value” that these middlemen provide, as it is not easily observable.
The Real History of Slavery
The collection’s third essay features Sowell’s discussion of the history of slavery in Western culture.
Sowell argues that Alex Haley’s popular mini-series Roots is more myth than reality. Although Sowell acknowledges the West’s promotion of slavery, he argues that the same Western culture led the charge in the late 19th century to abolish it in the Western Hemisphere, and that little attention has been given to the continuation of slavery in Middle Eastern countries.
Germans and History
The fourth essay features Sowell’s argument that Germany should not be defined solely by the 12-year period of Adolf Hitler’s régime from 1933–45. Sowell argues that anti-Semitism was not commonly held by ordinary Germans in the interwar period, and that suspicion and hatred of Jews was relatively isolated to the Nazi Party. Sowell further argues that Hitler was highly inconsistent in his views toward a unified Germany – while he strenuously argued for annexation of the German-dominated Sudetenland, German-dominated portions of Italy such as Tyrol were ignored as Hitler preferred his alliance with Benito Mussolini.
Black Education: Achievements, Myths, and Tragedies
The fifth essay features Sowell’s discussion of the early days of Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. and its eventual deterioration from its place of prominence in early Black education, which Sowell argues was a direct consequence of the famed Brown v. Board of Education United States Supreme Court decision.
The essay also argues that though noted Black activists W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington did not agree on all issues of the day, the existence of a “feud” between them was actually a myth. Sowell argued that Du Bois’ and Washington’s differing emphasis on Negro education was the product of their upbringing – Du Bois (whose ancestors were free persons of color that historically had opportunities to gain education) concentrated Negro education toward the “talented tenth” (i.e., the 10% of Negros whom he believed had the intellectual capacity to become leaders) while Washington (a descendant of slaves, who lacked the historical educational opportunities of Du Bois ancestors) concentrated Negro education toward the working classes. However, according to his research, both Du Bois and Washington agreed that all Negroes should have opportunity to gain as much education as desired.
Sowell further argues that, though Du Bois was more activist in his attempts to end Jim Crow laws and other forms of legal discrimination while Washington held a more accommodating position, Washington did at times secretly fund and support efforts to end Jim Crow laws.
History Versus Visions
The final essay features Sowell’s criticism of multiculturalism. Sowell argues that historical events cannot properly be understood through the attitudes of someone living in a different time period (e.g., viewing slavery as right or wrong through 21st century attitudes) but can only be properly understood in light of the economic, political, and social views of the time period in which the events occurred.