Tuesday, April 26, 2005

"Culture is left" 

Lead editorial in today's Wall Street Journal comes from Thomas Sowell, who says it isn't race or racism holding back America's "black rednecks". Citing examples such as the Guinier-Gates study of the background of black alumni from Harvard Law School, he notes what the difference is:
There have always been large disparities, even within the native black population of the U.S. Those blacks whose ancestors were "free persons of color" in 1850 have fared far better in income, occupation, and family stability than those blacks whose ancestors were freed in the next decade by Abraham Lincoln.

What is not nearly as widely known is that there were also very large disparities within the white population of the pre-Civil War South and the white population of the Northern states. Although Southern whites were only about one-third of the white population of the U.S., an absolute majority of all the illiterate whites in the country were in the South.

The North had four times as many schools as the South, attended by more than four times as many students. Children in Massachusetts spent more than twice as many years in school as children in Virginia. Such disparities obviously produce other disparities. Northern newspapers had more than four times the circulation of Southern newspapers. Only 8% of the patents issued in 1851 went to Southerners. Even though agriculture was the principal economic activity of the antebellum South at the time, the vast majority of the patents for agricultural inventions went to Northerners. Even the cotton gin was invented by a Northerner.
This extends over generations, Sowell adds.
As late as the First World War, white soldiers from Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi scored lower on mental tests than black soldiers from Ohio, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. Again, neither race nor racism can explain that--and neither can slavery.
What does explain it is culture, as the settlement pattern of whites in America was geographic in nature, "and they differed as radically on the other side of the Atlantic as they did here--that is, before they had ever seen a black slave." It is not a problem of the availability of educational opportunities any more that holds back those places, as "redneck culture" erodes over time -- though, Sowell argues, it's much slower in the U.S. than say in Britain, and he allows that Southern whites have had more opportunities for education than Southern blacks -- but that the culture is allowed to continue.
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.