Jewish World Review May 5, 2005 /26 Nisan, 5765
Black rednecks and white liberals
Black identity has become a hot item in the movies, on
television, and in the schools and colleges. But few people are aware of how
much of what passes as black identity today, including "black English," has
its roots in the history of those whites who were called "rednecks" and
"crackers" centuries ago in Britain, before they ever crossed the Atlantic
and settled in the South.
Saying "acrost" for "across" or "ax" for "ask" are today
considered to be part of black English. But this way of talking was common
centuries ago in those regions of Britain from which white Southerners came.
They brought with them more than their own dialect. They brought a whole way
of life that made antebellum white Southerners very different from white
Violence was far more common in the South and in those parts
of Britain from which Southerners came. So was illegitimacy, lively music
and dance, and a style of religious oratory marked by strident rhetoric,
unbridled emotions, and flamboyant imagery. All of this would become part of
the cultural legacy of blacks, who lived for centuries in the midst of the
redneck culture of the South.
That culture was as notable for what it did not have as for what
it had. It did not emphasize education, for example, or intellectual
interests in general.
Illiteracy was far more common among whites in the antebellum
South than among whites in the North, and of course the blacks held in
bondage in the South were virtually all illiterate. On into the early 20th
century, Southern whites scored lower on mental tests than whites in other
parts of the country, as blacks continued to do.
Many aspects of Southern life that some observers have
attributed to race or racism, or to slavery, were common to Southern blacks
and whites alike and were common in those parts of Britain from which
Southern whites came, where there were no slaves and where most people had
never seen anyone black.
Most Southern blacks and whites moved away from that redneck
culture over the generations, as its consequences proved to be
counterproductive or even disastrous. But it survives today among the
poorest and least educated ghetto blacks.
This is a much bigger story than can fit into a newspaper
column, which is why I wrote my latest book, "Black Rednecks and White
Liberals." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)
White liberals come into this story because, since the 1960s,
they have been aiding and abetting a counterproductive ghetto lifestyle that
is essentially a remnant of the redneck culture which handicapped Southern
whites and blacks alike for generations.
Many among the intelligentsia portray the black redneck culture
today as the only "authentic" black culture and even glamorize it. They
denounce any criticism of the ghetto lifestyle or any attempt to change it.
Teachers are not supposed to correct black youngsters who speak
"black English" and no one is supposed to be judgmental about the whole
lifestyle of black rednecks. In that culture, belligerence is considered
being manly and crudity is considered cool, while being civilized is
regarded as "acting white."
These are devastating, self-imposed handicaps that prevent many
young ghetto blacks from getting a decent education or an opportunity to
rise to higher levels.
Multiculturalism today celebrates all cultures but it is the
poor who ultimately pay the price of that celebration in stunted
development, missed opportunities and blighted lives.
No one today would dare to do what Northern missionaries did
after the Civil War, set up schools for newly freed black children in the
South with the explicit purpose of removing them from the redneck culture
that was holding back both races there.
A wholly disproportionate number of future black leaders and
pioneers in many fields came out of the relatively few and small enclaves of
Northern culture deliberately planted in the post-Civil War South. What they
did worked and what the multiculturalists are doing today repeatedly fails.
But results are no longer the test. The test is whether what you
say makes you feel good as someone who is a "friend" of blacks. But friends
like that can do more damage than enemies.
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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)
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