A Raspberry for Sowell and Dyson


In today's Washington Post, columnist William Raspberry plays Don King and pits two champion black intellectuals against one another for a few rounds on the topic of "getting beyond racism".

In this corner is cranky economist Thomas Sowell, author of a zillion books, most recently Black Rednecks and White Liberals, which argues, in Raspberry's telling,

The plight of have-not blacks in America's urban ghettos…can be laid at the feet of white people….If you've followed the writings of Sowell for as long as I have, you'll know that he's not saying anything as simple as racism accounts for today's black poverty….[White rednecks are] the people who formed the culture—the speech patterns, preaching styles, social behaviors, propensity for violence and attitudes toward schooling—that became the culture of Southern blacks, Sowell claims….The redneck culture has been a developmental millstone for both blacks and whites imbued with it—witness the lower academic achievement in the Deep South. But he says it has been preserved most faithfully in the black ghettos….[I]n a fascinating switcheroo, the redneck culture has become, to many of its defenders, the authentic black culture and, on that account, sacrosanct.

And in this corner is U of Penn professor Michael Eric Dyson, author of the new Is Bill Cosby Right?. This latest Dyson tome is not about America's favorite Dad's alleged dope and grope strategy; it's about Cosby's widely publicized claims last year that black social dysfunction was mostly self-generated.

Raspberry summarizes:

Dyson, who can coin a phrase with the best of them, spends a large part of this work defending the "knuckleheads" of Cosby's inelegant description against those who (like Cosby) believe their refusal to adopt the manners and language of the middle class is holding them back.

Or as Dyson puts it, defending the Ghettocracy from the Afristocracy.

The point, as he is at great pains to make, is that there's nothing wrong in the ghetto that an end to racism wouldn't fix. For Cosby to suggest that slovenly language and dress have anything to do with the trouble that black youth are in is to blame the victim and "let white people off the hook."

And Cosby, whom Dyson "deeply respects," etc., has been letting white people off the hook for years—with his universal (rather than an authentically black) approach to humor and even with his toweringly successful Huxtable family (which reassured white TV viewers that the nightmare of racism had ended and that it was safe to lay their guilt aside).

At the end of his col, Raspberry calls it a draw between Sowell and Dyson, but his heart plainly seems to be with "Uncle Tom" (as Sowell was once called by the NAACP's former head, Benjamin Hooks) and the embattled auteur behind Leonard Part 6 rather than with the author of Why I Love Black Women.

As Raspberry concludes, "Maybe we haven't laid racism to rest, but we have reached the point where what we do matters more than what is done to us." That is one of the major themes of much of Sowell's writing on the black experience in America.

Whole thing here.