Sowell At 90. Isn’t It High Time More of Us Listened to This Man?

Mark DeVine,

Fifty-five-plus books on the table and more on the way.  Charter Schools and Their Enemies, another bestseller, is hot off the press.  The Thomas Sowell corpus stands as one of the rare and most impressive monuments of massive and meticulous research ever erected on this earth by one person.  He came up from 1930s poverty-stricken Jim Crow North Carolina, a high school dropout, a stint with the United States Marine Corps, scraping and clawing his way through the streets of post-Renaissance Harlem and then the halls of Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago (Ph.D.), and now he has four decades behind him at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

One summer working a government job accomplished what multiple semesters under Nobel Prize–winning conservative economist Milton Friedman could not — it separated Sowell from his Marxist views.  Sowell always tests theories by real life, not the reverse.  And what a fruitful separation it has been.

Sowell’s books sell, and he boasts a global following, but the left works hard to keep his voice out of the mainstream and out of higher education.  The pampered socialist and pre-Marxist products pumped out of our colleges and universities into the other culture-shaping institutions of America are proof enough of that.

But a smitten stream of conservatives couldn’t resist Sowell when he burst onto the national scene.  There he was in 1981, poised and confident at 51, seated opposite William F. Buckley on PBS’s Firing Line.  But how much of Sowell’s unmatched wisdom has really been examined and put to fruitful use across the decades?  Not nearly enough.

A Factory of Insights

We all know that the so-called national conversation on race is fake and that the ostensibly urgent “listening” whites do before blacks for the cameras is a pre-determined woke contrivance.  But what if we did listen to this black man?  What might we hear?

Here’s a sampling:

1. In 1899, there were four high schools in Washington, D.C., three white and one black.  Students sat for identical standardized achievement exams covering core subjects.  The black school scored higher than two of the three white schools.

2. The white welfare recipient underclass in England tracks with its black counterpart in America on incarceration rates, fatherlessness, generational cycles of poverty, out-of-wedlock births, poor educational outcomes, sexually transmitted disease rates, and habits of personal hygiene and diet.

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3. Sowell notes that a few years before the Ferguson and Baltimore riots, strikingly similar riots by whites broke out in London and Manchester, with Molotov cocktails hurled at police and the burning and destruction of businesses.

4. Sowell traces key social attitudes and cultural patterns characteristic of black ghetto culture that often attach to notions of “authentic blackness” to “white,” not African origins, including:

… an aversion to work, proneness to violence, neglect of education, sexual promiscuity, improvidence, drunkenness, lack of entrepreneurship, reckless searches for excitement, lively music and dance, and a style of religious oratory marked by strident rhetoric, unbridled emotions, and flamboyant imagery. ([1])

The source?  Three major emigration-supplying regions of Great Britain to the American South — the white Cracker cultures of County Ulster, Ireland; the Scottish Highlands, and the English-Scottish borderlands.  Authentically black turns out to be authentically Cracker ([2]).  I know these Crackers well.  I see one in the mirror.

5. Sowell also identifies a major non-Cracker black subculture that grew up simultaneously, enjoyed by WEB Du Bois and many others who were educated in schools established by New England Yankees across the country, including the South ([3]).  Skin color proves far less predictive to the life trajectories that emerge from the various subcultures than do other factors.

6. Sowell tracks how native-born welfare recipients in country after country fare far worse than immigrant recipients.  Why?  Because welfare culture becomes native to the natives quicker and deeper and churns out its pathologies most efficiently and with multi-generational staying power among those first “helped.”

These are only tidbits.  Teasers.  Shot glasses of wisdom drawn from an ocean of insight that is Thomas Sowell.

Willful Ignorance

One cannot expect the average Joe to grapple with Sowell.  But what about the scholars, the research professors, the intelligentsia of our ballyhooed colleges and universities — the white professoriate; those oh, so anguished over the death of George Floyd; and the oh, so anxious to listen to black voices?  They’re not listening.  They’re not even curious.  Why not?

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Sowell tracks the global migration and settlements of peoples of all colors across literally millennia of human history and explores how they behave and interact and fare along the way — mountains of research that fascinate and also expose almost every word about race out of every woke mouth, intellectuals especially, as wrong and pernicious.

Easy, breezy leftist transitions from racial disparities to white privilege and the need for diversity training cannot survive where Sowell’s voice is allowed to sound.  Where white male leaders of institutions virtue-signal just short of taking actions that would cost them their own positions of power over blacks, Sowell’s voice would not go over well.  Sowell’s research demolishes the woke narrative the universities swear by.  That is why Sowell is ignored.  But nota bene — Sowell is ignored, not refuted.

Even ostensibly conservative evangelical seminaries provide safe havens for professors pushing Marxist-base Critical Race Theory.  Un-woke professors can evoke screams from their supervisors: “you’re an idiot … do you believe in systemic racism?” — and be fired. Such conditions won’t prevail where Sowell’s voice is heard and heeded.

Unnecessary Harm

Meanwhile, on campuses nationwide, large Sowell-ignorant task forces form to develop action plans to address “the crisis of racism.”  Members gather to stick their oars in the pool of their collective ignorance and stir it to produce predictable woke race solutions.  Garbage in, garbage out.  Where DiAngelo‘s  White Fragility is fawned over and Sowell’s voice is silenced, what other result can one expect?

Having taught in higher education for more than 35 years, I am ashamed of my profession.  We have sown to the wind, and now the greatest nation the world has ever seen is reaping a whirlwind of harm.  We’ve proven neglectful stewards of the bequest Sowell delivered.  Let us do better going forward.  Let us speak Sowell’s words and wisdom where they are so sorely and urgently needed — in the halls of academia.


[1] Thomas Sowell, Black Rednecks and White Liberals (Encounter Books, San Francisco: 2005), p. 6.

[2] Sowell, pp. 3-35.

[3] Sowell, pp. 35–40.

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