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April 29, 2005


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black conservative scholarship...It reminds me of the time Ghandi was asked what he thought of Western Civilization. Ghandi replied he thought it would be a good idea.

Sowell has been a joke for at least as long as he's been breathing. I had the comedic pleasure of checking out the Project 21 website a few months back and what passes for introspection, research and innovation is laughable.

These intellectual appendages of the white right have to authentic intellectual tradition beyond ahistorical criticisms of black institutions (often well-founded) and catch-all dismissals of black culture (seldom, if ever well-founded).

It is difficult to define as black culture those practices and beliefs that are accurately defined as American popular culture OR part of a universal set of "rituals" shared by similar groups around the planet.

Sowell continues to compare those of us in the belly of the beast with those transplants, immigrants, emigres and other "movers come shakers" who no longer reside in their Hell's Kitchen. What of the billions still in China and India and Africa and Europe who lag behind Black America. With all the success of the international Indian diaspora in Africa, the Caribbean, England and the US, there are intractable problems yet to be resolved back home - not to mention the long-standing, flammable situation with Pakistan. And don't get me started on China or Nigeria or Jamaica or Haiti or Ghana or Russia or Poland.

Onyx said it best....bacdafucup.


And another thing...

Sowell and others of his ilk propose cultural prescriptions for Black Americans that have never been exercised by immigrants and would prove fatal in a competitive market place - namely a "cultural divorce." No culture group here takes action that is not intended to benefit some old world group or homeland group - except for those forcibly divorced Africans castigated by Sowell.

The international Indian community, even with the challenges that remain have done a tremendous job of reducing capital and intellectual outflows from India to the West. China is China. Continental Africans in New York, New Jersey, Houston, and DC are working with one another providing core services (buying shops, buying and selling goods, recirculating dollars, sending dollars home). The same can be said of Caribbean Africans. The cultural affinity shared within these groups is the binding force behind their economic engine.

Sowell and others propose that US-born Africans forego cultural connections (precisely the connections that fuel multi-billion industries like hip-hop and athletics) to seek economic and political advancement through cultural abnegation and assimilation...He has not received the memo that imitation is the sincerest form of cultural bankruptcy.

There is no track record to this approach. What if this approach was used by the international Jewish community...and they decided to forego their cultural imperative around Israel. What would happen to Mossad? This community has already learned the lesson of seeking enduring alliances in nation-states where they are minorities. Sowell is pathetic because these recommendations could only be recommended to American Blacks. No other group would even listen to this "remedy." No other group practices what Sowell preaches. He should be the first to recognize there are a limited number of positions for hangers-on. No scholarship. No research. No cultural grounding. No entrepreneurship. No policy. What has the man done other than prescribe the doom of his "own people," while castigating the very thing that makes them unique and valuable. In his word, Barry Sanders and John Riggins have the same running style - none. Biggie becomes John Cougar Mellencamp.


I myself have wondered exactly how it is that an economics professor winds up excoriating black culture. But now I think I know the answer and it is found in the resistance Temple3 shows.

The opposite of Sowell is West. Sowell proclaims that the culture of economic self-interest is the thread of 'successful' cultures across a variety of racial and ethnic groups. West says that American blacks have unique and persistent reasons to resist the American culture of economic self-interest.

What's left out is the problem that in order for African Americans to *feel* as if they are successful, they must generate institutions which compare favorably to not just the American middle class mainstream (we're already there) but world class institutions. Black Americans want to, by dint of the overreach of black consciousness, be equivalent in stature of upper class Americans (or 'Jews' or 'Asians' or whatever the fetish of the day is (yeah go ahead and get started on China and Nigeria and Jamaica and Haiti and Russia and Poland)). And yet they consistently choose to use the institutions of America rather than of their own construction.

I say that's a good thing, aka selling out, and in the main of African America it's all there is going to be. In order to compare favorably to the fetish ethnic or nation of the day, one has to have a positive & stable history of working classes and elites who are constrained by their institutions. That's not going to happen. We are not constrained.

This is separate and distinct from the progressive agenda of Aggregation, which I support, which has everything to do with creating communities of support based on shared cultural / political & economic values. I'm all for elite formation within African America. But the fact of the matter is that *politically speaking* there is tremendous resistance by black middle-classes and proles to the economic dictates of a conservative like Sowell.

This is a self-defeating protest. Why? Because America is not a second-world nation, and socialism and left politics do not have and will not have the upper hand domestically. You can be existential partners with Nader and Fred Hampton all you like, but unless you do like Stokely and hie your ass to West Africa, you will always be in the political minority and thus relegated to the margin. The whole economic structure of the world would have to be inverted for this not to be the case, and yet those who hate on Sowell pray for that occurance.

What's ironic and indeed stupid about that hateration is that it has no better chance of attracting African American talent in the rising tide or even in a falling economic tide, nor does it have a mandate (or capability) of building economic independence from the American mainstream. So you have people who, like West, continue to rebuild blackness improvisationally, generation over generation on a premise of rebellion and resistence to the American mainstream economy who never build anything of substance capable of providing any baseline alternative, not even an all black national credit union.

So we find that the intransigent, incompetent left continues to hold political sway over the bottom 3/5s of African American classes while giving them no economic base upon which to build their identity politics.

Sowell vs Afrocentrics? I guess we still need Sowell.

Lester Spence

The opposite of Sowell is West. Sowell proclaims that the culture of economic self-interest is the thread of 'successful' cultures across a variety of racial and ethnic groups. West says that American blacks have unique and persistent reasons to resist the American culture of economic self-interest.
No. He isn't saying this at all. He's saying that the thread of successful cultures have certain characteristics that black Americans do not have. Maybe I missed something. Where are you getting this reading from?


While I am only referenced directly one time, I believe Cobb has missed my meaning (likely, due to my own error). my simple point is that developing a strong economic position for black america will not be achieved through cultural divorce. simply cultural groups that compete for wealth and influence in america do so as culture groups...they may write newspaper articles affirming the greatness of this land (and that is to some degree undeniable), but there is an active political/economic agenda that connects them to their indigenous homes. this option is not available to american blacks. still, the black community has supported the first stages of capital accumulation (leading to urban flight)for several non-white immigrant groups - merely by virtue of consumerism...

the task of resolving these issues will not fall to another immigrant group or to the government...at the heart of my belief is that if black people were able to use culture as an economic glue, the group could change its economic position...this is not a dichotomous position for me...it's not an either or...it's a both. i reject sowell because his principal is that black culture retards and undermines. the tactics are most important...if that looks like collaborating with elected officials or local entrepreneurs or drug dealers to fund technology for schools or elder care that's fine. if it looks like going to those same folks and a foundation or two to fund water filtration in the chesapeake, so be it. sowell is not talking about that...he is talking about reducing black culture to loud kids on the subway or watching too much television or having a deep abiding allergy to the library and serious study. that is hardly where i'm coming from. dichotomies and labels won't do. in fact, its hard to refer to sowell as a conservative since i don't know what he is conserving.

finally, you mentioned that we are not constrained...to the extent that the creation fo a critical mass (for any particular function) and the accumulation of capital take time, american blacks are still constrained by what i call "the intergenerational de-skilling" of the community. simply, in 1865, blacks were arguably the single most skilled labor group in the nation. foner's "nothing but freedom," and herbert hill's "black labor and the american legal system" chronicle how this process unfolded over the past 150 years. the impact is still felt...how many of us know 55 to 75 year black men and women with careers in the hard sciences...i know none personally. yet, following wwII, there were thousands of black men and women routinely turned away from employment by firms...did they grow? did they pass the desire down to their children? most worked as janitors. i can only begin to imagine the profound frustration of an engineer or chemist relegated to the role of janitor. so, I hardly think sowell has merit hear. as for west, don't read him so can't comment. again, the dichotomy you have constructed is something i cannot address. i hope this adds to the discussion.


(thumbing) If Sowell is completely wrong, it it because he gives too much credit to the vulgar culture and says this *is* Black Culture. Certainly Sowell and pthers must know that many African Americans posess and pass on the proper values for economic success. If this is Sowell's error, that he's not hooked up with Marsalis, Crouch & Murray, then it's the same error that McWhorter has been blamed for. A matter of cultural distance from a real black elite.

Aside from this direct point, I wonder how American blacks would react to Sowell's advice in majority black South Africa.

Lester Spence

And this is more than an error. Remember that Sowell is the contemporary of Murray and Ellison. He was at Cornel when the brothers and sisters LITERALLY fought for black studies. This was back in what? 68 maybe? The reason he doesn't know these guys isn't because he just doesn't happen to know them. It's because he chooses not to. He makes the same type of choices in his "scholarship", praising European composers and the culture that bore them, but not recognizing the culture that produced a Duke Ellington, a Wynton Marsalis, or even an Earth Wind and Fire, or a Common. So in the end he is totally wrong because he chooses to be.


(thumbing? - please explain. thanks.)

lester. i believe you've hammered home the nail. sowell could actually care less about either of those communities - and if both communities were strong economically, he would be irrelevant, impoverished and on the run because he could not predict the loss of billions of dollars to his current sponsors. it's the least he can do to ignore the universe of black intellectual thought. he is in more of a position to ignore white culture than an ESPN employee is to bash disney.


What do you mean 'if', Cobb?

Like many career academics, Sowell speaks in hypotheticals. The problem with hypotheses is that they're often presented out context as a pretext. In Sowell's case, the hypotheses are further compromised by his posing as a wannabe plutocrat.

To argue culture explains racial differences vis-a-vis specific group behaviors when culture neither evolves nor exists in a vacuum is wholly divergent and ahistoric. The American construct (or, 'culture') is partly structured upon the definition of 'race' as a class and the propigation of racism for determining how wealth is distributed. The origins of 'Black' lie with 'Whites', so it's fallacious to discuss 'Black socio-economic dysfunction' or 'Black culture' as an isolated paradigm.

But then again, Sowell is a hack hired by neo-cons to peddle their dogma under guise of academia. I find his opinions on Economics sometimes provocative, but they aren't sufficient enough credentials to qualify him as a legit social critic.


Lester, your comments have been interesting.

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