By Julie Roys
Thomas Sowell is not a victim. Yet, life for him has been anything but easy. Sowell, an African-American, was born in 1930, before the Civil Rights Movement had even begun. His father died when he was young and he was raised by an aunt he believed to be his mother. He grew up in Harlem and recounts that school was difficult. His family was uneducated. And, they couldn’t afford to buy books and magazines like children from more affluent neighborhoods. Sowell also had tough teachers. One, in particular, required him to write a word 50 times if he misspelled the word in class.
A deteriorating home life prompted Sowell to drop out of high school. But, after various jobs and a stint in with the U.S. Marines, Sowell earned his GED. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Harvard and a doctorate in Economics from the University of Chicago. In his distinguished career spanning several decades, he’s written dozens of books. Currently, he’s a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
You would think, given this background, that Sowell would be an advocate of so-called “social justice.” Instead, he’s become an outspoken critic.
What bothers Sowell about social justice theory is that it attributes the problems in inner-city African-American neighborhoods to the legacy of slavery and racism. Yet, Sowell argues that the liberal welfare state has done far more to destroy African-American families than either slavery or discrimination.
As evidence, Sowell points out that under slavery, black children grew up with two parents more often than today. And only a generation or two after slavery, blacks had higher rates of employment and lower rates of crime than today.
Sowell argues that liberals have filled many in the African-American community with envy, resentment, and a sense of entitlement. But what his community needs, Sowell argues, is people who will stress work and responsibility – who will challenge black children to meet standards, even if those standards are harder for them to attain.
Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom, authors of “No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning,” agree. Though social justice proponents blame inadequate funding for poor school performance among minorities, the Thernstroms say the data tell another story. They report that the gap in spending between wealthy suburban schools and inner city ones is a mere five percent.
When it comes to television habits, however, the data show large differences. African-American kids reportedly spend twice as many hours a day watching television as white kids. African-American kids also report that their parents are okay with their grades as long as they don’t dip below a C-minus. Whites, however, say their parents hold them to at least a B-minus.
I certainly don’t mean to suggest, by this data, that huge inequities don’t exist between minority and white communities. They do. And, as Christians, our hearts should break over the difficulties some people encounter. But, as Sowell reminds us, convincing someone of his victim status does nothing to solve the problem. However, requiring a student to write misspelled words 50 times does.