TCW | 9 Aug 2023
THOMAS Sowell was born in 1930 into extreme poverty in the Jim Crow South during the Great Depression. Growing up in Harlem as a black orphan, he dropped out of high school, didn’t earn a college degree until he was 28 and didn’t write his first book until he was 40. He served in the Marine Corps in the Korean War, graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in economics, earned a Masters from Columbia and went on to become an internationally known economist, social theorist, philosopher, author and latterly Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In 2002 he won the National Humanities Medal and the Francis Boyer award in 2017. In 2020, at the age of 90, Sowell published his 36th book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies.
Today, however, there are many colleges and universities who are openly opposed to letting Dr Sowell address their students.
What did he do to deserve that? What crime has this man – an all-American success story – committed? What did this thinker, whose quotations are doing the rounds on social media to this day, do wrong?
First of all he became a conservative; second, more heinous perhaps, he became the best internationally known black (conservative) thinker – and one entirely unafraid to challenge received wisdom on race discrimination.
It goes all the way back to the 1970s when Sowell’s criticisms of the direction of the civil rights movement drew attack and his early ‘cancellation’. Black elites as well as the rest of the leftist elite establishment wanted nothing to do with him because he opposed ‘affirmative action’. But Sowell argued that the problems blacks face involved far more than what whites have done to them in the past, that focusing on white racism was not helping the black underclass. He has been proved right time and again as his biographer, Jason L Riley points out in this 2022 lecture and tribute to him. It is worth reading in full.
Today, Riley points out, efforts to defund the police are being pushed by activists and liberal elites who claim to be speaking on behalf of low-income minorities but are mostly speaking for themselves, something he says that Sowell began focusing on long ago.
‘Sowell would often be asked how it felt to go against the grain of so many other blacks. He would inevitably correct the premise of the question. “You don’t mean I go against the grain of most blacks,” he would respond. “You mean I go against the grain of most black intellectuals, most black elites. But black intellectuals don’t represent most blacks any more than white intellectuals represent most whites”.’
Nowhere has Sowell gone against the grain more than with his critique of the slavery debate, today permitted to be understood only through the prism of ‘critical race theory’ (whites are indelibly racist) which has now entered US elementary schools through The New York Times 1619 Project, and which puts the institution of slavery at the centre of America’s founding.
It is fundamentally wrong, Sowell argues. What makes America unique is not slavery; it’s emancipation – the economic and social progress of black Americans in only a few generations unmatched in recorded history.
His analysis and debunking all elements of the white racism slavery myth need as wide as possible transmission. That is why we are showing 14 short videos he’s produced and presents which take on the different elements and examine the facts to expose the many widespread flawed assumptions about slavery.
You can see the whole series here. We begin with ‘The unspoken truth about slavery’.