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"Erik Johnson" <eejohns@ilstu.edu> Erik Johnson's Review of RACE AND CULTURE by Thomas Sowell

Date: Fri, 3 Feb 1995 14:01:49 -0600 (CST) 
From: "Erik Johnson" <eejohns@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Erik Johnson's Review of RACE AND CULTURE by Thomas Sowell 

The history of different races and how they adapt and assimalate sucessfully or unsucessfully is a sticky and controversial one. In fact, it is so controversial that it has been a topic that has largely been left uncovered. Many of the studies that have been done on the topic were done by crackpots whose thesis was that one culture or race was superior to all others and it just happened to be the same one as the authors. The result has been that the history of studying Racial History has been just as controversial as racial history.

In "Race and Culture", Thomas Sowell tries hard not to sound like a crackpot, but does not come off as being altogether sane either. Sowell argues that some races succed while others fail for a number of reasons that have to do with the internal characteristics of the culture. Some cultures are lazy, while some work harder. Other cultures are more intelligent, while others do not have the brain capacity to compete with the more dominant cultures.

Sowell looks at several races and compares them to determine why some have been sucessful while others have failed. He considers the Chinese, and the Jews as "sucessful" while he sees the blacks as unsucessful. Sowell sees two major reasons for the sucess and failures of these races. The cultures of the sucessful races reward hard work and saving, even if it is at the lowest end of the social status totem pole. The unsucessful races have been put off by hard work and seem as beneath them to do it. The races that become sucessful "pay their dues" by hard work and saving that eventually leads to bigger and better things. The races that are not willing to work or save become stuck in their ways and remain poor.

Sowell's theory might be good in explaining why individuals fail or suceed, but is lacking when it comes to explaining why groups do so. Sowell's fatal mistake is his almost unbelievable overgeneralizations. If his theory were true then the vast majority of blacks would not take a job that would require hard work but have an excellent chance for advancement, while the United States would have no labor laws regulating overtime and child labor. Whether or not some cultures are more apt to hard work or not, Sowell does not take other factors such as the culture these immigrants are moving into. Are they welcome or unwelcome? Did they voluntarily come here or were they brought here against their will. These factors may have just as much of a bearing on sucess as the characteristics of the culture. The other reason why some races suceed is intelligence. Sowell infers that Asians and whites are more sucessful than blacks because they score higher on intelligence tests. However, he ignores the fact that the quality of education for African Americans has been far more poor than the education recieved by whites and Asians. It does not take a University professor to see that a child educated at Crenshaw High School in Compton is not going to get the same education as a child who gets to go to New Trier High School in Winnetka. Comparing the results of these two systems of education is like comparing apples and oranges.

Sowell also looks at why races have a hard time getting along with each other. He believes that cultures do not clash until the government gets involved. Minorities are not hated until it is believed by the dominant culture that the government is giving them preferential treatment. If this arguement were to be true, then history of American racism towards African Americans did not begin until the first Affirmative Action program. This is not to say that "Race and Culture" is not totally flawed. Sowell gives a very interesting and plausable explanation of why European culture became sucessful. Europeans had a natural advantage of being blessed with many navagable rivers, bays and harbors that made transportation and trade possible along with the more rapid flow of communication along these natural roads. The climate was also more suitable to agriculture, while less suitable for harmful tropical diseases that crippled Africa and Asia. Europe's climate and system of waterways gave them an advantage over Africa and Asia.

However, one chapter does not make for the rest of the book. In the aguement of heridity versus the environment, Sowell strongly takes sides with heredity. He sees the culture of the immigrant as the overriding factor concerning sucess. He glosses over the environment in which might have favorable toward sucess or failure. Altthough it was well written and thorughly reseached Sowell suffers from a fatal lack of common sense with his overgeneralizations and stubborn refusal to investigate whether environment made these immigrant groups sucesses or failures.  

--Erik Johnson eejohns@ilstu.edu Back to top...