Hurray for Thomas Sowell – by Amanda S. Green
After a break for some snarking, not to mention some family demands that have needed to take precedence over everything, I’m finally getting back to Thomas Sowell. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about the second essay in Black Rednecks & White Liberals. Specifically, I’ll be discussing the second essay in the collection, titled “Are Jews Generic?”. In approximately 50 pages, Sowell once again not only gets to the heart of several social issues the United States faces but he exhibits a knowledge and understanding of history and human behavior all too few of the so-called experts do.
As with the first essay, “Black Rednecks & White Liberals”, Sowell uses historical facts and trends to illustrate why certain things happen today. Sometimes what he writes can be difficult to read. Other times, I found myself almost doing one of those V-8 commercial head slaps and doing my best Homer Simpson “D-oh!” because, with just a few words or a few paragraphs, he made something come into focus that I’d wondered about. Most of all, he made me think critically and, at times, question why I believed something.
That is what makes Sowell so good. He doesn’t shy away from asking the hard questions nor does he hesitate from coming to conclusions – and supporting them with facts – that might not be popular in this “woke” time we find ourselves in.
In fact, very often his research and presentation of facts put the lie to being “woke”. Let’s face it, much of what he said in the first essay proves that much – if not all – of the “woke” movement resemble the same so-called good intentions of the white liberals he wrote about. Intentions that have helped create and perpetuate the problems we see in the inner cities of our major metropolitan areas today.
Perhaps we need to take up a fund and send copies of this book to each of the Stoneman-Douglas kids who are going around the country trying to “educate” the rest of us on gun control. Or how about to all the Hollywood stars who think the way to preserve our civil liberties is to take them away. Of course, were we to do so, we’d probably have to stand over each of them and read the book to them, stopping every paragraph or two and asking questions to make sure they were both listening and understanding what Sowell wrote.
As tempting as such a thing might be, can’t you imagine their response? The twitterverse would explode with allegations that we were torturing them with propaganda that wasn’t woke enough for them. We couldn’t understand the suffering of the underprivileged because of our whiteness, etc. Funny how they seem to forget their own wealth and whiteness and privilege.
Hmmm, much like Sowell commented about the oh-so-helpful white liberals.
Instead, the best we can do is read the book for ourselves. Then we need to talk about it, first with our families and then with our friends. In other words, we need to educate ourselves because no one else is going to do it for us and Sowell is an excellent place to start.
So, getting down from my soapbox, let’s take a look at the opening pages of “Are Jews Generic?”.
I’ll admit, when I read the title of the essay, I wasn’t sure what Sowell was getting at? Being Sowell, he quickly gets to the point.
[I]n a worldwide perspective, the most hated kinds of minorities are often not defined by race, color, religion or national origin. Often they are generically “middleman minorities,” who can be of any racial or ethnic background. . . . (BRAWL, pg 65)
But what does he mean by “middleman minorities”?
He doesn’t answer that, at least not directly, right away. He does, however, list some of those minorities: Jews in Europe, Chinese minorities in parts of Southeast Asia, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, etc. Students of history might understand what he is getting at but others might not. However, instead of answering the question directly, he continues to build his historical context. By doing so, when he finally explains what a “middleman minority” really is, his point is really driven home. It is just one example of what makes Sowell such an excellent author and why he is so good at making his readers think.
While many kinds of minorities have been persecuted and subjected to violence, the sheer magnitude and duration of the persecution and violence unleashed against the middleman minorities eclipses that unleashed against other kinds of minorities. (BRAWL, pg 65)
The picture he is drawing is becoming clearer. The first, and probably easiest, picture that comes to mind is the Holocaust. Not only because of the title of the essay but because of the historical “nearness” of the atrocities committed during it. But he references others as well: the mass slaughter of the Ibos in Nigeria, “the horrors” inflicted on the Vietnamese boat people, the genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Yes, the picture is becoming clearer.
“[T]he scale of lethal mass violence against middle man minorities has been unequalled.” (BRAWL, pg 66) Sowell notes that the number of Chinese slaughtered near Saigon by mobs in 1782 is more than the total number of blacks lynched in the history of the United States. Sure, there will be those who point out blacks have suffered other forms of violence than just lynching but Sowell’s point remains. That violence has been, especially in the modern day, a series of isolated events and not an instance of mass violence.
Or, to put it into better perspective, “[W]hile the Holocaust was the ultimate catastrophe for Jews, it was also the culmination of a long history of lethal mass violence unleashed against middleman minorities around the world.” (BRAWL, pg 66)
So, what do these different middleman minorities have in common and why have they been, within an historical context, hated and resented?
Partly the resentments and animosities against these groups have derived from the economic role they play, a role that has been widely misunderstood and widely resented. . . even when this economic role has been played by people not ethnically different from those around them. Differences of race, religion or ethnicity, added to the resentments arising from the economic role itself, have produced explosive mixtures in many times and places. (BRAWL, pg 66)
Does it really all come down to money? Not exactly. Note how Sowell refers to the “economic role” these groups play.
Think about that and about what he might mean. We’ll come back to that next week when we get into the “meat” of the essay. For now, let me ask you this: who do you see as the “middleman minority” under attack in our country? The correlating question is why? Why is this group resented and under attack? Finally, how do we combat it when one of the two major political parties is touting as its newest rising star someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Castro (oops, Cortez), someone who has declared war on capitalism?
The battle lines have been drawn. It is up to each of us to decide where we stand and what we are going to do to fight the slide toward socialism – or worse. The battle begins with education – educating ourselves and our families and then moving on to educating others. Thomas Sowell is an excellent place to start because that education requires more than just political theory. It requires and understanding of human nature, of economics, of history and so much more.
Until next week.