Dynamist Blog

It's a Southern Thing

I've long maintained that many of the cultural characteristics and personal behaviors, good and bad, that Northern commentators (largely white) consider "black" are in fact southern. Being dissed makes the typical good ol' boy just as irrationally mad as it makes an inner-city black guy. And I'd suspect you'd find plenty of Bell Curve-like results if you could break out whites of southern origin, regardless of where they live now, as a separate ethnic group (even more so if you could exclude certain highly educated subgroups, notably the Presbyterians whose attitudes toward education and involvement in commerce have made them the souther equivalent of Jews or Chinese).

Apparently Thomas Sowell agrees. Here's a bit of what he wrote earlier this week in the WSJ:

The culture of the people who were called "rednecks" and "crackers" before they ever got on the boats to cross the Atlantic was a culture that produced far lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, as well as far higher levels of violence and sexual promiscuity. That culture had its own way of talking, not only in the pronunciation of particular words but also in a loud, dramatic style of oratory with vivid imagery, repetitive phrases and repetitive cadences.

Although that style originated on the other side of the Atlantic in centuries past, it became for generations the style of both religious oratory and political oratory among Southern whites and among Southern blacks--not only in the South but in the Northern ghettos in which Southern blacks settled. It was a style used by Southern white politicians in the era of Jim Crow and later by black civil rights leaders fighting Jim Crow. Martin Luther King's famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 was a classic example of that style.

While a third of the white population of the U.S. lived within the redneck culture, more than 90% of the black population did. Although that culture eroded away over the generations, it did so at different rates in different places and among different people. It eroded away much faster in Britain than in the U.S. and somewhat faster among Southern whites than among Southern blacks, who had fewer opportunities for education or for the rewards that came with escape from that counterproductive culture.

Nevertheless the process took a long time. As late as the First World War, white soldiers from Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi scored lower on mental tests than black soldiers from Ohio, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. Again, neither race nor racism can explain that--and neither can slavery.

The redneck culture proved to be a major handicap for both whites and blacks who absorbed it. Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South. The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today's ghettos is regarded by many as the only "authentic" black culture--and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with. Their talk, their attitudes, and their behavior are regarded as sacrosanct.

The people who take this view may think of themselves as friends of blacks. But they are the kinds of friends who can do more harm than enemies.

For understandable reasons, Sowell condemns this "redneck culture" in his new book Black Rednecks And White Liberals. But this often-violent honor culture also gives America much of its backbone. It is, after all, the Jacksonian America that so fascinates bloggers and foreign-policy intellectuals.

ArchivedDeep Glamour Blog ›

Blog Feed

Articles Feed