Why We Ask: Our mission and operations are funded 100% by conservatives like you. Please help us continue to extend Liberty to the next generation and support the 2021 Year-End Campaign today.

Political Editors / June 2, 2021

In Brief: The Soul of Black Conservatism

Thomas Sowell has spent a lifetime challenging the orthodoxy on race, economics, and more.

Jason Riley, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and Wall Street Journal columnist, has literally written the book on economic powerhouse Thomas Sowell. It’s titled Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell. Riley published an adapted excerpt in the Journal, which we in turn will excerpt. He begins with the needed perspective Sowell brings to the table:

Economist Thomas Sowell has grown accustomed to a certain type of media query, usually from white interviewers. They want to know how, as a black conservative, he has dealt with criticism from fellow blacks. Charlie Rose once asked: “How was it, though, for you … to be an African-American man respected by a cross-section of your peers and yet be so against the grain of fellow African-Americans?”

Mr. Sowell, 90, usually responds by challenging the premise. “I don’t know if we can say [that I go] ‘against the grain of fellow African-Americans,’ ” he told Mr. Rose. “You mean fellow African-American intellectuals. But I don’t think African-American intellectuals are any more typical of African-Americans than white intellectuals are of whites.”

In another interview, Mr. Sowell told C-Span’s Brian Lamb that black strangers regularly stop him in public and compliment his views: “When I checked out of my hotel this morning, the black security guard came over and said, ‘Are you Sowell?’ And I said, ‘Yes,’ and he shook my hand warmly and we walked — he walked me the length of the corridor and talked about this and about that. … So, it’s not Sowell versus blacks. It’s the black intellectuals.”

There is a long history of conflating the interests of black Americans with those of black organizations, black journalists, black academics and other elites. The media lazily continues to turn to these groups, from the NAACP to Black Lives Matter, as if they speak for all black people.

Sowell’s work has been most prominently in academia, but his cultural influence, including through a longtime syndicated column from which he retired several years ago, is hard to overstate. Riley’s summary continues:

In December 1980, Mr. Sowell headlined the “Black Alternatives” conference in San Francisco. Its goal was to showcase the variety of perspectives among black politicians, intellectuals and civil-rights activists. “The people who were invited,” he began his keynote address, “are people who are seeking alternatives, people who have challenged the conventional wisdom on one or more issues, people who have thought for themselves instead of marching in step and chanting familiar refrains. … We have come through a historic phase of struggle for basic civil rights — a very necessary struggle, but not sufficient. The very success of that struggle has created new priorities and new urgencies. There are economic realities to confront and self-development to achieve, in the schools, at work, in our communities.”

Liberal elites expected whites to solve the problems of blacks. They still do. Newer movements like Black Lives Matter, and younger public intellectuals such as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram X. Kendi, are far more interested in white behavior than in black behavior. In his speech, Mr. Sowell took a different approach. “The sins of others are always fascinating to human beings, but they are not always the best way to self-development or self-advancement,” he said. “The moral regeneration of white people might be an interesting project, but I am not sure we have quite that much time to spare. Those who have fought on this front are very much like the generals who like to refight the last war instead of preparing for the next struggle.”

Unfortunately, the narrative has taken hold that blacks are monolithic in their leftism. But black conservatives like Sowell fought on:

Black conservatism is often equated with an emphasis on self-help in the mold of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. Mr. Sowell has shown in his writings that groups that confront and address internal problems are best able to rise socially and economically. “If the history of American ethnic groups shows anything, it is how large a role has been played by attitudes of self-reliance,” he wrote in “Race and Economics” (1975). “The success of the antebellum ‘free persons of color’ compared to the later black immigrants to the North, the advancement of the Italian-Americans beyond the Irish-Americans who had many other advantages, the resilience of the Japanese-Americans despite numerous campaigns of persecution, all emphasize the importance of this factor, however mundane and unfashionable it may be.”

Regardless, Sowell’s accomplishments mean he stands among the greats:

Mr. Sowell … has a distinguished body of work in social theory and economic history that is separate from his scholarship on race, culture and inequality. The sheer volume of Mr. Sowell’s writings is surpassed by few contemporaries, black or nonblack. The breadth and depth of his erudition makes the label “black conservative,” however the term is defined, too limiting. His scholarship will be studied and grappled with long after he’s gone.

Read the whole thing here, or more here.

Start a conversation using these share links:

Who We Are

The Patriot Post is a highly acclaimed weekday digest of news analysis, policy and opinion written from the heartland — as opposed to the MSM’s ubiquitous Beltway echo chambers — for grassroots leaders nationwide. More

What We Offer

On the Web

We provide solid conservative perspective on the most important issues, including analysis, opinion columns, headline summaries, memes, cartoons and much more.

Via Email

Choose our full-length Digest or our quick-reading Snapshot for a summary of important news. We also offer Cartoons & Memes on Monday and Alexander’s column on Wednesday.

Our Mission

The Patriot Post is steadfast in our mission to extend the endowment of Liberty to the next generation by advocating for individual rights and responsibilities, supporting the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and promoting free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values. We are a rock-solid conservative touchstone for the expanding ranks of grassroots Americans Patriots from all walks of life. Our mission and operation budgets are not financed by any political or special interest groups, and to protect our editorial integrity, we accept no advertising. We are sustained solely by you. Please support The Patriot Fund today!

★ PUBLIUS ★

“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —George Washington

The Patriot Post is protected speech, as enumerated in the First Amendment and enforced by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, in accordance with the endowed and unalienable Rights of All Mankind.

Copyright © 2021 The Patriot Post. All Rights Reserved.

The Patriot Post does not support Internet Explorer. We recommend installing the latest version of Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome.