One Truth About Black Culture That Shocked Joe Rogan, Part One
Few figures in conservatism are more revered than Thomas Sowell. The work of Sowell, a free-market economist, social theorist and philosopher, has spanned decades and influenced generations.
Sowell wrote a nationally syndicated column, authored dozens of books and dazzled television audiences time and time again with his common sense, anti-intellectual approach to political and cultural issues.
The following story is part of The Western Journal’s exclusive series “The Sowell Digest.” Each issue of the series will break down one of Sowell’s many influential works. This article is part one of two covering “Black Rednecks and White Liberals,” the first chapter of one of Sowell’s most prominent books which shares the same name.
Joe Rogan is always learning. Each and every week, millions of people across the world tune in to watch the comedian turned world’s-greatest-podcaster do so. It’s no wonder his podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” is pulling in more viewers than the top shows of multi-hundred-million dollar new organizations like CNN and MSNBC.
Unlike those “news” outlets, Rogan isn’t trying to control cultural the narrative or push an agenda; he simply seeks truth and knowledge wherever he can find it. It’s in those moments of discovery that “The Joe Rogan Experience” becomes most compelling. To watch that sudden moment flicker across Rogan’s eyes in real-time is really quite something.
Perhaps the best example of this came in 2017 when Rogan’s guest, author Hunter Maats, introduced him to the work of Thomas Sowell.
“Do you really want to go down the rabbit hole?” Hunter asked Rogan.
The ever-curious comedian responded exactly as one would expect, saying “I would love to let’s do it,” prompting yet another question from Maats: “Do you know Thomas Sowell?”
Rogan had heard the name before but couldn’t quite place it. So, Maats gave him a full run-down on one of Sowell’s most controversial theories: that of “Black Rednecks and White Liberals.”
Rogan’s conversation with Maats seems to have resonated quite strongly. One clip of the exchange on YouTube, titled “Joe Rogan is shocked to learn about Thomas Sowell’s Wisdom,” has garnered an impressive 1.4 million views.
But what, exactly, is Sowell’s “Black Rednecks and White Liberals” theory?
The economist posits that, during the era of American slavery, black slaves slowly assimilated into the culture of those around them, most of whom were poor “white” rednecks.
Some of these slaves took this culture with them into the urban ghettos of the north and south after abolition, per Sowell’s theory.
Because of this, Sowell contends that much of what is currently considered “authentic urban black culture,” is merely a derivative of southern redneck culture, which itself is derived from the poor, rural Brits of the “Celtic fringe,” who immigrated to the southern United States.
Throughout history, this culture held back the white communities that adhered to it and then, eventually, the former black slaves who adhered to it as well.
It’s important to note: This is by no means a majority of black Americans. Too often, conservatives will unintentionally misquote Sowell to make it sounds as if most black Americans are “rednecks.”
Black America made historic strides in education and assimilation after slavery (this will be addressed at length in part two). However, to the degree that certain “black redneck” communities didn’t, certain disparities still exist between blacks and other races in the U.S., according to Sowell.
From Celtic Fringe to Inner City
Sowell begins the book with a short, inflammatory quote: “These people are creating a terrible problem in our cities. They can’t or won’t hold a job, they flout the law constantly and neglect their children, they drink too much and their moral standards would shame an alley cat. For some reason or other, they absolutely refuse to accommodate themselves to any kind of decent, civilized life.”
Upon reading that quote, most readers would likely assume it’s in reference to blacks who immigrated north following abolition.
Those readers would be wrong.
“This was said in 1956 in Indianapolis, not about blacks or other minorities, but about poor whites from the South… A 1951 survey in Detroit found that white Southerners living there were considered ‘undesirable’ by 21 percent of those surveyed, compared to 13 percent who ranked blacks the same way,” Sowell wrote.
This “undesirable” redneck culture first originated in the British Isles. According to Sowell, when the British first immigrated to America, they came over in groups. For example, most of the British who arrived in Massachusetts came from the same area of East Anglia.
Similarly, those who moved to the southern U.S. all came from the same area of Britain: the Celtic fringe. Disconnected from “the cultural heartland of England,” Brits from the Celtic fringe lived in dire, lawless and impoverished conditions.
As a result, these Brits, known in their homeland as “crackers” and “rednecks,” developed many poor cultural habits such as uncleanliness, a proclivity towards violence and a desire for instant gratification through sex and the use of hard substances.
“In this world of impotent laws, daily dangers, and lives that could be snuffed out at any moment, the snatching at whatever fleeting pleasures presented themselves was at least understandable,” Sowell wrote. “Certainly prudence and long-range planning of one’s life had no such pay-off in this chaotic world as in more settled and orderly societies under the protection of effective laws.”
While these cultural habits and values may have proved useful in the lawless, backward rural area of Britain from whence they originated, in the U.S. they created nothing but problems for the groups who held fast to them.
“What the rednecks or crackers brought with them across the ocean was a whole constellation of attitudes values, and behavior patterns that might have made sense in the world in which they had lived for centuries, but which would prove to be counterproductive in the world to which they were going–and counterproductive to the blacks who would live in their midst for centuries before emerging into freedom and migrating to the great urban centers of the United States, taking with them similar values,” Sowell wrote.
You Might Be a Redneck If…
Given how prevalent black identity is in today’s American pop culture, it isn’t too hard for most to conjure up the sound of urban black vernacular (also known as “black English” and “Ebonics”).
Saying “ax” instead of “ask,” is one common feature of this vernacular, for example.
Many believe “black English” to be a unique “authentic” feature of the black American experience. According to Sowell, however, those people are completely wrong.
This vernacular “closely follows dialects brought over from those parts of Britain from which many white southerners came.”
For example, those from the Celtic fringe would often replace phrases like “I am,” “You are,” “She isn’t,” “It doesn’t” and “I haven’t” with the phrases “I be,” “You be,” “She ain’t,” “It don’t” and “I hain’t,” a classic feature of “black English.”
This vernacular was far from the only trait passed on from poor whites to black slaves, however.
Drawing on a mountain of research, first-hand testimonies and statistical evidence, Sowell breaks down the entire redneck cultural milieu.
Throughout “Black Rednecks and White Liberals,” he lists off a shockingly extensive list of attitudes, values and habits shared by British “crackers,” southern rednecks and urban ghetto communities.
The list includes a proclivity for violence, disdain for work, impassioned dance and musical tastes, dislike of education, poor financial planning, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, pride, vanity, a lack of entrepreneurial spirit and “a style of religious oratory marked by strident rhetoric, unbridled emotions, and flamboyant imagery.”
Prominent black leaders from the 19th and 20th centuries, including prominent Marxist W.E.B. Du Bois, lamented the prevalence of such attitudes within certain black communities.
“Probably few poor nations waste more money by thoughtless and unreasonable expenditure than the American Negro, and especially those living in large cities. Thousands of dollars are annually wasted…in amusements of various kinds, and in miscellaneous ornaments and gewgaws,” De Bois wrote.
Sowell maintains that black redneck culture has been fading fast through the decades, as has white redneck culture.
“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.” – Thomas Sowell pic.twitter.com/Ycns0Y4dO7
— Steve Hanke (@steve_hanke) February 12, 2023
However, the extent to which it persists in the black community helps explain higher rates of violent crime, out-of-wedlock births, and other racial disparities, including in economics and education.
Sowell’s final point is perhaps his most provocative: the economist maintains that, if not for the efforts of white liberals, the black community may have been able to leave behind this outdated culture decades earlier.
The left just couldn’t help but encourage many black communities to act like poor white rural brits.
Stay tuned for the next episode of “The Sowell Digest,” which covers the rest of “Black Rednecks and White Liberals,” including Sowell’s critique of white liberals’ attempts to enshrine white redneck culture as the “authentic black culture.”
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