opinion web
Liberal Opinion Conservative Opinion
Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell
9 Feb 2016
Toxic Words

During this election year, we are destined to hear many words that are toxic in the way they misrepresent … Read More.

2 Feb 2016
After Iowa

Senator Ted Cruz's upset victory against Donald Trump has robbed "The Donald" of his stock answer to any … Read More.

2 Feb 2016
Random Thoughts

Random thoughts on the passing scene: Will this November's presidential election come down to a choice … Read More.

Race and Rhetoric


One of the things that turned up, during a long-overdue cleanup of my office, was an old yellowed copy of the New York Times dated July 24, 1992. One of the front-page headlines said: "White-Black Disparity in Income Narrowed in 80's, Census Shows."

The 1980s? Wasn't that the years of the Reagan administration, the "decade of greed," the era of "neglect" of the poor and minorities, if not "covert racism"?

More recently, during the administration of America's first black president, a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center has the headline, "Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics."

While the median net worth of whites was ten times the median net worth of blacks in 1988, the last year of the Reagan administration, the ratio was nineteen to one in 2009, the first year of the Obama administration. With Hispanics, the ratio was eight to one in 1988 and fifteen to one in 2009.

Race is just one of the areas in which the rhetoric and the reality often go in opposite directions. Political rhetoric is intended to do one thing — win votes. Whether the policies that accompany that rhetoric make people better off or worse off is far less of a concern to politicians, if any concern at all.

Democrats receive the overwhelming bulk of the black vote by rhetoric and by presenting what they have done as the big reason that blacks have advanced. So long as most blacks and whites alike mistake rhetoric for reality, this political game can go on.

A Manhattan Institute study last year by Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor showed that, while the residential segregation of blacks has generally been declining from the middle of the 20th century to the present, it was rising during the first half of the 20th century. The net result is that blacks in 2010 were almost as residentially unsegregated as they were back in 1890.

There are complex reasons behind such things, but the bottom line is plain. The many laws, programs and policies designed to integrate residential housing cannot be automatically assumed to translate into residentially integrated housing.

Government is not the sole factor, nor necessarily the biggest factor, no matter what impression political rhetoric gives.

No city is more liberal in its rhetoric and policies than San Francisco. Yet there are less than half as many blacks living in San Francisco today as there were in 1970.

Nor is San Francisco unique. A number of other very liberal California counties saw their black populations drop by 10,000 people or more, just between the 1990 and 2000 censuses — even when the total population of these counties was growing.

One of the many reasons why rhetoric does not automatically translate into reality is that the ramifications of so many government policies produce results completely different from what was claimed, or even believed, when these policies were imposed.

The poverty rate among blacks was nearly cut in half in the 20 years prior to the 1960s, a record unmatched since then, despite the expansion of welfare state policies in the 1960s.

Unemployment among black 16 and 17-year-old males was 12 percent back in 1950. Yet unemployment rates among black 16 and 17-year-old males has not been less than 30 percent for any year since 1970 — and has been over 40 percent in some of those years.

Not only was unemployment among blacks in general lower before the liberal welfare state policies expanded in the 1960s, rates of imprisonment of blacks were also lower then, and most black children were raised in two-parent families. At one time, a higher percentage of blacks than whites were married and working.

None of these facts fits liberal social dogmas.

While many politicians and "leaders" have claimed credit for black progress, no one seems to be willing to take the blame for the retrogressions represented by higher unemployment rates, higher crime rates, and higher rates of imprisonment today. Or for the disintegration of the black family, which survived centuries of slavery and generations of government-imposed discrimination in the Jim Crow era, but began coming apart in the wake of the expansion of the liberal welfare state and its accompanying social dogmas.

The time is long overdue to start looking beyond the prevailing political rhetoric to the hard realities.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



6 Comments | Post Comment
Thank you again Mr. Sowell for your clear statements. It is disappointing how straight forward messages and insights such as yours are so easily lost in the media spin.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Jeffrey A. Johnson
Tue Mar 20, 2012 6:29 AM
One of the problems is the working assumptions that many people have, especially in the black community. There are still a huge number of people who believe that this country is mostly racists and bigoted and that the republican party is the blatant political arm of those bigots. The other belief is that while Democrats may have racists amongst their ranks, they are the political haven for the oppressed trying to escape the hatred and tyranny of the wicked racist majority.

While this all sounds cliche, there are many people who flat out believe this to be true. Not just true in practice but that it is openly true that this country is divided in such a manner. There are people who honestly believe that if the 13th amendment were overturned that republicans would rejoice and move to enslave blacks. This isn't some rare or extreme belief, it is quite common amongst many of the strong democrat base, of all races.

I'm not trying to say that republicans are angels and democrats are evil but just point out that these assumptions are there in the minds of many people. The question is how do you have an intellegent honest conversation with people who believe these things? How on earth can you convince such individuals to examine the results of policy or even consider listening to freemarket prinicples. How can you talk to someone who believes you just plain hate them or their friends because you disagree with affirmative action or most of the welfare policies in practice right now? What's more, how can you even convince someone to listen when individuals like Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell can simply be labled "Uncle Tom" and their opinion discounted?

This is a true uphill battle. I don't know if it actually can be won.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Zack
Tue Mar 20, 2012 7:59 AM
Sowell and Zack both made good reading. Thanks.

Comment: #3
Posted by: Tom
Tue Mar 20, 2012 10:40 AM
Facts are troublesome to the liberal agenda. "Losing Ground" by C. Murray in 1985 corroborates everything as stated by Mr. Sowell.
Comment: #4
Posted by: David
Tue Mar 20, 2012 12:47 PM
What effect do you think job outsourcing has had on black male unemployment (also white unemployment)? Shouldn't the republicans and democrats share the blame equally on that? And by the way, did you check out the CPI inflation calculator? What used to cost $5.00 in 1950 would cost $47.23 today. Don't you think both parties have had a hand in that as well? And finally, why are you avoiding the Trayvon thing? What role do you really, privately think the right to carry guns without any checks had on this?
Comment: #5
Posted by: jean
Sun Mar 25, 2012 7:00 AM
Well, Jean, outsourcing has improved the domestic employment picture and benefited Americans.
Oh, and yes, your liberal bias about guns is also showing.
Just callin' 'em as I see 'em.
Comment: #6
Posted by: LucklessPedestrian
Tue Apr 10, 2012 4:32 PM
Already have an account? Log in.
New Account  
Your Name:
Your E-mail:
Your Password:
Confirm Your Password:

Please allow a few minutes for your comment to be posted.

Enter the numbers to the right: comments policy
Thomas Sowell
Feb. `16
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
31 1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 1 2 3 4 5
About the author About the author
Write the author Write the author
Printer friendly format Printer friendly format
Email to friend Email to friend
View by Month
Authorís Podcast
Deb Saunders
Debra J. SaundersUpdated 14 Feb 2016
Steve Chapman
Steve ChapmanUpdated 14 Feb 2016
Mark Shields
Mark ShieldsUpdated 13 Feb 2016

20 Jan 2015 'Diversity' in Action

17 Jan 2007 Another Vietnam?: Part II

25 Dec 2007 Primary Elections And Secondary Candidates