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Black and White, Left and Right

By Thomas Sowell

Much is made of the fact that lib­erals and conservatives see racial issues differently, which they do. But these differences have too often been seen as simply those on the right being racist and those on the left not.

During the heyday of the Progressive movement in the early 20th century, peo­ple on the left were promoting doctrines of innate, genetic inferiority of not only blacks but also of people from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe, as com­pared to people from Western Europe.

Liberals today tend to either glide over the undeniable racism of Progres­sive President Woodrow Wilson or treat it as some anomaly. But racism on the left at that time was not an anomaly.

An influential 1916 best-seller, “The Passing of the Great Race” – celebrating Nordic Europeans – was written by Madi­son Grant, a staunch activist for Progres­sive causes such as endangered species, municipal reform, conservation and the creation of national parks and “dear” friends with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Grant’s book was translated into German, and Adolf Hitler called it his Bible.

Progressives spearheaded the eugenics movement, dedicated to reducing the reproduction of supposedly “inferior” indi­viduals and races. In academia, there were 376 courses devoted to eugenics in 1920.

Progressive intellectuals crusaded against the admission of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Southern segregationists who railed against blacks were often also Progres­sives who railed against Wall Street. In those days, blacks voted Republican as automatically as they vote Democrat today. As late as 1957, civil rights legisla­tion was sponsored in Congress by Republicans and opposed by Democrats.

The first time I saw a white professor, at a white university, with a black secre­tary, it was Milton Friedman at the Uni­versity of Chicago in 1960 – four years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

She was still his secretary when he died in 2006. I never once heard Profes­sor Friedman mention, in public or in private, that he had a black secretary. She was an outstanding secretary, and that was what mattered.

When it comes to racial issues today, liberals tend to take the side of those blacks who are doing the wrong things – hoodlums the left depicts as martyrs – while the right defends those blacks more likely to be the victims of those hoodlums.

Rudolph Giuliani, when he was the Republican mayor of New York, proba­bly saved more black lives than any other human being by promoting aggressive policing against hoodlums, which brought the murder rate down to a fraction of what it was before.

A lot depends on whether you judge by ringing words or judge by actual con­sequences.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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