Articles

Race and Resentment

Written by Thomas Sowell on May 05 2010.

Resentments and hostility toward people with higher achievements are one of the most widespread of human failings. Resentments of achievements are more deadly than envy of wealth.

The hatred of people who started at the bottom and worked their way up has far exceeded any hostility toward those who were simply born into wealth. None of the sultans who inherited extraordinary fortunes in Malaysia has been hated like the Chinese, who arrived there destitute and rose by their own efforts.

Inheritors of the Rockefeller fortune have been elected as popular governors in three states, attracting nothing like the hostility toward the Jewish immigrants who rose from poverty on Manhattan's Lower East Side to prosperity in a variety of fields.

Others who started at the bottom and rose to prosperity — the Lebanese in West Africa, the Indians in Fiji, the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, for example — have likewise been hated for their achievements. Being born a sultan or a Rockefeller is not an achievement.

Achievements are a reflection on others who may have had similar, and sometimes better, chances but who did not make the most of their chances. Achievements are like a slap across the face to those who are not achieving, and many people react with the same kind of anger that such an insult would provoke.

In our own times, especially, this is not just a spontaneous reaction. Many of our educators, our intelligentsia and our media — not to mention our politicians — promote an attitude that other people's achievements are grievances, rather than examples.

When black school children who are working hard in school and succeeding academically are attacked and beaten up by black classmates for "acting white," why is it surprising that similar hostility is turned against Asian Americans, who are often achieving academically more so than whites?

This attitude is not peculiar to some in the black community or to the United States. The same phenomenon is found among lower-class whites in Britain, where academically achieving white students have been beaten up badly enough by their white classmates to require hospital treatment.

These are poisonous and self-destructive consequences of a steady drumbeat of ideological hype about differences that are translated into "disparities" and "inequities," provoking envy and resentments under their more prettied-up name of "social justice."

Asian American school children who are beaten up are just some of the victims of these resentments that are whipped up. Young people who are seething with resentments, instead of seizing educational and other opportunities around them, are bigger victims in the long run, whether they are blacks in the US or lower-class whites in the UK. A decade after these beatings, these Asian Americans will be headed up in the world, while the hoodlums who beat them up are more likely to be headed for crime and prison.

People who call differences "inequities" and achievements "privilege" leave social havoc in their wake, while feeling noble about siding with the less fortunate. It would never occur to them that they have any responsibility for the harm done to both blacks and Asian Americans.

Thomas SowellThomas Sowell graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University (1958) and went on to receive his master's in economics from Columbia University (1959) and a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago (1968). He is the author of 28 books including his most recent, Intellectuals and Society. Currently he is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His Web site is www.tsowell.com.

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