[Ed. – Always like a drink of cold water on a hot summer day to check in with Dr. Sowell.]
Mr. Sowell is unsparing toward those who purport to speak for American blacks. I ask him about the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. “People want to believe what they want to believe, and the facts are not going to stop them,” he says, adding that black leaders—from President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder down to Al Sharpton—“do all they can to feed that sense of grievance, victimhood and resentment, because that’s where the votes are.”
What about Ta-Nehisi Coates, the black writer whose new book, a raw letter to his son about race relations in the U.S., is stirring public intellectuals? I read Mr. Sowell a line from Mr. Coates’s 15,000-word cover story for the Atlantic calling for reparations for slavery: “In America there is a strange and powerful belief that if you stab a black person 10 times, the bleeding stops and the healing begins the moment the assailant drops the knife.”
“Ah . . . yes,” Mr. Sowell sighs, as if recognizing a familiar tune. “What amazes me is not that there are assertions like this, but that there is no interest in checking those assertions against any evidence,” he says. “One of the things I try to do in the book is to distinguish between what might be the legacy of slavery, and what’s the legacy of the welfare state. If you look at the first 100 years after slavery, black communities were a lot safer. People were a lot more decent. But then you look 30 years after the 1960s revolution, and you see this palpable retrogression—of which I think the key one is the growth of the single-parent family.”
Mr. Sowell says he cannot remember ever hearing a gunshot when he was growing up in Harlem, and he used to sleep on the fire escape to beat the summer heat.