Race and Resentment


Recent stories out of both Philadelphia and San Francisco tell of black students beating up Asian American students. This is especially painful for those who expected that the election of Barack Obama would mark the beginning of a post-racial America.

While Obama’s winning the majority of the votes in overwhelmingly white states suggests that many Americans are ready to move beyond race, it is painfully clear that others are not.

Those who explain racial antagonisms on some rationalistic basis will have a hard time demonstrating how Asian Americans have made blacks worse off. Certainly none of the historic wrongs done to blacks was done by the small Asian American population who, for most of their history in this country, have not had enough clout to prevent themselves from being discriminated against.

While ugly racial or ethnic conflicts can seldom be explained by rational economic or other self-interest, they have been too common to be just inexplicable oddities— whether in America or in other countries around the world, and whether today or in centuries past.

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.

  • davarino

    You liberals are going to ruin this country with your "social justice" clap trap. Its funny how many liberals want everyone else to pitch in to the "social justice" offering plate, but are unwilling themselves. Many of these people dont create wealth, therefore do not know what it takes to make an honest living. They just run around showing how compassionate they are with other peoples money.

    I am compassionate toward the needy, but not toward those that refuse to help pull this wagon. Not only do they refuse to help pull but they are dragging their feet, and still feel entitled. Not only do they feel entitled, but hate those that dont need the assistance and actually succeed. They hate those that succeed not realizing those are the ones that will be pitching in to the "social justice" plate……YOUR WELCOME.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/FBastiat FBastiat

    As a FPM writer asked last year: "Clearly, there's only one real question: What would the contemporary promoters of 'equality' consider a just and 'natural' outcome, evincive of a total absence of any form of bias?"

  • Terry Walbert

    The Left is based on envy, which sees another's achievement as an offense against them. Ayn Rand defined it as hatred of the good for being the good.

    • USMCSniper

      Perhaps this is indeed the "Age of Envy"?

  • arild

    I haven't achieved "much" in life. It sure has something to do with me being lazy. I am good at making myself very comfortable.

    I simply cannot understand those who envy the fruits enjoyed by others having made different life choices than themselves.

    I'm happy with MY life, however unachievous it may be regarded as from the outside.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/GaryRumain Gary Rumain

    I remember these underachievers when I was in school. Wouldn't make a effort. Kept falling further and further behind. I often wondered what happened to them. Well, I suppose we need someone to collect the garbage we leave out, clean the streets and maintain the sewers. Although I sometimes wondered what role their parents played in their lack of motivation.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/GaryRumain Gary Rumain

    I remember these underachievers when I was in school. Wouldn't make a effort. Kept falling further and further behind. I often wondered what happened to them. Well, I suppose we need someone to collect the garbage we leave out, clean the streets and maintain the sewers. Although I sometimes wondered what role their parents played in their lack of motivation.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/FBastiat FBastiat

    As a FPM writer asked last year: "Clearly, there's only one real question: What would the contemporary promoters of 'equality' consider a just and 'natural' outcome, evincive of a total absence of any form of bias?"

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/FBastiat FBastiat

    As a FPM writer asked last year: "Clearly, there's only one real question: What would the contemporary promoters of 'equality' consider a just and 'natural' outcome, evincive of a total absence of any form of bias?"

  • Terry Walbert

    The Left is based on envy, which sees another's achievement as an offense against them. Ayn Rand defined it as hatred of the good for being the good.

  • Wil Schuemann

    quote mode on:
    "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."
    quote mode off:

    It seems to me that those who violently express their Envious emotion toward achievers, differ only in their tactics, when compared to those "People" who rationalize/condone the violently expressed Envy emotion. Both groups suffer unconstrained Envy, albeit one group expresses their Envy in a nonviolent, though ultimately more damaging, form.

  • gracie

    I noticed years ago that while liberals were always quick to complain about capitalism, whenevery there was a rich person around, they behaved in a rather odd fawning way. I never saw a liberal that didn't love an enormously wealthy influential person. I do think that explains a lot of the Jew hatred. They don't position themselves as victims first of all. First mistake. Then they have the audacity to go out and be successful whether it is pulling themselves up out of the ghetto or turning a back water swamp of a country (Israel) into something beautiful and productive. All of it done with a good heart and self depricating humor. The gall!

  • gracie

    I noticed years ago that while liberals were always quick to complain about capitalism, whenevery there was a rich person around, they behaved in a rather odd fawning way. I never saw a liberal that didn't love an enormously wealthy influential person. I do think that explains a lot of the Jew hatred. They don't position themselves as victims first of all. First mistake. Then they have the audacity to go out and be successful whether it is pulling themselves up out of the ghetto or turning a back water swamp of a country (Israel) into something beautiful and productive. All of it done with a good heart and self depricating humor. The gall!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Indioviejo Indioviejo

    How come blacks don't beat up Pakistanis, Afghanis, Iranianand other such deserving asians?
    Why the selectivity?

    • USMCSniper

      Typical Black. Pro Football Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor raped a 16-year-old runaway in a hotel room encounter arranged by a man who beat her up before driving her to Taylor's suburban hotel, police said Thursday. If that was my daughter, a beheading would be coming on some dark night.

      • Joe

        you do realize Thomas Sowell, the writer of this article is black, right?

  • Richard

    Amy Chua's, 'World on fire' paints a grim picture of ethnic resentment in many countries.

  • USMCSniper

    Chimpouts will be chimpouts and why should the violent litlle niglets at school be any different than their parents – if they even know who their father is.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sanjay_111 sanjay_111

    As usual, an extremely insightful and yet simple (not simplistic) observation by Mr Sowell.

    Being born a Marwari Hindu in West Bengal in West Bengal in India, I know exactly what Mr Sowell is talking about.

    Leftists who rant about inequities are themselves driven by the jealousy against the achiever rather than any noble intention to see the underdogs come up. In the same West Bengal in India, ruled by the communist party now, their efforts were never to raise up the underdogs but to harm the achievers (in this case the Marwaris) as much as possible.

    I eventually left my place of birth for better environment to cities of Mumbai and Bangalore where achievement is respected more than resented. Same was done by most people like me. West Bengal is now almost an industrial wasteland.

    Having said this, I do believe that developing political power and overpowering the haters is more important than leaving the territory to them. For if we do so, they will follow us to where we went for decent life.