Checking the Black Box

Two men with decidedly different political outlooks have been my go-to sources on race in America. They are Dr. Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., professor and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.


Dr. Gates has just published his latest book, “The Black Box.” The title is a reference to a box on hospital forms for newborns which one must check to confirm their race. Gates rightly calls this an “absurdity,” largely because there are no racial “purebreds,” and regardless of how we look on the outside, we are all equal on the inside.

My first reaction upon reading his book was surprise that I didn’t learn much of what he writes about in high school or college. My second reaction was anger because I didn’t. One reason, I think, is that all of my teachers were white and textbooks sanitized the past in order to promote a “my country right or wrong” patriotic narrative.

Dr. Gates uses the black box as a metaphor for how African Americans were once “locked in” when it came to expressing themselves in writings and, in

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