Needless to say — right? — it took guts to be a black conservative — a prominent one, “in the arena” — when virtually no one else was. It still takes guts, frankly. I asked Sowell who treated him worse: white liberals or other blacks? After a couple of seconds, he said, “Oh, it’s too close to call.” (Sowell can be one of the funniest people alive.)
From blacks, he has always received a lot of “quiet support,” or “private support.” This refers to people who won’t align with him publicly but, behind the scenes, in the shadows, agree with him, and root him on. I once heard him joke of the phenomenon this way: “I’m right behind you, Tom — waaaay behind you.”
When he wrote his book Black Education: Myths and Tragedies (1972), he had a big campus radical feeding him information. “Don’t you dare say I told you this, because they would lynch me, but get a load of this . . .” (That was the word Sowell used, when he related this story: “lynch.”)
Actually, I think many of us conservatives, of any color, understand what “private support” means — especially if we’ve been to college, and expressed a mildly right-of-center point of view there. They scurry up to you in the dark of night, look both ways, and whisper, “I like what you say.” Then they’ll scurry off, back to safety. I gave a speech touching on “scurriers” once . . .
And just to preempt a little mail, maybe: I am told, and I believe, that campuses are much more comfortable for conservatives than they used to be. Of course, they used to be very uncomfortable.