This comes form the book "Black Rednecks And White Liberals" by Thomas Sowell. Pattern in this context refers to patterns of behavior of southerners who inherited them from people from the British Isles who lived in borderlands between England and Scotland. Those people were not reached by English culture and therefore were very violent and engaged in gang fights and very reprehensible behavior, which as a result was embedded in southern culture and because of slavery (which happened mostly in the south) passed onto the culture of black Americans.

Also, when the author is saying that it was Southern whites who first had these patterns of behavior he means first before black people whose behavior they influenced and altered by coexisting for a long time together but the originator of these cultural patterns were settlers from Great Britain.


Although Dr. Bunche presented these as parallels, historically it was of course the Southern whites who first had these patterns, reflecting patterns among their ancestors in Britain.

As the patterns of behavior in question were undesirable is it possible that "reflecting" in this context can mean:

reflect (thefreedictionary.com)
To bring blame or discredit: Hasty preparation of the report will reflect on you.

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    I tried to clean up this question (formatting, punctuation, etc.) to make it clearer. Please check to make sure that it's OK (especially that the quoted text is quoted properly). Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 3:22
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    An aside: The free dictionary entry for reflect that you quoted is incomplete IMO. It should be "reflect poorly on you". Simply "reflect on you" doesn't necessarily imply positive or negative connotations, although in practice it generally does imply that negative performance will reflect poorly. Sometimes people omit the "poorly" because it is so implicit (particularly paired with other negative adjectives like "hasty"). Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 13:54

3 Answers 3


No. The definition of "reflect" that you quote must be followed by "on", but there is no "on" in the context you're asking about.

In that context, "reflect" only means that the behaviour of the Southern Whites was similar to the behaviour of their ancestors in Britain. It says nothing about how desirable it was. The same meaning of "reflect" can be used about positive things.

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    This sense is based on the way a reflection in a mirror is similar to the original object.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 16:38
  • No, "reflect on" would refer to the effect of the statement, not the cause or source. A mirror "reflects" light from a source but said light reflected from a mirror reflects "on" some other target. The quote refers to the source of the patterns of behavior. A more appropriate preposition to insert instead of "on" would be "from", and may be inferred from the usage, as in "reflecting patterns from among their ancestors in Britain."
    – Suncat2000
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 17:45

historically it was of course the Southern whites who first had these patterns, reflecting patterns among their ancestors in Britain.

This means that the behavior of "Southern whites" imitated, or was based on, the behavior of the ancestors of those people, ancestors who lived in Britain.

This is a very different sense of "reflect" from the sense "reflect on". That sense is used when the actions of one person affect the reputation of another who is considered to be in some sense responsible for the first person.

Often the acts of a child or a student are said to reflect on a parent or teacher, meaning that the parent or teacher is blamed for poor behavior of the child or student, but gains credit dfr acts perceived as good behavior.

  • Can anyone provide a link to a definition of "reflect" meaning "imitate"? I can't find it anywhere. Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 11:45
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    @StaticBounce Merriam Webster gives definition 2 of the transitive verb form as: "to give back or exhibit as an image, likeness, or outline". Their example is a literal mirror, but metaphorically this is the same usage here - "to exhibit as a likeness". The "Southern whites" are said to have been exhibiting certain patterns as a likeness of their British ancestors. Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 13:59

The closest definition I found was "to show, express, or be a sign of something". https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/reflect Here, though, I think it has a meaning of "follow in the footsteps of".

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