Thursday, October 27, 2005

Alex Haley or: Why Perception Equals Reality

Recently on this blog, a regular and valued commenter put forth that the current endangered state of the Black family in America was due to the legacy of slavery.

This idea is commonly held by both the majority culture and by Blacks themselves. I mean, we've all seen Roots. Kizzy gets sold, and Chicken George's family is scattered to the four winds. Seems a reasonable conclusion, then. Certainly white folks have no personal knowledge about this.

Roots is history, but it really isn't. For example, "jumping the broom" is a European, not African custom, although it is observed in Black America today compliments of Alex Haley, the author of Roots.

So out of driven curiosity, I researched the history of the American Black family for meself. Found a scholar named Herbert Gutman who discovered there was a grapevine network during slavery to keep track of family members.

So, slavery certainly fractured the family, but it didn't die. Anecdotally, after emancipation there were tales of Black men scouring the countryside for traces of their families.

But let's stick to facts. Move on to W.E.B. DuBois studying Black families in Philadelphia. As early as the 1890s, just 35-odd years after the death of slavery, Black marriage and family rates were already nearly the same as whites:

"DuBois finds the similarities in marital state
between blacks and whites surprising. He writes that
'On the whole it is noticeable that the conjugal
condition of the Negroes approaches so nearly that of
the whites, when the economic and social history of
the two groups has been so strikingly different'":

"...[I]t must be remembered that the Negro home and the
stable marriage state is for the mass of the colored
people...a new social institution. The strictly
guarded savage home life of Africa, which with all its
shortcomings protected womanhood, was broken up
completely by the slave ship, and the promiscuous
herding of the West Indian plantation....With
emancipation the Negro family was first made
independent and with the migration to cities we see
for the first time the thoroughly independent Negro
family. On the whole it is a more successful
institution than we had a right to expect...
"--W. E. B. DuBois, The Philadelphia Negro: A social study.(1899)

Before we approach the 1960's, when a lot of funky social stuff happened, we see that Black and white marriage and illegitimacy rates are nearly identical. This is from Ebony Magazine:

"The percentage of Black women who are married
declined from 62 percent to 31 percent between 1950
and 2002." [The rate for whites in 1950 was 66%, not a statistically significant difference.---TVD]

"In 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I
Have a Dream" speech, more than 70 percent of all
Black families were headed by married couples. In 2002
that number was 48 percent."

"The Black family has crumbled more in the last 30
years than it did in the entire 14 decades since
slavery," says Dr. Julia Hare, author, psychologist
and executive director of San Francisco's the Black
Think Tank."

So if I read my history right, the slave ships decimated the Black family, but Black folk adjusted to their heinous conditions, and after gaining their freedom quickly adapted to the American nuclear family structure.

The story of the American Black family is not an unbroken line from Kunta Kinte to 21st century baby daddies. Something happened in the 1960s, and I think we all know what it is. What's happened in these last 50 years has nothing to do with slavery and cannot be helped by politics. Social forces have threatened all families, but when whites sneeze, Blacks get pneumonia.

A call to return to the greatness Black America achieved, of adapting to an alien culture after being loosed from their chains with just the clothes on their backs, and not just surviving but thriving despite all the obstacles, seems to me a much finer message than one of perpetual hopelessness. I think mebbe there should be a march. A million men might show up to regain their legacy, one that was lost not so very long ago at all. Who knows?

I'm thinking mebbe whites should hold one, too. It's not like they're doing all that well, either.

23 comments:

brmerrick said...

"...when whites sneeze, Blacks get pneumonia."

This is exactly right. This is a mantra that works well for all social conditions. There will always be a few of the elite who can handle a little- or even a lot- of social debauchery, but the poison they can stomach will never work for everyone else. Think about Madonna having a child out of wedlock. That woman could push out a baby every nine months until menopause without a husband, and minus the psychological damage, the ill effects of illegitimacy on the rest of society would be barely noticeable in the Madonna clan.

But her example, and the examples of countless others trumpeted in an equally irresponsible media, sets an impossible standard for everyone else.

Pastorius said...

TVD,
Very good post. I agree that the welfare system (your unstated hypothesis) has done much to destroy the black family. However, I think it also has a lot to do with whites in government, the media, and academia, mistaking pity (for the pathetic situation black folk find themselves in) and shame (for their own white culture behavior) for an actual race-blind society where they have friendships with black folk.

I can't tell you how many times I have been called a racist by my liberal friends over the years. I usually take it the first three times they say it, and then I ask them, "Who else do you know that has a family that looks like mine, white man?"

:)

The Liberal Anonymous said...

We are all racist. We all certainly form opinions about those who are different than use. It's part of being human -- part of the group cohesion that makes us what we are. Many folks are in denial of this, of course, but that doesn't make it any less true.

Recognizing this is the first step to doing something about it. Understanding our failures as human creatures and working around them is what separates us from the animals.

So I agree. Those who claim not to be racists are wrong about themselves.

James Elliott said...

I agree that the welfare system (your unstated hypothesis) has done much to destroy the black family.

I call BS.

From 1970 to 1993, do you know how many families were long-term (over three to five years) on welfare? Five percent of the rolls.

So, as Tom says, we must look to many causes. Liberals should not stop at racism, as we are wont to do, but neither should racism be wholly discounted. To do so ignores the cumulative effect of generations worth of experiences. As with many issues, both the Left and the Right are on to something, and they're not mutually exclusive.

Kathy Hutchins said...

Liberals should not stop at racism, as we are wont to do, but neither should racism be wholly discounted.

On the one hand: it is my moral and spiritual duty to see each fellow human being as made in the image of God and to see Christ in each face. That is true regardless of whether my exterior actions have any effect at all on members of other groups. It also, to the extent I manage it, rules out racism. I'm not allowed to even think of one human as a lesser being than another, much less act like I think it. The whole mote/plank command also rules out any pointing of fingers at Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton.

On the other hand, from a purely practical standpoint: we've reached a region of rapidly decreasing marginal returns to black well-being from making white folks feel guilty. If, after 50 years post Brown and 40 years post Civil Rights Act and scores of other political and economic initiatives, there are still institutional and political effects of racism, then I don't know that the remaining portion is amenable of political solution. It's not my place to declare racial guilt fatigue, but I sense it lurking just beneath a great many benign and well-intentioned facades.

Do you, James, have any specific ideas about policies or programs that should be undertaken for the explicit purpose of mitigating effects of racism, as opposed to effect of poverty, poor educational opportunity, etc? Would it be so bad to just pretend race wasn't a factor, once these disadvantages had been addressed?

James Elliott said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James Elliott said...

Do you, James, have any specific ideas about policies or programs that should be undertaken for the explicit purpose of mitigating effects of racism, as opposed to effect of poverty, poor educational opportunity, etc? Would it be so bad to just pretend race wasn't a factor, once these disadvantages had been addressed?

Bad? From a policy standpoint, it probably doesn't make too much of a difference whether racism is expressly addressed or not. But that's assuming you can divorce policy outcomes from social and cultural attitudes, and that's pie-in-the-sky type thinking (for example, welfare reform would benefit from increases in stable and beneficial marriages). Turning a blind eye to the past and lingering effects of racism will merely lead to a fracturing of the citizenry, an option not open to a society increasingly thrown together in the economic and domestic spheres. Sub/urbanization clustering will force people to live together. We can't begin to address cultural racism if we officially ignore it. That's just living in denial because we're tired of learning that we're imperfect.

The most statistically effective means of addressing racial/ethnic divides in a political sense would, unfortunately, require a massive restructuring of our Constitution and our government. In heterogeneous nations, parliamentary systems with guaranteed proportional representation and power-sharing, along with local distribution of federally-collected shared resources are the most effective means of addressing power imbalances, which contribute mightily to the feedback loop that is racism. That's not possible in our country, so more innovative methods are needed.

I feel that the city of San Jose, with its Neighborhood Advisory Councils, does a very good and innovative job of uniting and informing its ethnic populations. It's not a perfect model, but it's one worth studying (my university department is heavily involved in the NACs and the Neighborhood Development Center). Unfortunately, it really only works so long as the City Council and the Mayor's office (Mayor Ron Gonzales was the key player behind the NACs' creation) are committed to and invested in the process.

Perhaps a more specific policy might hinge upon education: A stark and unflinching look at America's treatment of minorities (not just segregation but things like the forced deportation and repatriation of 2 million Mexicans in the 1930s, many of whom were American citizens). America does not have a proud history when it comes to minorities, and we should not be afraid to have our teens learn from it.

Pastorius said...

James,
Note that I said the welfare system has done much to destroy the black family. I don't discount the cumulative effects of racism. In fact, my hypothesis, that white liberals have substituted pity for relationships with black people is an indictment of white liberal racism. Now, let's discuss white conservative racism, because that exists also. I have, in my time, worked in the country club industry. There are still many country clubs which are restricted. Since many of the friendships that blossom into business partnerships are begun in country clubs, there is no doubt that this is but one way of keeping black people out of power.

In addition, there was the whole Trent Lott/Strom Thurmond spectacle. That proved, once again, that racism is alive and well in certain sectors of the Republican Party.

The thing is, I believe that as white conservative racism has shrunk, white liberal racism has grown. More and more, white liberals enable racism from blacks such as Farrakhan and the professor who the other day said that all white people should be killed. When white liberals help to enable this kind of hatred by blacks towards whites it shows that they believe, not only that whites deserve it, but that blacks can't think any better. This kind of enabling gives the American public the wrong view of black people.

That is a tragedy.

Pastorius said...

Kathy,
The whole mote/plank thing does not rule out criticism of Sharpton or Farrakhan. Both of them are very evil men.

Louis Farrakhan says white people and Jews are of the devil. Farrakhan LITERALLY believes that Satan had sex with a human, and that spawned the white race. That is Elijah Muhammed's teaching and Farrakhan believes it. There is no excusing that. It is Hitlerian.

Al Sharpton accused some white men of raping Tawana Brawley and smearing her with feces. It was later proven that this didn't happen, and that he knew it didn't happen, yet he said it did anyway. That is evil and there is no excusing such behavior.

I will point fingers at such and call it evil until the cows come home, and I will feel comfortable answering to the God of the Bible for it.

James Elliott said...

Note that I said the welfare system has done much to destroy the black family.

Yes. I think I fairly well indicated that this comment flies in the face of reality.

When white liberals help to enable this kind of hatred by blacks towards whites it shows that they believe, not only that whites deserve it, but that blacks can't think any better.

I'll grant that there's a large subset of liberals whose perceived racial guilt defies all reality and prevents them from speaking up against stupid statements (witness the rather unthinking embrace of the Palestinian student movement without addressing the not-so-buried anti-Semitism all too often embedded therein). It is precisely because of this kind of stupid thinking that I stood up in favor of David Horowitz at a campus protest against him while at university. However, you're committing the logical fallacy of gross overgeneralization here.

I believe that as white conservative racism has shrunk

Gonna have to back that one up. Racism in this country crosses ideological lines and is often more of the unthinking "see no evil, hear no evil" variety. Overt acts of racism are no longer as prominent as they were. Let's not forget, there are wide swaths of this country where "kick the niggra" is still an acceptable game when no cans are available, and a whole lot of those are found in red-voting counties.

Farrakhan LITERALLY believes that Satan had sex with a human, and that spawned the white race.

It's the fact that he's willing to say the word "sex" out loud that has people saying he's a liberal, isn't it? Hitlerian? I see we've met someone who's pre-ordered Jonah Goldberg's new book... Setting the bar kind of low for a man with no power, aren't we?

Gotta say, Pastorius, when it comes to Al Sharpton, your threshold of "evil" is pretty low. That's a powerful word there, man. It shouldn't be used lightly.

I'd say pointing fingers at anyone and feeling comfortable about it is pretty New Testament-revisionist of you.

Pastorius said...

James Elliot,
A man who is willing to send men he knows are innocent to jail for rape and torture; what would you call him?

And, as for Farrakhan, he does have power. He was able to bring hundreds of thousands of men to Washington D.C. to listen to his incoherent speech, and when asked, they told the press that it was a cathartic experience. I'd say that he has power. Political power is the ability to move masses of people for longer than it takes to riot. Farrakhan has that.

Now, as to his teaching that Jews and whites are of Satan; what would you call that?

Oh, and by the way, you said that I should back up my contention that racism has decreased on the right. Well, that's rather easy. When, in history, would we have had two black secretaries of state in a row under a Republican administration. When, in history, would we have had serious talk that a black woman would be nominated by the Republican party, to run for President?

Additionally, recently, I have been doing work in the country club industry once again, after a seven year layoff. You'll have to take my word for it, but that industry is much more integrated nowadays.

Now, as to your rejection of the idea that the welfare system helped to screw up the black family in America; what is your explanation for the fact that it fell apart when it did?

You've scoffed at the idea, but you haven't made an argument.

James Elliott said...

Now, as to your rejection of the idea that the welfare system helped to screw up the black family in America; what is your explanation for the fact that it fell apart when it did?
1) Learn to spell my name, especially when it's provided right there on the page.

2) Obviously the whole "sex" comment indicating it was a joke went right over your head.

3) It's really quite simple: African American family patterns were identical to the observed "falling apart" in the sharecropper South pre-New Deal, let alone pre-War on Poverty. DuBois' study cited by Tom above occurred decades before the post-Depression "Northern Migration" that brought such "traditional" (in the sense that such had been the racially-enforced norm) to the cities. The contention that the "falling apart" occurred around the time of the WoP thus equals causation is a logical fallacy: It's an infinite-horizon reasoning; you claim that the War on Poverty, since it came before, caused "the collapse" as I shall euphemistically refer to it. By that same token of logic, the WoP could have caused Watergate, the end of the Vietname conflict, reductio ad absurdum. You can just as easily contend that the "Sexual Revolution" caused "the collapse." (Which is what I thought Tom was getting at.)

Pastorius said...

James Eliott,
(There, I got it right that time. Sorry about that.) Are you saying that because the DuBois study happened decades before the "falling apart," we don't know if the "falling apart" began right after the DuBois study, or right after to WoP, or sometime in between?

I need clarification.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Sort of, James. But enshrining the Sexual Revolution in public policy needs a look, too, as does the state of Black America post-New Deal, c. 1950.

But carry on, gentlemen, and play nice. I'm just sittin' here watchin' the wheels go round and round.

(Pastoriuss---his name has 2 "Ls and two Ts. Word up...)

Pastorius said...

Yeah, yeah, TVD, you know me (or, should I say, Memes). I was just screwing around.

TVD, I've got questions on a couple of topics for you.

1) Do you think I was being too quick to use the word evil in applying it to Farrakhan and Sharpton? I do wonder. It seems to me clear that Farrakhan is an evil man. Now, Sharpton may not be wholly evil, but certainly, what he did to those men is an evil thing to do. What do you think?

2) Was your "unspoken hypothesis" that black America was more effected by the sexual revolution than white America. If so, I think that reeks of prejudice, doesn't it? I mean, just try to put that in words for me without evoking time-honored stereotypes. Are you saying that maybe the stereotypes have some truth to them?

Pastorius said...

By the way, TVD. I'm guessing I'm missing something here. I don't seem to be getting the argument you're making, or the one Elliott is making.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yeah, yeah, TVD, you know me (or, should I say, Memes). I was just screwing around.

Ah, Memes. Your dark side. Send him next time--people will get him.


1) Do you think I was being too quick to use the word evil in applying it to Farrakhan and Sharpton?

Yah. Gotta save it for the Hitlers and Saddams, genocidal maniacs, Ted Kennedy, etc.

Farrakhan is quite a good Republican, except for calling white people devils.

But I don't hold that against him. I'm not all that crazy about white people myself.

2) Was your "unspoken hypothesis" that black America was more effected by the sexual revolution than white America. If so, I think that reeks of prejudice, doesn't it?

Not really. The Sexual Revolution had grave economic consequences. The most economically vulnerable would catch pneumonia. BRMerrick got that right away.

Pastorius said...

Ok, yeah, I see what you mean about the sexual revolution. You're speaking in shorthand again.

I'll spell it out for stupid people like me:

1) When people decide they can just go out and screw anyone they want to, whether they, or the other person, is married or not, then, families will fall apart.

2) When families, in general, fall apart, the more economically disadvantaged of those families will have greater difficulty. Those who are truly poor will not be able to put food on their plates, and thus will rely more and more on government aid.

Very good, TVD. I've always liked your perspectives.

However, I don't think Farrakhan is simply a "good Republican" other than calling white people devils. That's a pretty egregious mistake on his part.

Let's see;

Jews are of the devil.

Black people are of the devil.

Mexicans are of the devil.

White people are great.

Try that on for size.

F$%k racism, in all it's forms.

Oh yeah, and my definition of racism is, when a person expects a certain behavior out of every individual he meets, because he has made a generalization about a group.

There are good and bad people in every group.

Tom Van Dyke said...

P--That would be prejudice, and if one plays the law of averages, one would be right more often than wrong. These things don't come out of thin air, and that's why there's prejudice. (Jews aren't drunks.)

Racism would be maintaining that DNA is destiny, that something in a person's makeup leaves them incapable of certain achievements. But there are Black nuclear scientists, and there are white wide receivers, too.

You're quite right about calling me out about using shorthand, and I'm pleased you noticed; it's sometimes a virtue and oftentimes a flaw.

But I do it on purpose--all Socrates knew was that he didn't know. Any good teacher or wannabe philosopher lays out the premises as best he's sorted them out. That's his function.

He may hint at his own conclusions, but if he's any good at the craft (which I'm not yet), only those who have come to the same conclusions or follow his thinking have sussed him out.

Besides, he might have missed something, which is why he attempts to leave things open-ended. Dogma sucks. Martin Heidegger, more brilliant than you and me and most of the 20th century put together, turned out to be a Nazi.

He missed a lot, eh?

Pastorius said...

Tom,

You said,

You're quite right about calling me out about using shorthand, and I'm pleased you noticed; it's sometimes a virtue and oftentimes a flaw.

But I do it on purpose

---

I know you do it on purpose. The modern venacular for this is "meme." It's perfectly acceptable. But, I have not been educated in many of the things you are educated in, so when you use your memes, I don't get them, oftentimes.

And yes, you're right dogma sucks, and Heidegger missed quite a bit.

This has been an interesting and worthwhile conversation. Even if Mr. R.S. Eliot was made at me for the misspieling.

Srory,

Pastorius/Memes

James Elliott said...

James Eliott,
(There, I got it right that time. Sorry about that.)


You're literally trying to make my head explode, aren't you?

connie deady said...

I suspect that there is nothing any more that institutions or government can do about racism. Mostly I think it is amenable to time.

Older generations patterns are too ingrained to change. Younger generations seem more color blind. The more they have contact with people of other races and cultures, then the more they can hopefully appreciate diversity without prejudice

Tlaloc said...

"1) When people decide they can just go out and screw anyone they want to, whether they, or the other person, is married or not, then, families will fall apart."

No not really. Familial bonds aren't based on sexual monogamy, as evidenced by the plethora of cultures with strong families and yet very different sexual mores. The problem is that certain cultural influences in America have tried to link a narrow view of sexuality as somehow being connected to having strong family bonds, and that has now blown up in their faces.