Listening to the superabundance of pieces-of-mind expressed over Ferguson, MO recalls one of my brother’s favorite aphorisms: opinions are like a**holes—everybody’s got one. That always stifled debate, so I never adopted it as a saying of my own. I always preferred “everybody is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own set of facts.”
I’ve already had my say on the subject (several times over), but I came across this interesting note at NRO:
The always interesting Orlando Patterson has a piece in the current issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, “How Sociologists Made Themselves Irrelevant.” His basic thesis is that, after studies in the 1960s by Daniel Patrick Moynihan et al. were criticized for blaming the victim, “for several decades, sociologists have taken pains to distance themselves . . . from studies of the cultural dimensions of poverty, particularly black poverty.”
The great irony in that overreaction is that throughout that 40-year period of self-imposed censorship within the discipline, the vast majority of blacks, and especially black youth and those working on the front lines of poverty mitigation, have been firmly convinced that culture does matter—a lot. Black youth in particular have insisted that their habits, attitudes, beliefs, and values are what mainly explain their plight, even after fully taking account of racism and their disadvantaged neighborhood conditions. Yet sociologists insisted on patronizingly treating blacks in general, and especially black youth, as what Harold Garfinkel called “cultural dopes” by rejecting their own insistence that their culture mattered in any understanding of their plight.
Black youth, and people generally, are not offended by attempts to change their values, habits, and even their modes of self-presentation if they are first persuaded that it is in their own interests to do so. Jackie Rivers and I learned this firsthand from our study of a group of inner-city youth, many with prison records, undergoing a demanding job-training program that aimed to alter those aspects of their cultural styles and attitudes toward work that made it hard for them to get or keep a job. None of them considered this a threat to their identities, as individuals or as black people.
This is news to me, but so much is. If black people are not so wedded to sometimes self-destructive “values, habits, and even their modes of self-presentation”; if their “habits, attitudes, beliefs, and values are what mainly explain their plight”, why do those values, habits, beliefs, etc. persist, if indeed they do persist?
It’s hard to judge without knowing which behaviors and attitudes we’re talking about, but one consistent villain I can think of is liberal white guilt. Moynihan was criticized for pointing out the human cost of the disintegrating black family. The cost has fallen on all of society, but obviously hardest of all on black women and children. Since when did coming to the aid of black women and children become a bad thing?
If by culture, we mean such social detritus as Ebonics, gangsta rap, and pants on the ground, I applaud black youth for casting off such stigmatizing uselessness. If we’re talking dreadlocks, hoodies, or other harmless cultural expressions, I think we should all relax.
But what we really ought to be talking about the 6,261 homicides of black people in 2013 (nearly six-to-one men), compared to about 200—three percent as many—black people killed by cops. Ebonics, hoodies, and dreads seem irrelevant compared to that.