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The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration

Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a brilliant scholar whose works substantially influenced thinking about the role of government in the last half of the 20th Century. His works have been quoted, and sometime intentionally misquoted to crate carceral state, as well as to turn welfare recipients into pariahs.

This is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ newest work. What he does here is to initially reexamine the Moynihan Report, a small part of which has been the conservative bible for the past 20 years or so. Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued forcefully that the black family had been undermined by over 450 years of oppression and slavery. One of the warnings he issued to those who were considering how to rebuild black lives after Civil Rights was to not construct a system wherein, like a heroin addict, there is a cycle of dependency….

About 20 years later, conservatives took that warning and manufactured from sparse,  thin thread, the security blanket that the welfare system was destroying the black family, and thus the Democrats were at fault. Further such beliefs drove policy for nearly 30 years, and created the near permanent underclass systematically excluded from American Society by incarceration and a series of Catch 22 rules. assuring that even those who cling tenaciously tpo “the rules” only have a small chance of success.

Ta-Nehisi has apparently been reading my posts these past 15 years (yeah…sure :)) because his work starts with a lucid reexamination of what Moynihan actually said in his paper (and not just the abbreviated Cliff Notes version conservative bigots spew). I have noted for a long time that the welfare destroying the black family meme as a result of the Great Society of President Johnson is false. One look at the history of poverty rates belies that one.Improvement in cutting into the remaining poverty essentially flat-lined under Raygun, despite an over 50% reduction in black poverty from 1965 to 1980. The system since Raygun became an intractable prison both in the literary and physical sense.Elements of this system also serve to depress the black non-poor – making achievement of middle class status tenuous.

You will have to go to The Atlantic to read the whole thing, which includes 10 Chapters.

“lower-class behavior in our cities is shaking them apart.”

By his own lights, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ambassador, senator, sociologist, and itinerant American intellectual, was the product of a broken home and a pathological family. He was born in 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but raised mostly in New York City. When Moynihan was 10 years old, his father, John, left the family, plunging it into poverty. Moynihan’s mother, Margaret, remarried, had another child, divorced, moved to Indiana to stay with relatives, then returned to New York, where she worked as a nurse. Moynihan’s childhood—a tangle of poverty, remarriage, relocation, and single motherhood—contrasted starkly with the idyllic American family life he would later extol. “My relations are obviously those of divided allegiance,” Moynihan wrote in a diary he kept during the 1950s. “Apparently I loved the old man very much yet had to take sides … choosing mom in spite of loving pop.” In the same journal, Moynihan, subjecting himself to the sort of analysis to which he would soon subject others, wrote, “Both my mother and father—They let me down badly … I find through the years this enormous emotional attachment to Father substitutes—of whom the least rejection was cause for untold agonies—the only answer is that I have repressed my feelings towards dad.”

As a teenager, Moynihan divided his time between his studies and working at the docks in Manhattan to help out his family. In 1943, he tested into the City College of New York, walking into the examination room with a longshoreman’s loading hook in his back pocket so that he would not “be mistaken for any sissy kid.” After a year at CCNY, he enlisted in the Navy, which paid for him to go to Tufts University for a bachelor’s degree. He stayed for a master’s degree and then started a doctorate program, which took him to the London School of Economics, where he did research. In 1959, Moynihan began writing for Irving Kristol’s magazine The Reporter, covering everything from organized crime to auto safety. The election of John F. Kennedy as president, in 1960, gave Moynihan a chance to put his broad curiosity to practical use; he was hired as an aide in the Department of Labor. Moynihan was, by then, an anticommunist liberal with a strong belief in the power of government to both study and solve social problems. He was also something of a scenester. His fear of being taken for a “sissy kid” had diminished. In London, he’d cultivated a love of wine, fine cheeses, tailored suits, and the mannerisms of an English aristocrat. He stood six feet five inches tall. A cultured civil servant not to the manor born, Moynihan—witty, colorful, loquacious—charmed the Washington elite, moving easily among congressional aides, politicians, and journalists. As the historian James Patterson writes in Freedom Is Not Enough, his book about Moynihan, he was possessed by “the optimism of youth.” He believed in the marriage of government and social science to formulate policy. “All manner of later experiences in politics were to test this youthful faith.”

Moynihan stayed on at the Labor Department during Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, but became increasingly disillusioned with Johnson’s War on Poverty. He believed that the initiative should be run through an established societal institution: the patriarchal family. Fathers should be supported by public policy, in the form of jobs funded by the government. Moynihan believed that unemployment, specifically male unemployment, was the biggest impediment to the social mobility of the poor. He was, it might be said, a conservative radical who disdained service programs such as Head Start and traditional welfare programs such as Aid to Families With Dependent Children, and instead imagined a broad national program that subsidized families through jobs programs for men and a guaranteed minimum income for every family.

Influenced by the civil-rights movement, Moynihan focused on the black family. He believed that an undue optimism about the pending passage of civil-rights legislation was obscuring a pressing problem: a deficit of employed black men of strong character. He believed that this deficit went a long way toward explaining the African American community’s relative poverty. Moynihan began searching for a way to press the point within the Johnson administration. “I felt I had to write a paper about the Negro family,” Moynihan later recalled, “to explain to the fellows how there was a problem more difficult than they knew.” In March of 1965, Moynihan printed up 100 copies of a report he and a small staff had labored over for only a few months.

The report was called “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” Unsigned, it was meant to be an internal government document, with only one copy distributed at first and the other 99 kept locked in a vault. Running against the tide of optimism around civil rights, “The Negro Family” argued that the federal government was underestimating the damage done to black families by “three centuries of sometimes unimaginable mistreatment” as well as a “racist virus in the American blood stream,” which would continue to plague blacks in the future:

That the Negro American has survived at all is extraordinary—a lesser people might simply have died out, as indeed others have … But it may not be supposed that the Negro American community has not paid a fearful price for the incredible mistreatment to which it has been subjected over the past three centuries.

That price was clear to Moynihan. “The Negro family, battered and harassed by discrimination, injustice, and uprooting, is in the deepest trouble,” he wrote. “While many young Negroes are moving ahead to unprecedented levels of achievement, many more are falling further and further behind.” Out-of-wedlock births were on the rise, and with them, welfare dependency, while the unemployment rate among black men remained high. Moynihan believed that at the core of all these problems lay a black family structure mutated by white oppression:

In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is so out of line with the rest of the American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great many Negro women as well.

Moynihan believed this matriarchal structure robbed black men of their birthright—“The very essence of the male animal, from the bantam rooster to the four-star general, is to strut,” he wrote—and deformed the black family and, consequently, the black community. In what would become the most famous passage in the report, Moynihan equated the black community with a diseased patient:

In a word, most Negro youth are in danger of being caught up in the tangle of pathology that affects their world, and probably a majority are so entrapped. Many of those who escape do so for one generation only: as things now are, their children may have to run the gauntlet all over again. That is not the least vicious aspect of the world that white America has made for the Negro.

Despite its alarming predictions, “The Negro Family” was a curious government report in that it advocated no specific policies to address the crisis it described. This was intentional. Moynihan had lots of ideas about what government could do—provide a guaranteed minimum income, establish a government jobs program, bring more black men into the military, enable better access to birth control, integrate the suburbs—but none of these ideas made it into the report. “A series of recommendations was at first included, then left out,” Moynihan later recalled. “It would have got in the way of the attention-arousing argument that a crisis was coming and that family stability was the best measure of success or failure in dealing with it.”

President Johnson offered the first public preview of the Moynihan Report in a speech written by Moynihan and the former Kennedy aide Richard Goodwin at Howard University in June of 1965, in which he highlighted “the breakdown of the Negro family structure.” Johnson left no doubt about how this breakdown had come about. “For this, most of all, white America must accept responsibility,” Johnson said. Family breakdown “flows from centuries of oppression and persecution of the Negro man. It flows from the long years of degradation and discrimination, which have attacked his dignity and assaulted his ability to produce for his family.”…

The Rest Here –   The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration

Herein is an actual copy of the Moynihan Report

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Posted by on September 15, 2015 in American Genocide, Black History


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Oscar Alert! – 12 Years a Slave

This one has the Film Critics atwitter after the Toronto Film Festival. It is a film depiction of the true story of Solomon Northup, born a free man, who was abducted and enslaved in the pre-Civil War US.  Unlike the fictitious Django – the film is based on a book on the real-life experiences of the author, Solomon Northup, by the same name. The book is the 1853 autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in Washington D.C in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for 12 years before his release.

The other big plus to this one, is that it sticks to historical truth – unlike The Butler, where the Director chose to “spice up” the story, having the central character born in Georgia – instead of Virginia. Met Mr Allen at a Christmas Party at the White House in 1976. I remember him distinctly because of being introduced by a family friend ho was a chef there – and a conversation about the “honesty” and racial feelings of the various Presidents he had served under to that time with the Master chef. Now – gay people may have “gaydar” – but black folks have “racedar” – that is reading the body language and reactions of a white person they interact with. One of the things Allen said was to keep an eye on whether when then new President Carter came downstairs to greet the staff, whether he looked them in the eye while shaking hands (or even shook their hands, which Nixon would not do). He then went on to say that despite the common belief that Eisenhower hated black folks – when he shook your hand he looked you straight in the eye regardless of race. which said a lot more about the man than any Monday morning quarterbacks in the press. I broke into the conversation and asked him which did… And which didn’t. He told me a story totally confounding my then 70’s belief set.

I think back on that brief conversation and recall a quote from Martin Luther King…

Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.

I wish the movie was about that.

And unlike the movie – NO –  Ronald Reagan was no racist. Although unfortunately several of his senior staff, like Ed Meese, were sheet wearers.

TIFF 13: Did Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’ just change the game?

TORONTO — Brad Pitt didn’t say much during the question-and-answer session that followed the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of “12 Years a Slave” on Friday night, just a short comment on why he produced and co-starred in the Steve McQueen period drama.

But, like his turn as an abolitionist-minded maverick amid a group of brutal slaveowners, Pitt spoke volumes as he stood on the stage with cast and filmmakers. “If I never get to participate in a film again,” he said, his voice trailing off as if to imply this would be enough, “this is it for me,” he finally finished.

It’s a sentiment you could imagine the lead cast members —Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o and of course Chiwetel Eijiofor, standing out amid the standouts — sharing with Pitt. And it’s a sentiment you could imagine the audience feeling. Festivals come and go; movies rise and fade. But once in a great while there’s a film that feels almost instantly, in the room, like it’s going to endure, and change plenty of things along the way. And “12 Years” offers that feeling.

Director Steve McQueen (r) and co-Lead Actor Michael Fassbender (l).

Most narrowly, that’s true on Oscar level. By 9 p.m. Friday night, just six days into September, the film had already become a top contender for various acting, writing and directing prizes, as well as the big prize. You could say that’s premature. But you probably wouldn’t if you sat in the room. (Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan certainly didn’t hold back.)

It’s equally true on a social level. “12 Years” tells the fact-based story of Solomon Northup (Eijiofor), a free man who in 1841 was kidnapped and sold into slavery, and his travails — at once horrifying and surprising, no matter how much you think you’re ready for them — when he is trafficked to a series of Southern plantations for more than a decade.

The movie has many of the hallmarks McQueen has become known for — the meticulous composition, the bold and haunting sequences — but, far more than previous films “Hunger” and“Shame,” it has a galvanizing topicality. (For more on “12 Years” and how it was made see my colleague John Horn’s excellent piece in the Sunday Times.)

It also has the kind of bracing honesty that has always been rare in Hollywood and is even rarer these days, a Hollywood where, if tough issues are taken on at all, it’s under the garb of respectful period drama or easy sentiment.

Slavery is pretty much at the top of that list of tough issues. With films like “Django Unchained” and “Lincoln,“ the subject has have become slightly less taboo in the past few years — but only slightly.“Roots” broke new ground on TV more than three decades ago, yet few have followed in its path. McQueen is finally willing to pick up the trail.

But maybe that feeling of change was most apparent because the movie went beyond its ostensible subject of race and the fight for emancipation. After the screening, several people I was sitting near began comparing the movie, favorably, to other films about race. A worthwhile comparison. But the film also evoked parallels to a more unexpected movie, “Schindler’s List.” Exactly 20 years ago that film paired impressive filmmaking with a wrenching subject, and in so doing achieved something remarkable — used cinema to change the way we view a cataclysmic period we thought we knew. “12 Years” has the  power to do the same thing.

As this movie rolls out this fall, people will talk about the questions it raises, about the evolution of race relations, about what it’s saying on the matter of slavery, whether nearly 150 years after the end of the Civil War there is resolution or closure, whether there can ever be resolution or closure.

And there will be, inevitably, a backlash, people who will question the choices McQueen made, will scrutinize whether this detail softpedals the history or that detail overplays it, whether he went too far or not far enough, whether he fetishizes too much or too little.

Mostly, people will talk about slavery in a way they haven’t before because by seeing the film they’ll experience it in a way they never have before. McQueen on Friday summed up his reason for making a movie about slavery thusly: “For me it was a no-brainer. I just wanted to see it on film. I wanted to see that history on film. It was important. It was that obvious. And that’s it,” he said, putting a period on the sentence. But the conversation is only just beginning.

BTx3 is going to see this one. This one strikes a personal chord as part of my own family fought re-enslavement after the Revolutionary War for near 50 years. While no letters or material from those family members still exist (although there are a few pictures), there is ample evidence in court documents from 1790 through 1840 which document the trail… Including 4 court cases where slavers tried to claim various members of he family were escaped slaves. A decades long struggle which by a bit more than just local legend included several killings.

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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Black History


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Bill Maher eviscerates Dinesh D’Souza

Damn! – With room to park a brand new bus sized RV in his shiny new azzh…



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One and Done – Pat Buchanan and MSNBC

Not sure what took so long, but…

Pat Buchanan May Be Done At MSNBC: Phil Griffin

The president of MSNBC criticized Pat Buchanan — the network’s controversial pundit who has been missing from the air for months — during interviews on Saturday and said it is not certain that Buchanan will remain a paid contributor to the network.

Buchanan has been absent from MSNBC since late October, just after his latest book was released. The book, “Suicide of a Superpower,” contained typically incendiary musings on race and immigration, and Buchanan even appeared on an openly “pro-white” radio show to promote it.

It’s not altogether certain what made “Suicide” so different from Buchanan’s other work. After all, he has been a lightning rod around issues of race and religion for decades. However, there was also apublic call for MSNBC to fire or punish him from African American, Jewish and gay rights groups.Hundreds of thousands of people also signed a petition calling for Buchanan’s removal.

On Friday, The Huffington Post and others once again raised the issue of Buchanan’s status with the network.

MSNBC had not commented on Buchanan’s absence until president Phil Griffin spoke to reporters from Deadline and the New York Times during the annual Television Critics’ Association tour in California on Saturday.

“The issue has become the nature of some of the statements in the book,” Griffin said. “I don’t think the ideas that [Buchanan] put forth [in the book] are appropriate for the national dialogue, much less on MSNBC.” He said he and Buchanan were going to meet to discuss the latter’s future on the network, but that he has not yet made up his mind.


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Uncle Ruckus Cain

Uncle Ruckus has been a very busy man the past few weeks, in his 8 minutes of fame as a “leader” of the Republican President wannabe herd…

So here is a” cainipption”,  three issues in one post.

This one has Cain stuffing his own pockets with campaign money, not dissimilar to the way Michael Steele paid himself during his runs in his home state of Maryland…

Cain Used Campaign Funds to Buy Autobiography From His Company

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain used campaign funds to buy his own books from his motivational speaking company, Federal Election Commission records show.

Although his autobiography was published by a division of Simon & Schuster Inc., Cain paid Stockbridge, Georgia-based T.H.E New Voice Inc. $36,511 for books. His campaign spent $4 million through Sept. 30, including more than $64,000 paid to his motivational speaking company for airfare, lodging and supplies, as well as the books.

“They are buying my books and my pamphlets,” Cain said in an interview in between appearances in Arizona yesterday. “The campaign is buying them from T.H.E New Voice.”…

The books are being given away to supporters to help Cain acquaint them with his life story, part of his “unconventional approach” to his candidacy, he said, adding that his campaign has seen a $2 million windfall in donations in the last two weeks after a surge in the polls.

The FEC has let campaigns buy candidates’ books as long as they don’t profit by the sale. In 2001, the commission said the campaign committee of then-Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania could buy the lawmaker’s autobiography to give to donors, provided the he didn’t receive royalties or count those books in calculations of future payments. The FEC issued a similar ruling in 2004 concerning Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent…

Another 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, faced ethics issues over a $4.5 million book advance he was offered in 1994 from a publishing unit of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., shortly before becoming House speaker. Amid criticism from lawmakers from both parties, Gingrich agreed to forgo the advance and just take royalties.

On news that Mr. Cain is a long time Koch sucker…

Herman Cain: ‘I’m Very Proud Of The Relationship That I Have With The Koch Brothers’

I know the Koch Brothers. The Koch Brothers helped to start to an organization called Americans for Prosperity. And I did some speaking when they were starting that organization, and I’m very proud of the relationship that I have with the Koch Brothers, as well as Americans for Prosperity. I have also attended some of their seminars and have found them very informative. So I don’t have a close relationship with the Koch Brothers, but I know them and I respect them, and they know me and respect me.

This one is ripping through the conservative blogsphere. Martin Bashir is drawing more than a little ire from the white right for this one (Follow the link to see the video) –

Bashir: Cain Doesn’t Want To Be “Associated With African-Americans”

MARTIN BASHIR, HOST: Mr. Cain was supposed to attend the dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial on Sunday. I like many people watched it, was moved by it, but he failed to attend. Now there’s been some surprise at his absence. But being honest, isn’t this consistent for a man who really doesn’t want to be overtly associated with African-Americans…

MICHAEL STEELE: Oh no, that’s…

BASHIR: and certainly not a man as dangerous as the greatest civil rights leader in the history of the country? He doesn’t want to be associated with those…

MICHAEL STEELE: No, come on, no, I reject that and on his behalf resent that.

BASHIR: You do?

STEELE: Yeah, because I know first off, you know…

BASHIR: But this is a man, Michael, who says racism virtually doesn’t exist.

Come on down, Herman… And get your award!

Herman Cain Black Conservative Tea Party Supporter of the Year Award

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Posted by on October 18, 2011 in Black Conservatives


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The Importance of Anita Hill

Anita Hill has a new book out – and it’s getting some pretty good reviews. Patricia J. Williams is a Law Professor at Columbia University, and what she has to say about the importance of Anita Hill travails at the Clarence Thomas hearings really clarifies a lot of what Hill meant to other professional women…

Anita Hill

The Legacy of Anita Hill, Then and Now

Sad fact: there are few women of my generation who don’t have what is known as our “Anita story.” Mine occurred in 1980. I was five years out of law school and had decided to shift my career from practice to teaching. I was walking down a long hallway at the Association of American Law Schools meat market for new hires. There were two men behind me who were joking about the excellent shape of my legs and the unusually well-defined musculature of my lower quadrants. (Did I mention that it was a very, very long hallway?) At the end of that eternal passage was my appointed interview room. I escaped into it, only to be followed by the two. They, as it turned out, were doing the hiring.

Life was like that sometimes, I thought. And so I went through all the proper motions of expressing how much my fine ideas could contribute to their faculty, pretending that nothing had happened.

I didn’t stop pretending nothing had happened until 1991, when Anita Hill testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the unwanted office approaches of her boss, then-chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Clarence Thomas. I remember how still and dignified she was at the center of that howling hurricane of mockery, meanness and machismo. It was like some psychedelic cross between The Crucible and The Wizard of Oz, with its swirling fantasies of witchcraft, conspiracy theories and mad satyric orgies. I remember everyone from Orrin Hatch to Rush Limbaugh dismissing anything that “might have happened” as “bedroom politics,” even though Hill’s allegations centered on misbehavior in the boardroom, not the bedroom, and even though those allegations implicated precisely Thomas’s public ethics as the chief enforcement officer of sexual harassment laws. “He said, she said” entered the national vocabulary. So did “They just don’t get it.”

Anita Hill graduated from Yale Law School in 1980. The percentage of women in law schools was 38 percent—in contrast to the approximately
50 percent it is today. Back in those times there were so few women among the legal professoriate that many law schools didn’t even have women’s bathrooms. And as for women of color—there were only five or six of us teaching in the entire United States.

If the percentages of women in all professions improved over the next decade or so, the ability to speak up and speak out was often constrained by fear of losing status, ruining one’s career. It was the shockingly abysmal treatment of Anita Hill by the United States Senate that changed all that. Women were mobilized in a way unseen since the time of the suffragettes. EMILY’s List took off, as well as hundreds of networks for women’s political empowerment. Twenty years later, if some men’s behavior has not changed as much as one might have hoped, the collective women’s response has undergone seismic change. It’s not “nothing” anymore.

Patricia J. Williams

Anita Hill remains an icon to whom subsequent generations are rightfully indebted. At the same time, she has not remained trapped by her own symbolism or frozen in time. It is sometimes forgotten that she is a respected scholar of contract jurisprudence, commercial law and education policy. She is a prolific author, publishing numerous law review articles, essays, editorials and books. Today, Hill is a professor of social policy, law and women’s studies at Brandeis University. Much of her most recent research has been on the housing market, and her most recent book, published this month, is Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home.

It is ironic that the full substance of Hill’s remarkable intellectual presence remains so overshadowed by those fleeting, if powerful, moments of her Senate testimony. If the larger accomplishments of her life aren’t quite as iconic as that confrontation with Clarence Thomas, they nonetheless merit attention by feminists and scholars alike. To begin with, Hill is a remarkably elegant and accessible writer. For those who wish to apprehend the gravitas of her intelligence and dignity, Reimagining Equality would be a good place to start…(more)

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Posted by on October 8, 2011 in The Post-Racial Life


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Powell Blasts Cheney for “Cheap Shots”


President Obama’s first failure was not putting all the Bushit SOBs in jail for their crimes.

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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in Stupid Republican Tricks


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