Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The New Tangle of Negro Pathology?!?


So in the past week (well 10 days), the NYTimes has run two pieces that have gotten a considerable amount of attention. The first "Plight Deepens for Black Men Study Warns" reports findings and some theories by the researchers behind the new book Black Males Left Behind. First, like most of the people commenting on this story, I have not read the book. My pockets are thinner than Nicole Richie in a fun house mirror (I know, that's not right), so when I get a copy I can weigh in more soundly. The findings of the report did not shock me per se, but they did remind me that its clear Black men are becoming further marginalized from the center of American society*.

I however was intrigued by Orlando Patterson's Op/Ed that ran on Sunday entitled "A Poverty of the Mind". Patterson essentially argues that we have not been able to combat poverty and the condition of Black men in America because we have been afraid to tackle the issue of culture. Unfortunately he quickly creates a strawman of poverty research on black men. I could agree with him that researchers have been scared to tackle culture 10 years ago, but recently researchers have really grappled with the role of culture and behavior for Black and poor men (see Young, Lamont, there are more but I doubt you want a literature review). But for Orlando it is much more convient to say there is a fear of approaching the topic of culture and that until we take on culture, marginalization will remain.

While Patterson does prove, unlike many, that he has read up on the phenonmenon of "acting white". He does quickly find other cultural dimensions to stress. This time, the masked culprit is hip hop culture.
I call this the Dionysian trap for young black men. The important thing to note about the subculture that ensnares them is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America's largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie. Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.

For young black men, however, that culture is all there is — or so they think.

A couple of years ago Ron Ferguson argued that a possible reason test score gaps had widened between Blacks and Whites from 1998 forward was rap music and hip hop culture. I remember when I first heard this theory, I scouffed and thought it would pass with the night, but it stayed around. In fact, many still support this theory, which I find much akin to theories of acting white (e.g. present in places but likely overstated), despite the fact that test score gaps have begun to close again between Blacks and Whites... and rap is still widely popular. In Patterson's view, Black men (not sure about women) lack the ability to code-switch, while Whites men are able to traverse dual realities. I must say that I do not entirely disagree with Patterson, but he misses how this occurs. Code-switching for Black folks has been a historical necessity. Even when our ancestors were enslaved, they had to act differently on the job or when under surveillence, than when not surveilled. So I would ask Patterson, which would be more likely to degrade a people's ability to switch, music or marginalization? My obvious answer is marginalization. His response is cool pose. I do believe structural constraints beget cultural variations, but simply concentrating on culture is as short-sighted as simply concentrating on the structure.

It appears that Patterson could make a great argument for both the roles of structure and culture, but instead he claims that culture has been absent from our discussions of poverty. For those who don't know, the title of this post is a throwback/homage to a highly influential chapter of the Moynihan Report. I find Patterson's piece to largely be an update to this view, instead of matriarchy as a cultural determinent, he inserts hip hop culture (his perception of it at least) as the mechanism that keeps Black men ensnared in our social position.

I would love to know what Patterson thinks needs to be done to correct these cultural malfunctions? I guess the welfare to work approach didn't work since he said Clinton's Administration failed. Cultural training? What does he want to see happen? To close, I rework Patterson's own words, what do you think?
Collecting transcripts of their views and rationalizations Leveeing critiques of research from an ivory tower towards the ivory tower is a useful first step, but won't help nearly as much as the recent rash of scholars with tape-recorders NY times editorialists and readers seem to think.



*Unlike Orlando Patterson, I don't think pursuing money and listening to music constitute incorporation into America's mainstream

7 comments:

Dancewithme2 said...

Get off my Wavelength... :)

Dancewithme2 said...

My Comment.

Harlyn Eduardo Pacheco Figueroa said...

Why didn't you post the great photo montage of "desolate urban identity"?

Dumi said...

Man, I don't even know what you're talkign about? I only look at the times online, send me to it so I can check it out. And what's up with politicanow?

TJ said...

Most people believe that culture cannot easily be changed, which limits their possibilities for action. Once we recognize that we can change it, we almost certainly will do so. No matter how much we may wish otherwise, the media we consume affects our behavior just as the food we eat affects our bodies. Without realizing that, we have been consuming media that has damaged our cultural health. Once we know that what we watch/listen to/read does have an impact on us, we can make informed choices that will result in rapid cultural change.

Another point we should keep in mind is that the vast majority of media sources generating negative hip-hop culture are controlled by White people, and the content may or may not be an intentional cultural attack on our community. Either way, the dearth of positive-message hip hop on the air is highly suspect considering how many artists are interested in producing it, and how many people would want to hear it.

Ravi said...

Regarding Patterson's NYT article on black males in the United States, I find it odd that suddenly when black scholars at leading white institutions choose to study black male contemporary culture they get coverage in the New York Times. This discussion and these facts have been posited by leading scholars at non-first-tier schools for decades, without national press attention.

Patterson's selective usage of scholars perhaps prevented him from a more comprehensive approach at the issue.

However, one thing he hints at about black culture, still, is critical. There are a plethora of blacks who are really neoaccomodationists, deracialzed figures that derive their conception of black culture and ideology from systemic, hegenomic white structures. Should this trend continue, pursuing money and music (two main aspects of the American capitalist experience) may lead to the incorporation that he claims might alleviate this black male "delimma."

Personally, although I sincerely doubt that is the key. We might consider keeping in mind that possibility.

Ravi said...

Regarding Patterson's NYT article on black males in the United States, I find it odd that suddenly when black scholars at leading white institutions choose to study black male contemporary culture they get coverage in the New York Times. This discussion and these facts have been posited by leading scholars at non-first-tier schools for decades, without national press attention.

Patterson's selective usage of scholars perhaps prevented him from a more comprehensive approach at the issue.

However, one thing he hints at about black culture, still, is critical. There are a plethora of blacks who are really neoaccomodationists, deracialzed figures that derive their conception of black culture and ideology from systemic, hegenomic white structures. Should this trend continue, pursuing money and music (two main aspects of the American capitalist experience) may lead to the incorporation that he claims might alleviate this black male "delimma."

Personally, although I sincerely doubt that is the key. We might consider keeping in mind that possibility.