Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Let Us Make Man, pt. 2 - Looking at the history of Africans in America, prior to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, most blacks were laboring under the delayed effects of the slavery experience. According to the Hoover Institution’s Dr. Thomas Sowell, chief among these effects was the exposure of black Africans to what he calls "redneck culture," or the culture of the descendants of the peoples of the Scottish highlands and the northern borderlands of England, who migrated across the Atlantic to the South. In his book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, Dr. Sowell describes the culture and behavior of these whites.

The cultural values and social patterns prevalent among Southern whites included an aversion to work, proneness to violence, neglect of education, sexual promiscuity, improvidence, drunkenness, lack of entrepreneurship, reckless searches for excitement, lively music and dance, and a style of religious oratory marked by strident rhetoric, unbridled emotions, and flamboyant imagery...Touchy pride, vanity and boastful self-dramatization were also part of this redneck culture among people from the regions of Britain where the civilization was the least developed. "They boast and lack self-restraint," [Fredrick] Olmsted said, after observing their descendants in the American antebellum South.
Dr. Sowell contends that the history of the culture of Southern whites and their ancestors "has contemporary significance because of its influence on the economic and social evolution of vast numbers of people" and "its continuing influence on the lives and deaths of a residual population in America’s black ghettos." He also points out the painful irony that much of what is portrayed as an authentic and distinctive black identity is nothing more than "part of a centuries-old pattern among the whites in whose midst generations of blacks lived in the South." (That fact makes me openly wonder what would have happened if West Africans were captured and enslaved by Germans.)

Later in his book, Dr. Sowell describes many of the gains that black Americans were able to achieve post-slavery, particularly in the area of education. His sense, and that of many others, seems to be that had this progress gone uninterrupted, a near parity might have been achieved between the black and white communities in overall quality of life. Most unfortunately, that trend was indeed interrupted. In this case, the interruption was provided by none other than the over-educated and under-occupied neo-Socialists of the Left, and it appears that the links between black liberals and white counterculture elites were forged in the mid-1960s. Some of the history of specific interactions between leaders of the counterculture and the black community is detailed in John McWhorter's Winning the Race.

An important contribution of McWhorter's work is that where Charles Murray would argue in his 1984 book, Losing Ground, that black welfare recipients made economic analyses regarding the "rewards and penalties" of welfare versus work, McWhorter contends that most poor blacks were not doing anything of the sort. McWhorter suggests that the main drivers of intergenerational poverty and dysfunction were not economic, but cultural, that being a culture of what he calls "therapeutic alienation" from all behaviors seen as stereotypically "white," to include the worlds of work and education.†

McWhorter further maintains that this disengagement roughly coincided with changes in welfare eligibility, and preceded the underclass' descent into an abyss of dependency, crime and illegitimacy. In any event, both authors agree that once labor was decoupled from reward, human nature kicked in to create a powerful disincentive against work. In his book, McWhorter describes the efforts of a privileged white minority to damage America's political structure for their own purposes, using poor blacks as blunt instruments.
Especially effective was the National Welfare Rights Organization, led by former chemist George Wiley and Columbia University social work professors Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, guiding troops of activists who were mostly black women. Rarely in American history have people with such an openly radical, and even destructive, agenda had such power over the daily lives of innocent people.
Although Frances Fox Piven and the late Richard Cloward are not well known outside of the social science community, this husband-and-wife team wielded tremendous influence through their writings and activism. Dr. Cloward was awarded his Doctorate in Sociology from Columbia University in 1958 and Dr. Piven received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1962. Together, they co-authored several books and papers that informed progressive's discussion of issues related to poverty and electoral politics, to include a 1965 paper entitled "Mobilizing the Poor: How It Can Be Done" and a 1971 book "Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare." In 1966, Cloward and Wiley co-founded the National Welfare Rights Organization in Washington, D.C., with Wiley serving as the executive director. (Prior to his involvement with the NWRO, Dr. Wiley was a chemistry professor at Syracuse University, as well as associate director of the Congress of Racial Equality.)

More to come...

†The therapeutic alienation that McWhorter describes is perhaps equal parts a manifestation of the overall balkanizing effect of liberalism, and black America’s seemingly necessary rejection of what W.E.B. DuBois described in his 1903 classic Souls of Black Folk as "this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity."

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