The Black Intellectual & The Condition of the Culture

    Fascinating longish read to take one's mind off of coronavirus, discovered @ Arts & Letters Daily with the intro. “The secret of black intellectuals is that we have other interests.” Darryl Pinckney, Margo Jefferson, and others discuss race and intellectual life... more »

    Since it says "Part I", I presume there will eventually be more.


    I still remember a comment from Alejo Carpentier, a writer and composer who'd gone into exile several times, on how he could work and somehow endorse Castro's repressive Cuba, effectively "I am concerned with time, with centuries, not these temporary political matters." Perhaps not entirely honestly, but still, is everyone in society required to champion the exact same things, morals, causes, protests, world views...? Is that not repression in itself? Where's Whitman's "I contain multitudes", for the individual, for the class, for the group, for the nation's and cultures? Why does "diversity" get dragged down by this suburban "conformity"?

    Finished the first section. Interesting read.

    Poor Coates takes it the chin as do current students walking around with scowls due to anger about racial inequality. The panelists note the progress made in the last 50 years. It is noteworthy that the panelists seem to ignore the dramatic decrease in crime since the 90s. This decrease occurred despite the popularity of rap music. Teen pregnancies have also decreased. Unwed mothers remain with us despite's the plunge in crime. This overlooking of new data by Orlando Patterson was pointed out in a New Yorker article.

    A few years ago, in The Nation, Patterson responded to some disappointing statistics showing high unemployment and persistent segregation by urging African-Americans to “do some serious soul-searching.” But part of the problem with calls for cultural reform is that the so-called “ghetto poor” tend to agree with the kinds of messages that outsiders, whether tough-love politicians or self-conscious sociologists alike, would urge upon them: work matters, family matters, culture matters. Ethan Fosse draws on a number of recent surveys of the “disconnected”—the term refers to young people who are neither employed nor attending school—and finds that they adhere more strongly to various mainstream cultural values than their connected counterparts do: they are more likely to say that having a good career is “very important” to them, and seventy-four per cent of them say that black men “don’t take their education seriously enough,” compared with only sixty-two per cent of connected black youth. Surveys also suggest that disconnected young people are more likely to agree with Patterson’s critique of hip-hop—the people most susceptible to the genre’s influence turn out to be the ones most skeptical of it. In an overview chapter, Patterson wryly notes that results such as these may pose a conundrum. “Sociologists love subjects who tell truth to mainstream power,” he writes. “They grow uncomfortable when these subjects tell mainstream truths to sociologists.” But none of this offers encouragement for people who think that cultural change is a key to social uplift.

    Just how dire is the situation? Moynihan worried that “the Negro community” was in a state of decline, bedevilled by an increasingly matriarchal family structure, which led to the increasing incidence of crime and delinquency. Much of Moynihan’s historical data was scant or inconclusive, but, when it came to violent crime, he guessed correctly: in the fifteen years after he published his report, the country’s homicide rate doubled, with blacks overrepresented among both perpetrators and victims. America, and Negro America in particular, was at the beginning of a years-long catastrophe. But what happened next was even more surprising: beginning in the early nineteen-nineties, the homicide rate, like other rates of violent crime, began to decline; today, African-Americans are about half as likely to be involved in a homicide, either as perpetrator or as victim, as they were two decades ago. Patterson and Fosse write that, in the years after Moynihan’s report, a “discrepancy” developed between the optimistic scholarship of sociologists, eager to emphasize the resilience of black families, and “the reality of urban black life,” which was increasingly grim. But the contemporary era has been marked by the opposite discrepancy: even as the new culturalists were resurrecting Moynihan’s diagnosis, the scourge of crime was in retreat.

    Patterson, committed to his critique of African-American cultural life, can’t bring himself to celebrate this news. Hip-hop is important to him because it fuels his suspicion that, despite the drop in crime, black culture is in trouble. Fosse seems to share this pessimism, reporting “an alarming increase in the percentage of black youth who are structurally disconnected over the past decade.” He uses survey data to create a fitted curve, showing that “nearly 25 percent” of black youth were disconnected in 2012, while the white rate “has remained below 15 percent.” (The curve is not included in the book.) In fact, the data suggest that percentages of disconnection among black and white youth have been rising at about the same rate over the past decade; what’s most alarming is not the recent increase but the ongoing disparity. Among Patterson, Fosse, and their peers, the tendency to write as if black culture were in exceptional crisis seems to be what a sociologist might call an unexamined injunctive norm: a shared prescriptive rule, one so ingrained that its followers don’t even realize it exists.

    And so the good news on crime gets downplayed. “By focusing too much on the sharp oscillation period between the eighties and late nineties,” Patterson writes, “social scientists working on crime run the risk of neglecting the historic pattern of high crime rates among blacks.” But this hardly justifies the fact that these sociologists, otherwise so concerned with the effects of crime and the criminal-justice system, aren’t more interested in this extraordinary rise and fall, which defied Moynihan’s suggestion that crime and “illegitimacy” were inextricably linked. Apparently, this great oscillation neither required nor induced any great changes in black culture, and it has inspired nothing like a consensus among criminologists looking for a cause. Fine-grained cultural trends and well-meaning cultural initiatives often seem insignificant compared with the mysterious forces that can stealthily double or halve the violent-crime rate in the course of a decade or two. A chapter on “street violence” mentions the homicide drop only in passing, in its final paragraph.

    It would be nice to have more discussions between the culturalists and the structuralists.

    Get to the rest of the article over the weekend.

    While the peak in homicides and crime in general was a landmark achievement, it's nearly 30 years on. What's the next act? Of course having a decent government, no economic crash, no pandemic are easential to a new stage.

    It will be interesting to see what happens to violent crime. If it continues a downward trend despite severe economic hardship, pandemic deaths impacting minority communities, and the Trump government , we will all be searching for answers.


    Crime falls under hygiene factors.
    Need motivators in the next stage.

    Humans are biological oscillators. Academicians are sometimes slow to adapt to change. As we watch the response to the coronavirus and see new phenomena occurring with asymptomatic hypoxia, blood clotting disorders, strokes, right heart failure, abnormal heart vessels in children, etc, we see the limitations of our perceptions. Ventilator therapy has changed. The pathophysiology is not understood. Researchers are truly observers.

    I view the same thing happening in the social sciences. There is a box (or triangle) and we try to force observations to fit the triangle. The homicide rate decreased despite hardcore rap, unwed mothers, poverty, etc. Models do not explain what we see. We then observe and record results rather than force what we see into a figure previously created. We may need more than one dimension.

    The panelists are confused by why they see scowls on campus. This tells us that their models are crap.

    Wow, are you dismissing the 2 most influential organizational psychologists of the last century because... what exactly? You don't like triangles? (a pyramid, technically - and that's Maslow - Herzberg's the two-factor theory.

    (Maslow introduced positive aspects into Psychology - not just a bag of problems, but positive aspects too. - try it sometime)'s_contributions

    Doesn't seem to be helping the panelists understand why their students are pissed.

    Maybe they should read. Or even take some of their schools' Organization and Management classes.

    The models do not explain the decrease in homicides.

    Edit to add:

    The are so focused on culture and Coates, they seem not to notice that things have changed. They have a blind spot.

    What are they not seeing?

    Edit: I am not asking because I know the answer.

    When you are young, you are not thankful that things are better than they were 50 years ago. Young people look at their status as it exists today, You see armed whites wanting businesses to reopen. You see the data the the groups most at risk are marginalized groups. You actually hear white politicians telling you that Big Mama should be sacrificed. Trump is President and feeding red meat to majority white rallies. You are pissed.

    If you listen closely to the panel, you hear older people telling you to let things go. That is not going to happen. McWhorter tells you that the police are not a big threat. If you personally have not have had a bad interaction with police, you know or have heard of someone who has. You turn on your television or read stories on your iPad about a black man shot by Dallas police while in his own apartment. You see video of a black man shot three times while jogging in Georgia. In both cases, local law enforcement made no arrests. It took public pressure to get both cases to trial. When the white Dallas police officer is convicted, you see the black judge hug the officer. No hugs for the murdered man's family. You feel that McWhorter is a fool. That is why several of the panelists say their students think that the panelists are out of touch.

    Orlando Patterson correctly says that most whites have no problem accepting blacks, but he also acknowledges that there are about 20% of whites who are racists. He says that they will not change. He tells his black students to "get over it". He then will chastise black students for the cultural error of listening to rap music. McWhorter and Williams follow suit. Blacks have to change, the racist whites will always be with us.

    The students also know that there are more men in their age group in college than in jail. They are aware of the decreasing homicide rates. They realize the homicide rate is too high, but damn, if you want students to be thankful that conditions are better because whites have gotten better, at least point out that in most places the black homicide rate and teen pregnancy rates decreased.

    (Edited to correct typos)

    Thank you for the thoughtful response.

    You're welcome. 

    Very interesting discussion. I got half way through and realized I was going too fast and will have to start over.
    The observations made by the audience members are some of the best parts.

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