Daniel Patrick Moynihan was right in 1965 about the black underclass but continues to be ignored or maligned.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan was “woke” about the injustices suffered by African Americans before most of today’s “wokes” were born. He was also right about the root cause of the permanency of the black underclass.
Strangely, however, instead of being remembered for his insights and caring, Moynihan has been maligned by the American intelligentsia through the years and is largely unknown by the new generation of social-justice activists and by the Black Lives Matter movement.
In 1965, Moynihan was a sociologist for the U.S. Department of Labor. He would later become a U.S. Senator. He published a scholarly paper in March of that year for the DOL, a report that contained an N-word in its title, which turns off prospective readers but was the official government terminology of the day: “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action”
Moynihan should be a hero to today’s wokes. With sensitivity, compassion and honesty, he explained that slavery in the U.S. had been especially vile, because, unlike slavery in Brazil and elsewhere, slaves were seen by slaveowners as chattel and not as humans, a belief that resulted in male and female slaves not being allowed to marry, in slaves being separated from their families and sold, and in the establishment of a matriarchal subculture.
Later, during Jim Crow, black men who attempted to protect their families were humiliated or worse. And later still, welfare made black men unnecessary in providing for their families. These developments further entrenched the matriarchal culture and led black men to find counterproductive and self-defeating ways of expressing their masculinity.
Of course, as Moynihan went on to explain, blacks also faced poverty, discrimination, bad schools, and biased law enforcement. So did certain immigrant groups, but not to the same extent as blacks. With the advent of civil rights and voting rights, many blacks did overcome these barriers and rise to the middle-class, but to a lesser degree than disadvantaged immigrants.
Immigrants and poor whites in general had an advantage that blacks didn’t have: a much higher incidence of two-parent families. To that point, Moynihan wrote this:
As a direct result of this high rate of divorce, separation, and desertion, a very large percent of Negro families are headed by females. While the percentage of such families among whites has been dropping since 1940, it has been rising among Negroes.
The percent of nonwhite [black] families headed by a female is more than double the percent for whites. Fatherless nonwhite families increased by a sixth between 1950 and 1960, but held constant for white families.
It has been estimated that only a minority of Negro children reach the age of 18 having lived all their lives with both of their parents.
On a related note, Moynihan provided the following statistics on the welfare program known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children:
The AFDC program, deriving from the long-established Mothers’ Aid programs, was established in 1935 principally to care for widows and orphans, although the legislation covered all children in homes deprived of parental support because one or both of their parents are absent or incapacitated.
In the beginning, the number of AFDC families in which the father was absent because of desertion was less than a third of the total. Today it is two thirds. HEW estimates “that between two thirds and three fourths of the 50 percent increase from 1948 to 1955 in the number of absent father families receiving ADC may be explained by an increase in broken homes in the population.”
A 1960 study of Aid to Dependent Children in Cook County, Ill. stated:
“The ‘typical’ ADC mother in Cook County was married and had children by her husband, who deserted; his whereabouts are unknown, and he does not contribute to the support of his children. She is not free to remarry and has had an illegitimate child since her husband left. (Almost 90 percent of the ADC families are Negro.)”
These excerpts are but a tiny fraction of the sobering statistics in the Moynihan report.
The key message of the report was that the trend of broken black families was going in the wrong direction and would result in a permanent underclass and increased social pathologies, which would not be overcome by civil rights (or by diversity and inclusion today). Indeed, since the report, the percent of one-parent black families has more than doubled, with a corresponding rise in pathologies, especially and most horrendously, the shootings of teens by other teens. This mirrors what Moynihan predicted, as follows:
The family structure of lower-class Negroes is highly unstable, and in many urban centers is approaching complete breakdown.
There is considerable evidence that the Negro community is in fact dividing between a stable middle class group that is steadily growing stronger and more successful, and an increasingly disorganized and disadvantaged lower class group. There are indications, for example, that the middle class Negro family puts a higher premium on family stability and the conserving of family resources than does the white middle class family.
What Moynihan didn’t foresee was that the percent of one-parent white families would also more than double over the upcoming decades, due to changing mores, women entering the workforce, and the feminist movement – a trend that also has resulted in entrenched social pathologies.
Today, tellingly, certain Asian races in America have the highest percent of traditional families and the highest income and educational achievement.
Many middle- and working-class communities have become Potemkin villages, whether white or black. From the outside they look like communities of yesteryear, with nice ranch homes, lawns, and tree-lined streets. But the facades hide a divorce rate of 50%, substance abuse, and despondent, angry children – and in some cities, gangs of teens who sell drugs and prey on their neighbors, which in turn results in a larger police presence and the increased likelihood of misunderstandings or worse between cops and citizens.
The suburb of Ferguson outside of my hometown of St. Louis is a case in point. From the outside, the homes are nicer than the homes in my boyhood working-class neighborhood, but the worst thing my friends and I did as kids in the old hood was soap windows or ring doorbells and run. We didn’t steal from a neighborhood store, or walk the streets in the middle of the night, or fear the cops, who were part of the community and known by name.
Anyway, given that Moynihan has been proven prophetic, why is his report maligned or ignored today? Three reasons:
First, the report used the N-word, which at best is now seen as anachronistic, and at worst, is a trigger for accusations of racism or calls for cancelling.
Second, overly-sensitive feminists misinterpret Moynihan as having advocated for a patriarchal society, because of his concern over fathers being displaced from family life.
Third, his reference to illegitimacy is incorrectly seen as passing moral judgment, when in fact, he did no such thing but simply used statistics that were available at the time and were rough proxies for fatherless families. He knew that unmarried parents were not necessarily irresponsible parents or single parents.
I’ll close on a personal note and retell an anecdote that I’ve written about elsewhere.
At about the same time as the Moynihan report, I was a teen working as the only white on an otherwise all-black clubhouse staff at an exclusive St. Louis country club, where Italians and Jews weren’t welcome as members. St. Louis was the city known for the infamous Dredd Scott case, the infamous Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex, racial tensions and riots, and white flight to the suburbs. Now the city has just a fraction of its former population and one of the highest crime rates in the nation.
Waiters at the clubhouse restaurant were former waiters on Pullman train cars and were solidly in the middle-class. They were the epitome of good manners, personal grooming, and classy dress The same for clubhouse manager Bill Williams, who wore tailored suits and cufflinks, which were two articles of attire that my dad didn’t own.
For extra money on my off-hours, I would wash and wax their big Buicks and Pontiacs, which, unlike our family car, didn’t have rusted-out floorboards, through which the pavement could be seen flying by. Neighbors marveled at the cars and marveled even more when Bill Williams came for a visit.
At the lower end of the class spectrum were the cooks, dishwasher and janitors. A former prize fighter, the dishwasher had a long scar on his face and a violent temper, especially when drunk.
One of my jobs was cleaning the employee restroom in the basement of the clubhouse. After I had finished the chore one morning, the dishwasher walked into the restroom, peed on the floor, and said, “Clean it up whitey.” A young and muscular coworker, who happened to walk by at that moment, threw the dishwasher against the wall and said, “You clean it up, you black motherf _ _ _ _r.” Not wanting trouble, I said, “That’s okay. I’ll get it.”
Despite these class and behavioral differences, and despite the discrimination my coworkers faced in St. Louis, almost all of them were married and took pride in being good family men. They would invite me to their family picnics in Forest Park, where they would cook the best barbecued ribs in the world. Other than skin color and cuisine, the picnics were just like the picnics of Italian families.
Sadly, as Moynihan had warned, much of this family foundation subsequently crumbled, not only for many blacks but also for many whites. Sadder still, wokes don’t know this history and are unaware of the dreadful socioeconomic consequences of fatherless families.
The Moynihan report should be required reading in colleges, but that’s a pipe dream.
As we move through 2023 and into the next election cycle, The Prickly Pear will resume Take Action recommendations and information.