ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
That Patterson and others presume that self-destructive behavior is unique
to black youth culture only illustrates that they work from a faulty paradigm.
A Depravity of Logic
By Rodney D. Foxworth, Jr.
Establishmentarian or “moderate” liberals are nearly interchangeable with hardliners and conservatives, particularly when concerning their views of the disadvantaged, and specifically, the continued and worsening plight of disadvantaged African American youth. New York Times Op-ed contributor Orlando Patterson, the distinguished professor of sociology at Harvard and fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, best exemplifies this with his much circulated essay, “A Poverty of the Mind.”
In response to recent studies highlighting the “tragic disconnection of millions of black youths from the American mainstream,” Patterson chastises his colleagues for overemphasizing structural factors such as low income, unemployment, inadequate schools and bad housing, while rejecting “cultural attributes” such as “distinctive attitudes, values and predispositions, and the resulting behavior” when explaining for this “tragic disconnection.”
Not that Patterson’s criticisms are unique or new. History is ripe with pleas for the behavioral, ethical and moral uplift of the disadvantaged to solve for their disheartening plight. We can all recall Bill Cosby’s recent denigration of the urban poor, whose inability to pull up their pants relegates them to the slums. Of course, like merit and industriousness, responsible behavior is one of those finely crafted myths used to explain for the dire situation of the truly disadvantaged, thus absolving structural forces of any responsibility.
Many of the questions posed by Patterson’s essay can be answered with the use of basic reasoning skills and logic, tactics often underutilized even by academics and intellectuals.
But Patterson and his ilk must first come to terms with something quite inimical to the American ethos: good behavior is no precursor to “success.”
This is not to suggest that we should not maintain good behavior or lead moral and ethical lives. But scholars and layman point to “self-destructiveness” and “self-inflicted wounds” as root causes for the lack of life opportunities and options for the disadvantaged as if one implies the either.
For example, Patterson cites crime, drug abuse, and “predatory sexuality” and “irresponsible fathering behavior” as examples of self-destructiveness. And yet, white high school students are nearly three times more likely to engage in alcohol abuse as compared to blacks, while black youth are far more likely than their white peers to be substance free. Black teens are less likely to drink and drug, despite having an unemployment rate of 28.4 percent in February, double that of white teens.
And while statistics show that black youth engage in more sex than their white and Hispanic counterparts and teen pregnancy is significantly higher amongst black females, condom use by young black males is actually 10 percent higher than young white males, and 13 percent higher than their Hispanic peers. However, black girls are almost three times less likely to use birth control as compared to white adolescents. Such data suggests that our own aversion to proper sex education and the availability of birth control is at least as responsible for black teen pregnancy as the “predatory sexuality” of young black men.
Then there is the matter of criminal activity. In 2004, 11.1 percent of black males ages 20 to 24 were incarcerated, as compared to 1.6 percent of white males. Patterson asks why young black men resort to crime, and why they “murder each other at nine times the rate of white youths?” Though an apples and oranges comparison, Patterson’s academic training at the London School of Economics should have afforded him the critical thinking skills necessary to answer such a flimsy question: young black men in the inner cities engage in crime and violence because there is incentive to do so. Financial incentive was the motivation behind Enron and Worldcom and others to commit massive fraud, ruining the finances of thousands. Whether or not such behavior is proper or moral or ethical is another question, one that Patterson does not pose: he simply wants to answer the “why?”
That Patterson and others presume that self-destructive behavior is unique to black youth culture only illustrates that they work from a faulty paradigm. The excessive drinking and recreational drug use associated with middle and upper class white youth has no bearing on their life opportunities and options; for example, self-destructive behavior has no adverse effect on their employment rates. Nick McDonell and Marty Beckerman, two successful young writers of the Millennium Generation, launched their careers by exposing the self-destructiveness and depravity of their peerswhite and middle and upper classjust as their forefather Bret Easton Ellis before them.
Even the noted author and journalist Tom Wolfe has expressed his disgust with present-day (white) middle class youth, most notably in the novel I Am Charlotte Simmons. Promiscuity, recreational drug use, binge drinking, conspicuous and wasteful consumptionall self-destructive behavior as defined by Pattersonfail to limit the life options for these white youth.
Logic is absent from Patterson’s essay: culture won’t explain for the questions that he poses. For example, Patterson asks why young black men are flunking out of school and not going to college.
“We’re not stupid!” answers a young black male.
And they aren’t. Studies suggest that many high school dropouts do so because they are not academically challenged, nor do they see the correlation between high school graduation and work and financial securityperhaps, because for them, there is no correlation. Patterson and others suggest that jobless black youths don’t seize upon job opportunities like their immigrant counterparts. Perhaps, though it can also be argued that employers, who aren’t exactly allergic to cheap labor, prefer immigrants and their willingness to work for less. And by opting not to supplement the rising cost of college tuition with grants, government has hindered several thousands of qualified low-income students from attending college.
But structural forces aren’t quite good enough for “serious” thinkers like Patterson. Indeed, it is far easier to point the finger at the exploited than it is to make demands of those responsible for the purse strings and policy. Even a poor mind understands that the plight of black youth won’t be solved by disciplined behavior.
Rodney Foxworth is a Baltimore writer and college student. An associate editor of LiP Magazine, his writings have appeared in publications such as the Baltimore Sun, Metro New York, LiP, Baltimore City Paper, The Black Commentator, and Dissident Voice. He is an occasional blogger at Brickburner.org.
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Rodney, once again, you are on target in this essay.
In the 1950’s while everyone watched “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett” and “Father Knows Best,” and before abortions became legal, many white teenage girls placed their babies “born out of wedlock” for adoption. (After the passage of the civil rights bill,in the 60’s I worked as a child welfare worker in foster care and adoptive home placements.)
These young mothers did not end up in statistical reports as teenage pregnancies. Nor were the “irresponsible fathering behaviors” of their sexual partners recorded. The options for employment of these white teenagers were not affected.
In recent years, American middle class white families who want to adopt infants have needed to resort to international adoptions because abortions became legal. I doubt seriously if the “irresponsible fathering behaviors” and the teenage pregnancies of white girls, have become less. Middle and upper class white families have generally been privileged to make sure their “family secrets” remain just that. Jeannette
posted 3 April 2006
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man’s turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners’ plans to give him a “necktie party” (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by “the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn’t operate in his own home town.” Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Wilkerson’s magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an “uncertain existence” in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 27 February 2012