Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies

One of the best places to read about current cultural trends is the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, a quarterly journal of urban affairs. For example, in the latest edition you can read Heather Mac Donald's brilliant piece, Harvard’s Diversity Grovel, or her highlighting Heralds of a Brighter Black Future, about conservative blacks who are bucking the ideological status quo.

Another helpful article is Kay Hymowitz's The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies, which examines the the 40-year legacy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Department of Labor report--“The Negro Family: The Case for National Action”--which warned that the ghetto family was in serious disarray. As Hymowitz explains, this "prophetic report prompted civil rights leaders, academics, politicians, and pundits to make a momentous—and, as time has shown, tragically wrong—decision about how to frame the national discussion about poverty." She surveys four decades of unhelpful liberal response that only made matters worse.

But she then points to three thinkers that shook the establishement from "ideological paralysis": "Charles Murray, Lawrence Mead, and Thomas Sowell—though they did not always write directly about the black family, effectively changed the conversation about it."

First, they did not flinch from blunt language in describing the wreckage of the inner city, unafraid of the accusations of racism and victim blaming that came their way. Second, they pointed at the welfare policies of the 1960s, not racism or a lack of jobs or the legacy of slavery, as the cause of inner-city dysfunction, and in so doing they made the welfare mother the public symbol of the ghetto’s ills. (Murray in particular argued that welfare money provided a disincentive for marriage, and, while his theory may have overstated the role of economics, it’s worth noting that he was probably the first to grasp that the country was turning into a nation of separate and unequal families.) And third, they believed that the poor would have to change their behavior instead of waiting for Washington to end poverty, as liberals seemed to be saying."

I agree with much of what Ms. Hymowitz says in this helpful survey piece. The thing left unsaid--and the thing I would highlight--is the essential role of the gospel and the church in the restoration of the inner-city family. We must go beyond bemoaning fatherless families, but instead work with young men to show them that there is a better way. One of the things that we can do is to support programs like Campus Crusade's Here's Life Inner City and Moe Leveritt's Desire Street Ministries.

My wife and I once went with a single mom from our neighborhood to a seminar sponsored by a rural church. The seminar was a free, simple, non-intimidating introduction on how to make a budget and stick to it. The church also offered a program where members of the church would help you get your car fixed for very cheap labor. I wish that more churches would follow this sort of model: building relationships; meeting some very real, felt needs; and opening the door to talk about their deepest need: a Savior.