My family class spent the past month reading research about black families. A student said today that she felt bad writing her paper on the subject, because it seemed like just bashing black families, especially black men. While we have read some encouraging news, especially about the achievement of the married black middle class, most of what we have read is a long litany of decline.
This got me reflecting about what might have been. In 1965, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan produced The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, he pointed out that the black illegitimacy rate had reached 25%, compared to a white rate of about a quarter of that. Moynihan argued that, now that the foundations of legal segregation had been demolished, it was time to work on the other social facts that threatened to hold back African Americans in the future. High on his list was family structure, something few others noticed at the time.
As anyone who has studied black families knows, Moynihan was subjected to a firestorm of criticism for suggesting that there was anything amiss with black family life. The phrase "blaming the victim" was invented to excoriate this report. As a result, it became taboo to study black families for a generation. The work written until the late '80s tended to praise the strengths of black families and hail their alternative cultural arrangements.
Then the empirical struck back. The conditions of black families, and other families, had gotten so bad that political correctness could not fend off reality. A flood of studies followed, which quickly discovered that during the lost generation, the black illegitimacy rate had gone from a scary 25% to a disasterous 70%.
In those lost decades it would have been very unpleasant to point out that things were getting much worse for black families, mostly due to the choices of black people themselves. This would have seemed like "bashing." But if we had been willing to research the facts and face the hard truth, perhaps the movement to restore black marriage might have started sooner. Perhaps we could have halted the decline before fatherlessness became the norm for African American children.