“He got intimidated by the right”: Orlando Patterson on President Obama, race & black cultureRoundup
tags: Obama, Orlando Patterson
With their new anthology, “The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth,” Dr. Orlando Patterson and Ethan Fosse, in collaboration with numerous scholars from some of the country’s most prestigious institutions, hope to reconcile the paradoxical condition of America’s black (male) youth: “They are trapped in a seemingly intractable socioeconomic crisis,” Patterson and Fosse write, “yet are among the most vibrant creators of popular culture in the nation and the world.”
The book tiptoes through precarious sociological terrain. Nearly 50 years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan published “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Policy Planning and Research, a report that left land mines in the field of sociology. Moynihan, stressing the depletion of black family life at the hands of virulent racism in every facet of American society, was accused of “pathologizing” the black poor.
Patterson and Fosse call the backlash to Moynihan’s analysis “by far the most virulent, inaccurate, and often grossly unfair,” arguing, “Moynihan was easily one of the most liberal councilors to advise a president and was deeply committed to the single most liberal policy agenda to aid black Americans in the history of the American government.” In “The Cultural Matrix,” Patterson and Fosse insist that Moynihan “identified the economic and social consequences of single female-headed households, but further pointed out that this was the result of the racial and socioeconomic oppression of black Americans.”
The criticisms launched fervently at Moynihan, Patterson and Fosse believe, led to a dark period of revisionism within the field of sociology in which “all cultural studies, especially those on the poor, became suspect.” The fear of “pathologizing” their subjects became the hot spot on the stove for social scientists and sociologists, who responded by shifting their focus away from culture and toward structural problems. “The Cultural Matrix” seeks to refocus sociology’s analytical lenses and take a second look at culture, learning from the mistakes of the past. Patterson and Fosse write: “The social problems [black youth] face are too great and too important not to take culture seriously.”
I chatted extensively with Patterson over the phone. Our conversation traversed the peaks and valleys of the cultural landscape, from Kanye West to Bill Cosby, from his book to respectability politics. Our conversation has been edited for clarity. ...
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