Jul 12 2010
Freedom is Not Enough: The Moynihan Report and America’s Struggle over Black Family Life, from LBJ to Obama-Brookings Institute-June 10
The Moynihan Report entitled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action Office of Policy Planning and Research United States Department of Labor” revealed one aspect of racial disparity in this country. The rate of illegitimacy within the African-American community the mid-1960s was one of the benchmarks that indicated the plight of their community, yet Senator Moynihan’s report on this fragile subject turned heads and eventually ostracized him in many political circles. In this event sponsored by the Brookings Institute, intellectuals, professors, and journalists debated the societal context, impact, and lasting legacy of the Moynihan Report. They lauded it for being ahead of its time as illegitimacy rates in today’s African American society triple that of the 1960s. They also were chagrin at the reaction the document received during its time. Unfortunately, the report was leaked and with the racially charged atmosphere of the time, Moynihan’s arbitrary look at the African-American community labeled him as a racist, which is not only false but took away from the terrible social problem he was trying to raise awareness on.
The debate not only focused on the history of the Moynihan Report but soon turned into a debate about the sanctity of marriage and the contemporary status of African-American society in the time of Obama and an apparent post-racial attitude. The myth about the lack of marriageable young African-American men was confronted by members of the audience and the matriarchal nature of many fractured African-American households was analyzed and presented as one reason African-Americans feel a sense of “otherness” or disconnection from mainstream society. We live in a patriarchal society, dominated by male-centric ideology, and with women leading most African-American households, we find an inherent gap in the upbringing of many young children. While this situation is obviously not desirable in current society, many lingering effects of racism and segregation that have contributed to oppression of African-Americans in even our so-called equal society were touched upon by the incredibly intelligent panel. These include the disproportionate incarceration rates of African-Americans and economic segregation resulting from suburbanization. References to the Cosby Show and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” were part of the optimism towards race relations that the panel eventually espoused.
Despite race relations improving in their minds, the idea of marriage seemed less protected. The high rate of divorce, the lack of spirituality, and wedlock birth rates were all areas of concern expressed by the panel. However, the idea of marriage itself (a heteronormative partnership between a man and a woman) was not promulgated. The panel likened a Scandinavian model as a good goal for American society. Even though their idea of marriage isn’t as traditional, non-traditional families, including long-term heterosexual and homosexual couples, are very common in the Scandinavian countries and provide a safety network for their younger generations. This safety net is what’s lacking in many communities in America, especially minority communities. The Scandinavian model was brought up a lot in the discussion and even though it may not be practical for America, its successes have not gone unnoticed by the Brookings Institute.
The Moynihan Report was considered a “moment lost in history” by the panel. It was a report that could’ve shed light on serious social problems of the time. Unfortunately, due to the heightened racial tensions during the Civil Rights Movement, the document was taken out of context and it would be another generation before a white man would take up the issues plaguing the African-American society. There is a crisis of the family resulting from the entanglement of race relations, which is the same problem that was occurring 40 years ago, and the Brookings Institute’s discussion sheds light on the darkened past of this piece of history. Hopefully, the members of this panel will help improve our contemporary society and truly make our society one that embodies Obama’s ideological post-racial America.