Selections from The Negro family by Daniel Moynihan

Daniel Moynihan

The Negro family: The case for national action

in The Moynihan report and the politics of controversy, p. 41-124. Edited by L. Rainwater and W. Yancey, L. Rainwater and W. Yancey. Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T. Press. 1967 [1965].

Unquestionably, these events worked against the emergence of a strong father figure. The very essence of the male animal, from the bantam rooster to the four-star general, is to strut. Indeed, in 19th century America, a particular type of exaggerated male boastfulness became almost a national style. Not for the Negro male. The "sassy nigger[sic]" was lynched.

In this situation, the Negro family made but little progress toward the middle-class pattern of the present time. Margaret Mead has pointed out that while "In every known human society, everywhere in the world, the young male learns that when he grows up one of the things which he must do in order to be a full member of society is to provide food for some female and her young."16 This pattern is not immutable, however: it can be broken, even though it has always eventually reasserted itself.

"Within the family, each new generation of young males learn the appropriate nurturing behavior and superimpose upon their biologically given maleness this learned parental role. When the family breaks down -- as it does under slavery, under certain forms of indentured labor and serfdom, in periods of extreme social unrest during wars, revolutions, famines, and epidemics, or in periods of abrupt transition from one type of economy to another -- this delicate line of transmission is broken. Men may founder badly in these periods, during which the primary unit may again become mother and child, the biologically given, and the special conditions under which man has held his social traditions in trust are violated and distorted."

E. Franklin Frazier makes clear that at the time of emancipation Negro women were already "accustomed to playing the dominant role in family and marriage relations" and that this role persisted in the decades of rural life that followed. (pp. 62-63)

even the Margaret Mead of Male and Female (1949) is brought in to "make the case"...

... to strengthen the Negro family so as to enable it ro raise and support is members as do other families ... (p. 93)

how does one make a case "for national action"? what rhetorical tools should what type of people use? and thus, particularly, what tools should sociologists and anthropologists use?


created on Fri Jun 08 10:52:43 2012