I haven't really looked at my break from Liberalism from the perspective of accepting Moynihan as having been right all along, but I have accepted that the ghetto paradigm is ignoble and needs to be beat down by Old School values.
I know that we're supposed to hate Moynihan. We blackfolks are supposed to believe that if only the jobs could be imported into the ghetto then family life would be restored to normal. When Moynihan said that the black family was broken we're supposed to say "Stop blaming the victim." But I haven't said any of those things in a long time. I believe that the ghetto is caustic and there's no reason to stay - that if there are no good jobs there then the priority is to go where the jobs are. I say if you can't give your 'African Queen' a wedding ring, then you're no better than the slave trader. I say family first, and where would I be without one?
Like a lot of folks, I migrated to Atlanta as the 'Black Mecca'. My two daughters were both born there at Northside Hospital. I was somewhat disappointed in that Mecca partially based on my experience in New York and Los Angeles. Atlanta was perfectly suitable for family life, but for the sophisticated life I and the wife preferred, it still felt like a small town. The surprise of Atlanta was the clarity with which African Americans distinguished themselves by class. Out on the coasts, there was lots of support for the revelry and sometimey hooliganism of the infamous 'Freaknic' spring break. But in Atlanta proper, middle class families like ours simply spit. It definitely matters which end of Cascade Road you lived on and black Atlantans had no problem splitting the difference. The effect on me personally was that instead of feeling like a bigger part of a black Mecca, I felt more like a somewhat embattled minority within a minority.
It was this notion of home that dominated my thinking about family and community in the South. It was all about getting into the same neighborhood as Gladys Knight, Evander Holyfield and the pro sports players - the outcrop of tract mansions on the southeast corner of town. Everybody else was po' folk and you had to beware of your rich hiphop star neighbors' bad habits.
Contrast this with the situation in Brooklyn which is a huge mass of fairly working class blackfolks. Brooklyn is much more cohesive and well-adjusted to itself. It has a sort of gritty pride and is ready for anything. Brooklyn cannot feel put upon, but it is decidedly blue collar and while not entirely antagonistic towards the upwardly and downwardly mobile African American, it refuses to budge from its primary orientation. Brooklyn is the home to a million around the way girls and flyboys. You don't get the impression that will ever change. It's OK to live on the high side in Ft. Greene or on the bottom side in Brownsville, but Brooklyn is still what it is. They call it 'The Planet', and Brooklynites feel they encompass the scope of black life. Boastful but wrong. As I was trying to find my crowd in Brooklyn I asked numerous times, where is the upscale black community? The answer was consistent: on Long Island. Which implies, as is the case with Los Angeles, that more upscale blacks are geographically discontiguous with others.
I bring up these two examples, (and I would talk about Los Angeles, but won't for brevity's sake) in order to review the sentiments in various African American communities which could lead into political distinctions between blacks. I think it depends upon the particular black community. And notably I think geography, ie physical separation between the various classes of African Americans is a strong indicator of political diversity.
The roads in and out of Moynihan's arguments have been well-paved and reinforced during the Culture Wars of the 80s. But I think now is a good time to rip up some of that asphalt and reroute the discussion. In particular, as a representative of the Old School and black Republicanism, I find his arguments more compelling over time. This is not only particular to Moynihan, but to other criticisms and alternatives to the nuclear family. Not only are unwed mothers and fathers objects of criticism, but same sex couples. However there is an important caveat which is central to this discussion, and that is the mobility of economics.
I used to say that God makes no mistakes in the design of the human body, and if teenage pregnancy is so awful how is it that teenage girls can biologically get pregnant? The biology isn't wrong, it's our economy which is wrong. We're going to have a great deal more success changing our economy than we are the human reproductive system.
I similarly hold a great deal of respect for the ways that humans have evolved to organize themselves. As I recently wrote of poor blacks in Louisiana:
There's a reason that police cannot disband gangs overnight. There's a reason that churches survive for generations, that's because human teamwork is non-trivial. Even if people are poor and destitute, and perhaps moreso, they are going to organize some kind of way. Illegal immigrants from Mexico find a way to get here against all odds and border patrols. So people are expressing their will and organization at all levels of society. Looking at welfare and Medicaid and all that from an economic point of view, as well as the dynamics of extended and single parent families is a great study. The question isn't whether Moynihan is right or wrong per se, the question is whether the families we sustain are compatible with the economies we sustain. The reason it's so easy to point at the dysfunction is because the mainstream middleclass standard is so clear, but dual income families are more the norm now than in Moynihan's time. What would he have made of soccer moms who work? My point is that whatever ugly socioeconomic niche the poor black survivors inhabited, it can't be undone simply and it's wrong to suggest that it could be. Nobody knows this like rich cousins of poor cousins.
Especially here in immigrant inundated Southern California, we have to pay close attention to how our system does or does not accomodate the deep values of people who live here. In other words, whether the issue is Welfare Reform or any kind of government economic incentive, we need to take responsibility for the outcomes. Is the baseline mainstream American economic model tailored for the dual-income family? If so, what does that imply for family values? If not, what has gone wrong with the economy, since that's what it takes to make ends meet? One needs to ask very seriously and rethink Moynihan with regard to what is economically feasible. What comes first, family or economy? If economy comes first, the trend for middle class stability might have us all living like Vietnamese where not only two parents work, but a couple of teens too.
When it comes to the black family, the choice is clear, but the results are not. Two parent families are a must and intra-family support is critical. Without both, the path to stability is one of profound risk. However the context of labor has changed drastically since Moynihan's day. Corporations do not employ people for life, they outsource rather than train. The global economy is real, the virtual corporation works. Telecommuting is a fact of life and pensions are, by and large, a thing of the past. Many of the benefits of middle class life require a financial sophistication heretofore unnecessary, and the job market for people without college education is much more restricted than before. African Americans have integrated into a society that delivers things other than what was promised when the quest for integration began.
Moynihan was right, but he is nowhere near enough.