Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute, home to our friend McWhorter and other moderate conservatives, has nailed it. Her focus on marriage and its affects on the well being of people (not just children) is spot on and refreshing. Moreover she correctly identifies the 'Unmarriage Revolution'.
There's no question that there were a number of impersonal forces at work in upending the family - the pill, which gave women control over reproduction, affluence, which made marriage less essential for mere survival, and of course, the mass movement of women into the labor market, which allowed women greater independence.
But there is also no doubt that the unmarriage revolution was in large measure a product of dubious ideas. Idealists of the 1960's imagined that if you could free individuals from traditional modes of being and traditional institutions, they could experience life more directly, more "ecstatically" as Hillary Clinton put it in her famous Wellesley graduation speech. Adding to the anti-marriage movement was the belief among feminists that marriage was the source of female inequality. Simone de Beauvoir called it "an obscene bourgeois institution," (a description I agree with, by the way, if you take out the "obscene") and as we all know, Betty Friedan, referred to it as a "comfortable concentration camp." To be a wife was to be confined in a stereotype straightjacket that severely limited women's individual potential, as well as keeping them under male control.
This is precisely what I've been talking about. Once again we must reconsider Moynihan. Although I did that without a defense of marriage itself in mind, such matters are much more clear to me now. Hymowitz goes on to speak about the familiar devastation to black families.
Given the legacy of slavery that made marriage impossible for blacks and Jim Crow laws that emasculated men, the unmarriage revolution was bound to hit blacks especially hard. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his controversial report "The Negro Family", he was warning the country about a 25% illegitimacy rate among blacks. In one chapter of my book, I tell the story of how black leaders and black and white academics accused Moynihan of every sin in the p.c. book. He was a racist who could not possibly understand "the strengths of the black family." He was a sexist who failed to appreciate the "strong black woman" and her "extended kinship networks." It became impossible to have an honest conversation about what was happening in the black community for the next twenty years even as black welfare rolls, crime rates, and teen births were soaring.
Well, now the rupture between marriage and black childbearing is just about complete. Seventy percent of black births are to single mothers. Seventy percent. This has had a disastrous effect on men, who have lost their major social roles as provider and father. It is also a tragedy for the country because it makes the goal of full black equality unachievable. Growing up in single parent homes, black kids are destined to stay behind.
Dead right. Read the whole thing.
The difference and the distance between black partisans who were interested in raising the race and white liberal counterculturalists ought to be clear and profound. To the extent that brotherhood was a component of the black consciousness revolution we were more about building strong relationships than tearing them down. In the 70s when Warren Beatty was making movies about free love, we were fantasizing about how cool it would be if Huey and Angela would hook up. The entire phenomenon that was Roots underscored black need to feel connected to family. But something went horribly wrong with the nexus between white liberals and black radicals. Could it be that we also wanted Clarence Williams to abandon his black woman for Peggy Lipton? Hard to say.
Here's what I will say which is consistent with what I've been saying. The ability for white controlled media to skew the accurate portrayal of a normal black family far outstripped black ability to communicate its value. Perhaps in a rush to join the integrated world, or just to leave the segregated world, too many black men and women left their old family values too, thinking that this was the new American way. It was, but it was also very wrong, and now far too many are paying the price.
I was among those who chuckled during the culture wars at Reaganite champions of 'family values'. But I was single, childless and advancing my career. For me it was all about economic advancement. What I saw that blackfolks needed more than anything else was an economic base of substance. Well, I don't write family values in quotes any longer. They are real values with important consequences that cannot be downplayed, and I say they are central to the prospects of African Americans. Black people persist, but black families are challenged. Blackfolks will survive, but without marriage we will not advance or sustain those advances.