Before the era of the Civil Rights movement, beliefs in biological racism allowed white Americans to explain the disparities of wealth, power, and quality of life as a natural consequence of biological inferiority. As biological racism was debunked and black America pushed back against the oppressive restraints of a white supremacist society during the Civil Rights Movement, the United States was forced to recognize its extreme mistreatment of the black population. After the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, pushback against the progress African Americans had made was rampant. Reasonings of biological racism waned, and new schools of thought regarding the American social order were created. Culture, rather than biology, became the main focus regarding black poverty.
In 1965, a sociologist named Daniel Patrick Moynihan released an extensive report on the black family. Following the lead of sociologist and pioneer of comparative slave studies Frank Tannenbaum, Moynihan started off explaining the perceived roots of black inferiority by referencing the horrors of slavery. By minimizing the impact of Latin American slavery on African slaves and exacerbating the role of slavery in “black pathology” in the United States, Moynihan used slavery to explain the deterioration of the black family structure that led to matriarchal family lines. He noted that
“When Jim Crow made its appearance towards the end of the 19th century, it may be speculated that it was the Negro male who was most humiliated thereby; the male was more likely to use public facilities, which rapidly became segregated once the process began, and just as important, segregation, and the submissiveness it exacts, is surely more destructive to the male than to the female personality. Keeping the Negro “in his place” can be translated as keeping the Negro male in his place: the female was not a threat to anyone.”
Coining the term, “tangle of pathology”, Moynihan blamed the lack of widespread economic gain in the black community on a “black subculture”. The prime target of Moynihan’s blame was black mothers. Deeming the perceived matriarchal structure of the black family as inferior, black women were accused of the emasculation of black men, which affected the capabilities of black men to provide for their families and raise their children. Blaming what he called the “reversed roles of Negro husband and wife”, Moynihan blamed black mothers for increases in childhood delinquency, which reinforced a cycle of criminality and a warped family structure for black children.
“In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is to out of line with the rest of the American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great many Negro women as well.”
Though it is now regarded as an incredibly sexist and racist assessment, the Moynihan report is still responsible for many of the erroneous judgements and beliefs about the black family today. The legacy of his report allows many to ignore the economic, social, and political disparities that exist in African American communities due to continued racism, and blame a seemingly unchanging culture among blacks in America.
Sources: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, The Moynihan Report by Daniel Patrick Moynihan