Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Bob Herbert and the Culture of Poverty Redux


In yesterday's NY Times$ Bob Herbert surprised us by talking about the problems of black America without pointing a finger at the failures of government and the larger American society. Here's the money quote: "I've spent years writing about unfairness and appalling injustices. Society is unfair and racism is still a rampant evil. But much of the suffering in black America could be alleviated by changes in behavior."

Wow! This is certainly a refreshing turn for Herbert. It's refreshing because it acknowledges something that Charles Silberman pointed out over thirty years ago: There is both a black problem as well as a white problem and to alleviate the problems attendant to race in this country we need to address both issues in both communities.

It is the same point that has been made by Oscar Lewis and the culture of poverty school. This perspective doesn't deny that a history of oppression is the root cause of much of what we find appalling in the inner cities. It does, however, insist that this history has itself created an internalized oppression that needs to be eradicated, and if it isn't all of the changes in law will not alter the basic conditions that hold people back.

Herbert underscores this by saying, "Addressing issues of values and behavior within the black community should not in any way imply a lessening of the pressure on the broader society...It should be seen as an essential counterpoint to that pressure." Bob Herbert meet John McWhorter!