In the shadow of the assassination of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), the Selma to Montgomery march and escalating racial tensions throughout the country, a significant report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action was shared in limited number within the Johnson Administration. Authored by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy and Research, The Moynihan Report, as it is known, was significant and illusive, courageous and the source of great consternation.
Hired as an urban affairs policy advisor to work on President John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, Moynihan remained in the White House after the assassination of Kennedy to work on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. Moynihan’s report was originally intended to serve as analytical research on the social and economic disparities faced by Blacks in preparation for the White House Conference on Civil Rights held on June 1-2, 1966. However, portions of the March 1965 report were leaked to the media causing visceral reactions from many who had not read the full 78-page report. Most critics did not understand Moynihan’s desire to coalesce all of the federal programs aimed at supporting equal rights and equal opportunities for Blacks into one comprehensive move by the government. With this report, Moynihan diagnosed that the root cause of Black unemployment and poverty was the increasing instability of the Black family. Moynihan believed that if the government could pass legislation to assist in stabilizing the Black family then Blacks would finally achieve equality. Unfortunately, 50 years later we can all agree that it’s not that simple!
Criticism of the report was widely published in daily papers, academic journals and complete monographs such as William Ryan’s Blaming the Victim (Pantheon Books, 1971). Much of the criticism was based on the emotive climate of increasing violence in inner-city neighborhoods highly populated by Blacks. As the United States increased involvement in Vietnam the discriminatory practices of conscription were in conflict with Moynihan’s research. His analysis did not account for these practices as ways in which Black families were disrupted.
Some of the most potent critiques, though, were from media pundits, scholars and local activists who argued that Moynihan’s analysis suffered from implicit bias. In essence, Moynihan failed to fully consider the socio-cultural landscape that substantiated the quantitative data as real life situations, circumstances and occurrences and not just collections of statistical results.
Moynihan openly acknowledged the “racist virus in the American bloodstream” within his report, but failed to account for the systemic policies, procedures, protocols and practices that not only were inequitable but drunk with racial prejudice and gender-based discrimination.
50 years later, these same challenges exist. More than ever before, it is evident that the unfinished business of this country is moving from the goal of liberty to the goal of equality; from being diverse to being inclusive. Today, according to the recent study accomplished by the National Urban League, Blacks are doing 72.2% as well as Whites relative to economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement as reported in their 2015 Equality Index.
50 years later, the statistical evidence matches the anecdotal evidence as thousands across the country and the world continue to join the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Today, there are more news stories, investigations and findings proving a systematic attack on Black bodies of all genders whether through voter disenfranchisement, segregation in housing, lack of adequate access to education and health care or the recent findings of widespread discriminatory practices in the criminal justice, jurisprudence and legal systems. There is too much data to deny and too many narratives to negate. If there was ever a time to recover Moynihan’s fumble and push forward a national case to seek legislative assistance, protection and affirmation that #BlackLivesMatter, now is the time!
Emmett G. Price III, Ph.D. is a pastor, professor and weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment. He is the author of Hip Hop Culture and editor of several works including The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide. Follow him on Twitter.