Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Moynihan's Childhood

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, author of a famous 1965 report on the breakdown of the black family, did not come from a very good family himself:
By his own lights, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ambassador, senator, sociologist, and itinerant American intellectual, was the product of a broken home and a pathological family. He was born in 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but raised mostly in New York City. When Moynihan was 10 years old, his father, John, left the family, plunging it into poverty. Moynihan’s mother, Margaret, remarried, had another child, divorced, moved to Indiana to stay with relatives, then returned to New York, where she worked as a nurse. Moynihan’s childhood—a tangle of poverty, remarriage, relocation, and single motherhood—contrasted starkly with the idyllic American family life he would later extol. “My relations are obviously those of divided allegiance,” Moynihan wrote in a diary he kept during the 1950s. “Apparently I loved the old man very much yet had to take sides … choosing mom in spite of loving pop.” In the same journal, Moynihan, subjecting himself to the sort of analysis to which he would soon subject others, wrote, “Both my mother and father—They let me down badly … I find through the years this enormous emotional attachment to Father substitutes—of whom the least rejection was cause for untold agonies—the only answer is that I have repressed my feelings towards dad.”
I never knew this before, and I find it fascinating. Moynihan could easily have taken the tack that he suffered as much from family pathology as poor blacks, so they ought to do as well as he had. But he did not; he was always full of compassion for African Americans and spent his public career searching for ways to help them.

The most controversial part of the Moynihan report these days is his insistence that many of black America's problems came from the emasculation of black men, and the subsequent dominance of women in black families and communities:
In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is so 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.
Which makes it doubly interesting that in his own family he "chose mom in spite of loving pop."

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