This year marks the 50th anniversary of sociologist-turned-US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 study, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. Generally referred to as the Moynihan Report, it primarily blames black poverty on “ghetto culture,” failure to marry, and absent black fathers, in an analysis that was instantly controversial and is still debated today.
But the report’s focus on the weakening of the black nuclear family as the key explanation for racial inequality has largely fallen out of favor in academic circles. Why? Some believe liberal backlash against the report has had a chilling effect on research that focused on so-called “cultural pathologies” — versus structural issues — for problems faced by African Americans.
But University of Maryland sociologist Philip N. Cohen, author of The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change, says that’s ridiculous. The shift in sociology to a “new, less victim-blamey perspective” about the black experience in America, Cohen wrote in a recent blog post, wasn’t because liberal scholars were scared to look at black culture as a way to explain black poverty and inequality. Rather, he said, it was that they simply didn’t agree those factors were the real problem.
I spoke to Cohen about why he says the narrative about liberals stifling studies like Moynihan’s doesn’t make sense, and how it connects to modern-day complaints about “political correctness.”