YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

October 24, 2014

Rescuing the black family: Harvard points the way

Orlando Patterson, Harvard sociologist

Orlando Patterson, Harvard sociologist

The Harvard Magazine cover story on Orlando Patterson (November-December 2014) lauds Patterson’s glorious predecessors in sociology, social psychology, and progressive social nostrums (e.g., Max Weber, Talcott Parsons, David Riesman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan), and Patterson’s journey from Jamaican novelist to Harvard superstar professor and “the Caribbean Zola.”* (On his achievements see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando_Patterson.)

Dwelling upon the baleful effects of slavery on black family structure, the author of the long alumni magazine essay, Craig Lambert (deputy editor and a Harvard Ph.D.) drops such loaded terms as “freedom” (an attribute only of non-slave whites), “belonging/beloved”ness (the non plus ultra of social well-being: missing in slavery and the ostensibly non-existent slave family), “culture” and even more vaguely, “dynamic” “interaction” between “culture” and “structures,” lest Talcott Parsons’ fictional emphasis on structures and functions cast doubt on Patterson’s contributions to social peace.

[On Parsons and his cohort in sociology and social psychology see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/preventive-politics-and-socially-responsible-capitalists-1930s-40s/. On Harvard and the turn toward “cultural history” see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/. Or see https://clarespark.com/2014/09/08/why-progressive-social-psychologists-make-us-crazy/.%5D

Harvard, like other elite institutions, is worried about anomie or “atomization” in our society, and resorts to the time-tested clichés and Great Society programs of progressivism, which are abstract enough to please a diverse body of graduates, all of whom are adjured to seek belongingness in multiple, overlapping interest groups. Moreover Harvard can brag about the quality of its professors, especially those of color that underline the success of “diversity.” And in recent years, the “neo-Marxist” or “New Left” affiliations of its versatile professors (e.g. OP) are not a cause for heartburn. Indeed, Patterson’s life and work are appropriated to puff black supremacy, affirmative action, rap and reggae, Barbados democracy, and “democratic socialist revolution.” Yet he is portrayed as a maverick and an artist, having defended Clarence Thomas while under attack from Anita Hill (Hill did not note the changing context of CT’s language from ten years ago, Patterson wrote: see http://www.nytimes.com/1991/10/20/opinion/op-ed-race-gender-and-liberal-fallacies.html).

But there is a missing context to this cover story that includes 1. The upcoming midterm elections that will be a referendum on a black president’s social policies, and 2. The bipartisan fight over how to rescue inner city children from poverty. Here is the US Census report (2012) that would have to alarm pro-capitalist circles concerned with upward mobility in the multicultural society pushed by the white liberal establishment: “Black children (55 percent) and Hispanic children (31 percent) were more likely to live with one parent than non-Hispanic White children (21 percent) or Asian children (13 percent).”
And here is one conservative think tank’s solution to diminished prospects for minority inner-city children: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/09/marriage-americas-greatest-weapon-against-child-poverty.)

Despite one failed marriage, Patterson is presented as a happily married father: both wives (apparently) were or are white academics, which situates Patterson in a reassuringly integrated setting, though his sociology tilts toward the mandatory Harvard progressive line that emphasizes the lingering effects of slavery, justifying all kinds of reparations. By focusing on Orlando Patterson’s climb to fame and professional approbation despite his Jamaican “cultural heritage” of slavery (and in one sentence, linking Patterson to Obama), Harvard can avoid such practical problems as massive black unemployment, labor competition, or union domination of public education, defeating parental choice and lowering our expectations of the curriculum.

Illustration by Gary Kelley

Illustration by Gary Kelley

* Note the comparison of Patterson the novelist to Emile Zola, whose “realistic” novels won leftist and anti-imperialist support for their depictions of social forces and the lower depths of society in turn of the century France.


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