[Breaker: No One Is Immune]
In the l960s, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), then Assistant
Secretary of Labor, produced a report entitled The
Negro Family: The Case For National Action. He found that twenty-five
percent of all black children were born to unmarried women, and the
percentage was rising. The tangle of poverty and despair was bleak,
and Moynihan predicted that it would get worse. It has. Today, among
non-Hispanic blacks, the out-of-wedlock birth rate has reached 69.5
Beyond this, troubling trends he found within the black community
are now seen in the larger society. The illegitimacy rate for Hispanics
has reached 47.9 percent, and the rate for non-Hispanic whites now
exceeds 25 percent.
Moynihan was sharply criticized by liberals for "blaming the
victim." Now, however, that criticism is increasingly discredited.
Cora Daniels is an award-winning journalist; a contributing editor
to Essence; a commentator on CNN, BET, and NPR; and the author of the
widely praised book, Black Power, Inc. In an important book, Ghetto
Nation (Doubleday), Daniels argues that the "ghetto mindset" is
harming the future of residents of the nation's inner cities, and that
corporate America bears a share of the responsibility for promoting
this destructive mindset.
For Daniels, "ghetto" is a condition -- an addiction, even
-- that has spread throughout American culture. It is an impoverished
mindset defined by conspicuous consumption and irresponsibility. She
writes that, "Ghetto no longer refers to where you live; it is
how you live.... The jump from an impoverished physical landscape to
an impoverished mental one is harder to trace… [T]here is no
denying that these days ghetto, as it is used, had indeed made that
She continues, “As a black woman surviving and drowning in
Ghettonation, I am defining ghetto as a mindset... A mindset that thinks
it is fine to bounce, baby, bounce in some video…. And a mindset
that thinks a record deal and a phat beat in the background makes it
okay to say... well, I do know what bad language is, so I won't say.
Most of all, ghetto is a mindset that embraces the worst. It is the
embodiment of expectations that have gotten dangerously too low."
Anthropologist John Ogbu coined the term "acting white" to
explain why some black students seemed to shun doing well in school.
Several years ago, he released an even more explosive study about black
middle-class students in suburban Shaker Heights, Ohio, outside of
Cleveland. In pointing the finger for poor performance in school back
at parents instead of at "the system," the late scholar drew
criticism from both his colleagues and the community. Daniels finds
there is much to learn from Ogbu's efforts.
In his 2003 book, Black American Students in
an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement, Ogbu concludes that black students
were not doing as well as their white counterparts because their parents
did not emphasize education. He notes that many of these parents did
not stress homework, attend teacher conferences, or push their children
to enroll in the most challenging classes as much as their white counterparts
did. In addition, he suggests that the black students suffered from
what he termed "low effort syndrome."
Ogbu writes, "What amazed me is that these kids who come from
homes of doctors and lawyers are not thinking like their parents….
They are looking at rappers in ghettos as their role models; they are
looking at entertainers. The parents work two jobs, three jobs, to
give their children everything, but they are not guiding their children."
Sadly, corporate America has devoted a great deal of its resources
to promoting the ghetto mindset. Cora Daniels notes that, "Madison
Avenue has certainly put its cash behind the tomorrow-doesn't-matter
message... The 'I am what I am' billboard... featured 50 Cent with
his stale...frown. His quote, displayed against a police fingerprint
sheet, read, 'Where I'm from, there is no Plan B. So take advantage
of today because tomorrow is not promised.'... In Ghettonation, living
within your means just isn't done. There is no need to when you think
tomorrow doesn't matter."
In addition to hip-hop music is "street fiction," a constant
strand in black literature for decades. The first of such writers was
probably Iceberg Slim. Following his release from 10 months of solitary
confinement in Cook County Jail, he penned Pimp: The
Story of My Life, published in l969. In 2003, Pimp graced UPI's top 10 mass-market paperback
list alongside To Kill A Mockingbird, The Hobbit, and Fahrenheit 45l.
Dr. Todd Boyd, a member of the faculty at the School of Cinema and
Television at the University of Southern California, was asked why
ghetto lit is the fantasy so many readers are choosing. "The ghetto
is drama," he said. "The ills of poverty are far more
dramatic than the angst of middle-class life."
Daniels was struck with the truth of Boyd’s statement when
author James Frey's credibility shattered in the winter of 2006 when
his best-selling memoir, A Million Little Pieces, about his drug addiction
and rehab struggles, was found to be soaked with untruths. She writes, “The
interesting things about Frey's embellishments is that he did not lie
to make his life seem better but to make it seem worse... He claimed
he did a three-month stint in jail for beating up a cop. It never happened...
Remember when folks used to lie their way up?... Now folks are lying
their way downward. And why not? Frey's book was the second biggest
seller of 2005. Being a ‘criminal’ sells. Ghetto."
All too often the black establishment has embraced those who promote
this ghetto mentality. The NAACP, for example, nominated rapper R.
Kelly for an Image award after the singer already bad been charged
with child pornography. In 2005, one of the most celebrated independent
films was Hustle & Flow, a movie about a pimp turned rapper in
Memphis. Hustle & Flow's title song by Three 6 Mafia won the Academy
Award for 2006 for best song.
Fortunately, Daniels reports, more and more prominent black figures
are beginning to speak out against the ghetto mindset. Professor Orlando
Patterson, a sociologist at Harvard, says it is a culture of self-destructiveness
that is holding black men back.
Like comedian Bill Cosby's comments about the problems within the
black community, Cora Daniels' book should trigger widespread interest.
And it is not only the black community that is affected. She laments
that, "Ghetto is also packaged in the form of music, t.v., books
and movies, and then sold around the world.... [G]hetto is contagious,
and no one is immune."
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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2008
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All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which
is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has
been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and
the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.
He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing
editor to such publications as Human Events,
The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle
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