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More Than Just Race, by William Julius Wilson

By Larry James
March 20, 2009


William Julius Wilson writes provocative, groundbreaking stuff.

Included in his bibliography are books like When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor, The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions and The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy.

Now, Wilson is out with his latest study that promises to be his most important work to date. More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City tackles the historic debate sparked over four decades ago by the social commentary of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action," or the so-called "Moynihan Report."

As would be expected, Wilson comes at the issue from a new perspective that rings true upon reading the first reviews of his latest book. As a matter of fact, I heard a group of young black men speaking in exactly Wilson's terms just last week as we discussed a new project that aimed to create real jobs for their community.

For a sample of Wilson's thinking, take a look at the review of this book from Slate below:

(from How To Understand the Culture of Poverty, by Sudhir Venkatesh)

Pop quiz: Who made the following observation? "At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of [black America] is the deterioration of the [black] family. It is a fundamental weakness of [black Americans] at the present time." Each year, I pose this question to my undergraduate students. Most will guess George Bush, Bill Cosby, Al Sharpton, or Bill Clinton. This is not surprising, given their age. More telling is their perception that such a view might come from the political left or right. It reveals just how commonplace the link of family-race-poverty is in the American mindset.

But there is a little trickery going on: Replace "black" with "Negro" and change the date to 1965. The correct author is Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He wrote these words as part of a policy brief to help President Lyndon Johnson understand the distressed social conditions in urban ghettos. "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action" leaked to the press and created a firestorm of controversy with its contention that a "tangle of pathology" engulfed black America.

The so-called "Moynihan Report" brought about a new language for understanding race and poverty: Now-familiar terms like pathology, blame the victim, and culture of poverty entered American thought as people debated whether Moynihan was courageously pointing out the causes of social ills or simply finger-pointing. Moynihan forced a nation to ask, "Is the culture of poor blacks at the core of their problems?"

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(More about the book - More Than Just Race - here)


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