Daily Archives: April 6, 2009

What Is Ailing Black America -Alyson Cole

The New York Times


October 21, 2007

What Is Ailing Black America?

To the Editor:

Re “Tough, Sad and Smart,” by Bob Herbert (column, Oct. 16):

Mr. Herbert says a joint venture by Bill Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint “is nothing less than an effort to save the soul of black America.” In fact, it is a tired recycling of an argument that reaches back to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s “Negro Family” and runs through the pledge last year by Bruce S. Gordon, then the president of the N.A.A.C.P., to end “victimlike thinking” by African-Americans.

In casting victimhood as “the enemy,” we mistake a condition for a state of mind (that dreaded “victim mentality”) and end up blaming the victim. Would Mr. Cosby and Dr. Poussaint have us believe that it is not structured inequality and racism that leave droves jobless, but rather a matter of self-esteem and individual character?

While Mr. Moynihan pathologized the urban poor, he still sought national action. In our neoliberal era of personal responsibility and workfare, we leave victims to battle their victimization on their own.

What black men and women need are jobs, not another pep talk. This applies to disconnected youth, who are out of school and out of work, and, sadly, out of favor among policy makers as well.

Alyson M. Cole
Flushing, Queens, Oct. 16, 2007

The writer is a professor of political science at Queens College, CUNY.