Policy and the Racial Politics of Self-Esteem
The truly decisive evidence of personality damage, presented accessibly and in a way that finally moved a tiny group of white Americans in a position to make a big difference, was offered by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the early 1950s. Kenneth Clark had been a research assistant on Myrdal's project after earning his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1940. He later moved on to found (with Mamie Clark) the Northside Center for Child Development and Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, a prototypical community action program sponsored by the War on Poverty. And he was awarded numerous professional honors, including terms as president of SPSSI (in 1959) and the APA (in 1970). Mamie Clark had explored racial identification and self-esteem in all of her research since the 1930s; her masters thesis, awarded by Howard University in 1939, was rifled "The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-School Children." Two of their joint studies of black children's self-images, published in 1947 and 1950, probably did more to push theoretical treatments of
self-esteem into the light of public policy than any other postwar work in the field of the psychology of race. Their effectiveness was due to the Clarks' ability to personalize the consequences of racism in a vulnerable group—children—and to do so in the name of empirical, scientific research.
Their experiment consisted of giving some 160 children, ages five to seven, a coloring test. Children were asked to color objects like leaves and oranges (in order to ensure that they had a realistic sense of color relationships) before they were asked to "color this little boy (or girl) the color that you are." What the Clarks found was that the children consistently portrayed themselves as distinctly lighter than the actual color of their own skin. Further, the gap between realistic and unrealistic coloring was largest among children whose skin was darkest.
Such marked preferences for light skin made the awareness of racial differences among young children, and the acceptance of racist valuations of those differences, impossible to ignore. The Clarks' accomplishment was to demonstrate that racial hierarchies were not simply a matter of abstract injustice in a society dedicated to the principle of equality, but rather a question of immediate, subjective experience: how people felt about themselves. It is hard to imagine anything that could have made this point more effectively than children's sense of who they were, damaged at such a young age. The Clarks concluded, "It is clear that the Negro child, by the age of five is aware of the fact that to be colored in contemporary American society is a mark of inferior status. . . . This apparently introduces a fundamental conflict at the very foundations of the ego structure." Because the Clarks shared in the reforming zeal of their colleagues, they underlined quite explicitly the practical policy implications of their experiment.
These results seem most significant from the point of view of what is involved in the development of a positive, constructive program for more wholesome education of Negro children in the realities of race in the American culture. They would seem to point strongly to the need for a definite mental hygiene and educational program that would relieve children of the tremendous burden of feelings of inadequacy and inferiority which seem to become integrated into the very structure of the personality as it is developing.
In fact, the Clarks' findings did encourage fresh strategies among civil rights advocates. Having reiterated that racial distinctions were morally and politically unjustifiable for decades, to little effect, activists turned to emphasizing how racism destroyed the developing personality of the black child, an argument destined to have tremendous success.
Even before the Clarks' work became widely known, the toll exacted by "damaged, thwarted personalities" was being seriously considered in important policy documents such as the Truman administration's To Secure These Rights, as we have already seen. But the Clarks wasted little time in bringing their work to policy-makers' attention. In 1950 Kenneth Clark attended the Midcentury White House Conference on Children and Youth and, as a result, a chapter on "The Effects of Prejudice and Discrimination" was included in the conference's official fact-finding report. Little experimental literature existed in the early 1950s—other than the Clarks' own work—to prove that racism and segregation caused personality damage, so the chapter relied heavily on theoretical perspectives like The Mark of Oppression and The Authoritarian Personality. In spite of the scarcity of empirical research on the psychological consequences of racism, Clark suggested that an overwhelming consensus existed: psychologists knew that supporters of segregation were psychologically maladjusted and that segregation harmed the youthful and adult psyches of minority and majority group members by disturbing individuals' sense of reality and filling them with inner conflict and guilt. Clark's conclusion restated the environmental emphasis of postwar expertise, and added to it: "It is a mistake to believe that personality patterns found among Negroes indicate inherent racial tendencies. . . . As minority-group children learn the inferior status to which they are assigned and observe that they are usually segregated and isolated from the more privileged members of their society, they react with deep feelings of inferiority and with a sense of personal humiliation. Many of them become confused about their own personal worth." He articulated a deep concern for the personal self-esteem of children that would prove eminently effective and influential on the level of law and public policy, as legal history would soon show.
Brown v. Board of Education: Personality Damage as a Constitutional Issue
Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 case that overturned school segregation, and certainly one of the most important of the twentieth century, was also the first to place psychological arguments at the very heart of a Supreme Court decision. The Court's fondness for social science dated back to Muller v. Oregon in 1908, a case that deployed data collected by social researchers and settlement house
workers to argue that the constitutionality of protective legislation limiting women's work hours should be upheld. (It was.) But Brown went further. It illustrated how effectively psychological perspectives on the development of racial identity, and the damage done to it by prejudice, could penetrate the public sphere as constitutional issues.
In 1951 Robert Carter and Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund put out the call for social-scientific help in the state-level cases that preceded Brown. Marshall explained what was considered a chancy and extremely unorthodox legal strategy as follows.
I told the staff that we had to try this case [Briggs v. Elliott in South Carolina] just like any other one in which you would try to prove damages to your client. If your car ran over my client, you'd have to pay up, and my function as an attorney would be to put experts on the stand to testify to how much damage was done. We needed exactly that kind of evidence in the school cases. When Bob Carter came to me with Ken Clark's doll test, I thought it was a promising way of showing injury to these segregated youngsters.
Organized by Kenneth Clark, psychologists did indeed attempt to prove damages in Briggs v. Elliott and the other cases that led up to Brown . Consider, for example, Clark's own role in Briggs. He administered a psychological test (very similar to the coloring test described above, but employing dolls instead) to the children in whose name the suit had been brought. Then he offered the following testimony to the court, in which many of the themes of postwar psychological research and theory on racial identity can be found.
I have reached the conclusion that discrimination, prejudice and segregation have definitely detrimental effects on the personality development of the Negro child. The essence of this detrimental effect is a confusion in the child's concept of his own self-esteem—basic feelings of inferiority, conflict, confusion in the self-image, resentment, hostility towards himself, hostility towards whites . . . [or] a desire to resolve his basic conflict by sometimes escaping or withdrawing .
Arguments such as these did not significantly sway the judges involved, who sided with the state, but the NAACP legal team did not abandon the strategy of showing damage. When the Brown case was being prepared, members of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) were asked to write a summary statement of the supportive testimony that social and behavioral scientists had offered in all the school segregation cases to that point. SPSSI formed a committee in order to comply with this request and eventually the statement was
signed by thirty-two behavioral scientists and filed as an appendix to the appellants' brief in Brown . The signatories comprised an honor roll of World War II-era experts; many had pioneered work on the effects of prejudice on wartime morale. They included Gordon Allport, Hadley Cantril, Kenneth Clark, Mamie Clark, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Otto Klineberg, Alfred McClung Lee, R. Nevitt Sanford, and Samuel Stouffer.
The statement itself was titled "The Effects of Segregation and the Consequences of Desegregation: A Social Science Statement." Admitting that the question of personality was located "on the frontiers of scientific knowledge," it nevertheless made a forceful case that "segregation, prejudices and discriminations, and their social concomitants potentially damage the personality of all children—the children of the majority group in a somewhat different way than the more obviously damaged children of the minority group." The damage was done through a process that destroyed self-esteem (in the case of black children) and generated guilt feelings, unrealistic rationalizations, and uncritical idealization of authority (in the case of white children). The authors had been influenced by Myrdal's faith in the "American Creed" as well as by their own work in the field of race relations. While the statement was being prepared, Gordon Allport wrote to Kenneth Clark,
The one point that I hope will be made to the Supreme Court is this: People really know that segregation is un-American, even the masses in the South know it. They also have prejudices. This mental conflict is acute. . . . But, let the backbone come from the Supreme Court, and it will strengthen the moral backbone of those who now live in conflict. The decision will be accepted with only a flurry of anger, and soon subside. People do accept legislation that fortifies their inner conscience.
The finished product made empirical evidence of psychological damage the focal point of the argument. Because twisted psychology could have such negative social consequences—riots and racial violence were the events most frequently cited—immediate action should be taken to desegregate schools. The statement tried to convince its audience that behavioral science, during World War II and in the years since, pointed inevitably toward this goal. It tried to reassure the Supreme Court justices that desegregation would proceed smoothly and nonviolently provided their decision was firm and united.
The statement was a huge success. The Brown decision argued that racial segregation in educational institutions had to be eliminated, not
only because it violated the civil rights of black schoolchildren, but because it damaged the integrity of their psychological development. The opinion respectfully noted the contemporary insights of "psychological knowledge."
To separate them [black students] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. . . . A sense of inferiority. affects the motivation of a child to learn. . . . Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority.
Kenneth Clark's work and his impact on the Midcentury White House Conference were prominently noted in Brown's eleventh footnote, along with references to the work of Gunnar Myrdal, E. Franklin Frazier, and others. The decision produced an unprecedented level of concerted debate about the role of such evidence and the apparent legal power of psychology's "modern authority." The decision's opponents reacted by, on the one hand, mounting McCarthyite attacks on the "socialism" of the social sciences and, on the other, by enlisting social science on the side of segregation.
Brown was celebrated as well as scrutinized. Throughout the social scientific community, the decision was greeted with an outpouring of jubilation. In 1954 Senator McCarthy was censured by the Senate and the temperature of domestic anticommunism was finally starting to drop. Most experts probably thought the camouflage that racist reactionaries had found in anti-Communist rhetoric was transparent, and no real threat to their status. Apparently unconcerned, many psychologists continued to work with the NAACP, and other civil rights organizations, putting themselves at the service of legal and political strategies designed to thwart resistance to Brown throughout the South. As had been the case during World War II, doing the right thing and advancing the causes of science and professionalization were so tightly enmeshed as to be inseparable. Experts associated with the Brown statement exulted in the view that the 1954 decision had been "a landmark in the development and practical significance of the social sciences."
Subsequent developments would cause some of them to rethink this view. White resistance to Brown, which materialized immediately and sometimes took shocking and violent forms, made it plain that predictions (such as Allport's, quoted above) of orderly compliance with the "American Creed" had been overstated, to put it mildly. Desegregation
efforts during the fifteen years following Brown offered no convincing data that the tide of psychological damage had been stemmed, either among whites or blacks. If anything, self-esteem became an increasingly public issue as time passed. After the civil rights movement's turn toward nationalism in the mid-1960s, black activists expressed great hostility toward arguments about the psychological damage wrought by segregation. Instead of repeating old maxims about the disorganizing effects of slavery, they dusted off histories of slave resistance, emphasized the cohesiveness of black families, and celebrated the resilience of black culture over time. Infused with pride, many black Americans were no longer willing to serve as exemplars of psychological debility and, as often as not, turned the tables completely. White Americans were now accused of being "sick" or "pathological."
It was after this sea change in the movement that "The Effects of Segregation and the Consequences of Desegregation" came under fire for being a premature, naive, and unrealistic contribution to public policy. The self-esteem of southern black children was, it turned out in subsequent studies, higher than their northern counterparts. This finding, which prompted a cautious reassessment of segregation among advocates of integration, was not lost on advocates of black separatism like Malcolm X. In defense, Stuart Cook, one of the authors of the original statement, reasserted his belief that "we must neither underestimate the potential value of social science knowledge to significant societal decisions nor overlook our obligation to make that knowledge available when and where it is needed." This did not really answer the question, however, of how an allegedly scientific consensus had failed rather miserably to predict the course of desegregation and stand the test of close examination. If psychological recommendations for repairing personality damage had turned out not to be scientifically valid after all, what claims could psychological experts possibly make to influence future public policy?
The Moynihan Report and the Question of Black Masculinity
By the 1960s, concepts of self-image, self-esteem, and self-identity were commonplace in discussions of race. Pushed along by Brown, these themes were also advanced through the popularization of psychotherapy and the publication of a virtual flood of behavioral and clinical studies. Best-sellers like Robert Lindner's The Fifty-Minute
Hour (1955), a collection of psychoanalytic case studies, presented prejudice as, above all, an irrational psychological condition. Explorations of racial psychology also found institutional support in new federal bureaucracies—especially the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)—established after World War II to support civilian behavioral research and promote mental health in the U.S. citizenry. Self-esteem was a concern that migrated from the theoretical terrain of personality development to take up residence in policy debates about black unemployment, poverty, and education in the New Frontier and the Great Society. And self-esteem typically encompassed the emphasis on gender and family issues that was so central to the work of postwar experts.
The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, popularly known as the Moynihan Report, was probably the most controversial example of postwar behavioral research transformed into public policy, and its ideas have proven remarkably tenacious, outlasting the debate over social policy in the 1960s by several decades. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a young political scientist who went to Washington after Kennedy's election and upon receipt of his Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Moynihan was representative of the new breed of "social scientist-politico" who populated military and civilian bureaucracies in the 1950s and 1960s, promoting the idea that social and behavioral science should play a much larger role in government: diagnosing problems, suggesting solutions, evaluating programs.
In March 1963 Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz asked Moynihan to head the new Labor Department Office of Policy Planning and Research, and Moynihan became the youngest assistant secretary in the federal government. A year earlier, Moynihan had been involved in important policy debates among psychological experts as a member of the Kennedy administration's Interagency Task Force on Mental Health. That experience exposed him to the single most important innovation in the mental health field at the time—the replacement of institutionalized treatment of mentally ill individuals with community programs to prevent and contain emotional maladjustments, a radical shift in policy that served to implicate all individuals (not just crazy ones) in the quest for psychological health. In his new job at the Department of Labor, Moynihan read Selective Service Director General Lewis Hershey's 1963 report on the dismal mental and physical state of the U.S. military, a report so shockingly reminiscent of World War II military statistics (a 50 percent rejection rate, for example) that Moynihan decided
to do something about it. The something was a novel mixture of welfare and warfare. "The thought of using the Selective Service System as a national screening device came instantly to mind. To link social issues to military preparedness was, well, an idea I called Theodore C. Sorensen at the White House [about]. He liked it."
Moynihan went on to contribute to a task force report, One-Third of a Nation: A Report on Young Men Found Unqualified for Military, Service, which emphasized how effective the military might be as a social welfare program—preparing young men for jobs and offering them opportunities for education and training. Several years later, telltale traces of these recommendations showed up in Project 100,000, a Defense Department program that lowered military admissions standards with the goal of uplifting the "subterranean poor" and curing them, in the words of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, of the "idleness, ignorance, and apathy" that marked their lives. It was not coincidental that Moynihan found inspiration and reason for hope in exactly such products of military psychology. They linked warfare to welfare, neatly illustrating an important, recurring theme in the history of psychology: the reverberation of wartime developments in distinctly nonmilitary policy spheres. In the short run, One-Third of a Nation functioned as a blueprint for the War on Poverty and as a model for Moynihan's next project: a report on the black family.
In writing the report, Moynihan undoubtedly drew on his own recent experience analyzing the problems of a gender-specific subject— young men unfit to serve in the military. He also drew, freely and consciously, on the insights that E. Franklin Frazier, Kenneth Clark, and others had offered into the gender dynamics of the black family. The Moynihan Report thus reproduced many of the features of the postwar literature reviewed in this chapter. It blamed slavery for lowering self-esteem and increasing dependence, accepted patriarchy as normal and natural, identified black families as matriarchal and deviant, and called for the employment of responsible male breadwinners as the solution to a host of social problems in the black community. It is worth quoting the Moynihan Report at some length in order to illustrate the centrality of gender in the link Moynihan forged between welfare and warfare.
At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family. . . . In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is so out of line with the rest of American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great
many Negro women as well. . . . Given the strains of the disorganized and ma-trifocal family life in which so many Negro youth come of age, the Armed Forces are a dramatic and desperately needed change: a world away from women, a world run by strong men of unquestioned authority, where discipline, if harsh, is nonetheless orderly and predictable, and where rewards, if limited, are granted on the basis of performance. The theme of a current Army recruiting message states it as clearly as can be: "In the U.S. Army you get to know what it means to feel like a man."
Very little, if anything, that Moynihan wrote about the black family was new, although he did pepper the report with more copious charts, graphs, and statistical correlations than had previous writers. Moynihan did call the black family damaged and disorganized, but hadn't Frazier pointed out the terribly destructive consequences of slavery and urbanization twenty-five years earlier? Moynihan used the term "tangle of pathology," but hadn't Kenneth Clark articulated a comprehensive approach to the "social pathology" of the black ghetto which had been hinted at in An American Dilemma? Moynihan pointed out that the family was a useful target of government intervention, but hadn't one of the most appealing things about the family always been that it seemed particularly susceptible to conscious change by outside agents?
The charges of racism that swirled around the public debate over the Moynihan Report were especially ironic because Moynihan allowed race far less autonomy as a factor in historical development than had the other experts—Myrdal, Frazier, and colleagues—on whose work the report depended. Based on his own recent study of the history of various immigrant groups, Moynihan believed that nothing about the black family's problems was specifically "racial." One journalist even summarized Moynihan's view as follows: "Paddy and Sambo are the same people." Like other desperately poor individuals, blacks living in poverty needed decent jobs, educational opportunities, and the hope of attaining some measure of security in life. What Moynihan wanted to do was turn a ghettoized black underclass into an urban industrial working class, hence providing the basis for an interracial economic alliance, much as Frazier had suggested. His vision of a stable black working class did not imply that voting rights or desegregation, the core demands of the civil rights movement, should be rejected. Indeed, Moynihan supported these aims. But he insisted that guaranteeing the symbols of legal equality, while doing little to promote concrete opportunities for economic participation, was merely a way of repeating the
tragic errors of Reconstruction. Black people's basic problems, according to Moynihan, were about class, not color.
Gender was implicated in either case, however. The destruction undisciplined men would wreak on a community—any community—was as evident in the histories of Irish and Italian immigrants as it was in black urban ghettos during the 1960s. Moynihan warned,
There is one unmistakable lesson in American history: a community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future—that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence, unrest, disorder—most particularly the furious, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure—that is only to be expected; it is very near to inevitable. And it is richly deserved.
He had personal reasons to know. Moynihan had grown up in the poor, heavily Irish Hell's Kitchen neighborhood in Manhattan, the product of a female-headed family. During his teenage years, he worked in his mother's bar, where he and his brother frequently intervened in rough disputes between customers and got a firsthand look at the anarchy of unchecked masculinity.
The assumptions that Moynihan and his contemporaries made about gender were deep and consequential, but they went largely unquestioned at the time. There were, however, a few exceptions: women who insisted, in 1965, that female "domination" was a perverse male fantasy and that reinforcing male supremacy in the domestic sphere simply scapegoated women (like Moynihan's own mother) who were forced to earn an independent living in order to support their children. One such critic was Mary Keyserling, director of the Women's Bureau in the Department of Labor. She tried to expose and counter Moynihan's gendered assumptions about economic roles in the family by arguing that wage-earning black women were not a problem, that "our under-utilization as a Nation of the great national resource which is our womanpower" is an "item of unfinished business." Only men like Moynihan, Keyserling tersely pointed out, were saying that black women were "over-employed." Abandoning the workforce to become dependent wives and mothers was no solution, in Keyserling's view, because the obstacles facing black women were at least as great in the case of earning decent wages as they were in the case of finding reliable male breadwinners. She calmly noted that improving the employment
status of men was a noble goal, but it should not come at women's expense. Black women, after all, were concentrated in the lowest-paid, most dead-end jobs. They needed economic advocacy as much, if not more, than others.
These were exactly the criticisms that would become standard feminist arguments just a few years later. In 1965, however, Keyserling's was a rather solitary voice. Most women active in the civil rights movement, understandably enough, would not have welcomed a choice between endorsing black women's economic dependence or abandoning the code of racial solidarity, and until the appearance of an autonomous women's movement several years later, these appeared to be the only choices. Nevertheless, research on black women's organizations has shown that the controversy over the Moynihan Report served to push many black women toward feminist consciousness several years prior to women's liberation. It was only a matter of time, of course, before a chorus of feminist denunciations of Moynihan would appear.
In 1965 though, the deafening silence that greeted Moynihan's gendered ideology helps to explain why Moynihan did not seem to realize, either while writing his report or afterwards, that gender, sexuality, and the family would be such hot button issues and the unacknowledged source of a great deal of the controversy. Alarm over families, and over what occurred within them—between men and women, parents and children—doubtlessly reminded the report's critics of the self-improvement approaches of psychological experts because the explosion of postwar clinical work was tied so firmly to personal difficulties and domestic adjustments. Because the women's movement had not yet turned issues like sex-role socialization into questions with legitimate public standing, it was no wonder that so many of Moynihan's critics reacted to his emphasis on sex roles and family skeptically, as a dangerous detour into the private sphere. They worried that, whatever Moynihan's intentions, policy-makers would respond to the report by endorsing counseling or therapeutic treatment because they viewed black Americans' real problem as "ego inadequacy" or "deviance" rather than an absence of equal opportunities.
After decades of performing as walking, talking examples of racism's psychological destruction, black Americans had had enough. Part of the national spasm over the Moynihan Report was surely due to the fact that it appeared during a moment of critical transition in the civil rights movement. Black Americans were no longer willing to wait patiently as experts observed their behavior, peered into their psyches, and moni-
tored levels of social pathology in their communities. William Ryan, a psychologist and one of the most prominent of Moynihan's critics, articulated the anxiety that psychology would displace politics, and bluntly caricatured psychological experts as follows.
Writers about the Negro family dwell on the issue of sexual identification as if they had just stepped off the boat from Vienna forty years ago. They are more kosher than a rabbi, holier than a pope, more psychoanalytic than Freud himself. It sometimes appears that they worry more about the resolution of Negro Oedipus complexes than they do about black men getting decent jobs. . . . They see psychological functions, particularly sex-role induction, as far more prominent than other more important functions of the family.
For many civil rights advocates who criticized the Moynihan Report, "family disorganization," "social pathology," and "the culture of poverty" were code terms. They intimated that since black Americans' problems were primarily personal and psychological, institutional racism and discrimination could be deemphasized or even eliminated as a terrain of government action. Many mainstream civil rights activists shared Moynihan's belief in the naturalness and superiority of patriarchal gender and family arrangements; even black power advocates frequently recommended a heavy dose of patriarchy as the best antidote to the poison that whites had forced on the black community. Almost all, however, emphatically objected to the notion that matriarchal families were the source of black Americans' problems. The vast majority of black families were still headed by men and, in any case, the causal relationship went in the other direction. Racial oppression produced social pathology rather than vice versa. To put the family under a microscope threatened to undermine the very foundations of the Great Society by "blaming the victim."
Moynihan's goal all along had been to design a universal system of social provision to care for Americans at the bottom of the class ladder, regardless of race. His choice to promote family policy as a means to that end had more to do with practical, political considerations than anything else. Families, it has been pointed out, were relatively straightforward targets of intervention and measurement. Further, family policy had a chance of winning support in a Congress dominated by a conservative majority of Republicans and southern Democrats, whereas general social welfare measures, presented as such, did not. Moynihan understood this very clearly. In later years, the War on Poverty's abandonment of class issues (for Moynihan, these were repre-
sented by jobs programs and income guarantees) and its embrace of community action programs and ideas like "maximum feasible participation" (which Moynihan rejected as an example of importing useless social-scientific concepts into government programs) was, for Moynihan, proof positive that he, and the War on Poverty, had failed. Convinced that race had been overemphasized, Moynihan wrote a memo in 1970, as an advisor to the Nixon White House, urging the federal government to treat the circumstances of black Americans with "benign neglect."
In 1965, when Moynihan began work on the black family report, his purpose was, quite simply, "to win the attention of those in power." He wrote it "for an audience of a dozen, at most two dozen, men who in their brief authority had become accustomed to . . . making large decisions on the basis of manifestly inadequate information." It was never intended to go beyond a tiny circle of high-level policy-makers, although it eventually did. Between March 1965, when the report was initially approved and printed, and July 1965, no more than eighty numbered copies had been distributed in the Department of Labor and the White House. What opened the report to a firestorm of public criticism, and what made Moynihan a household name after July, was largely a fluke of timing. The Watts riot exploded on August 11, just two days after Newsweek had summarized the Moynihan Report. Watts was the most destructive riot in the United States since the 1943 riot in Detroit. Demand for copies of the report skyrocketed immediately; seventy. thousand copies of it were eventually printed.
This coincidence of timing generated a widespread perception that Moynihan's "tangle of pathology" was the Johnson administration's official explanation for the violence, arson, looting, and death that had appeared with such ferocity in Watts. The establishment news media certainly adopted this view. The Wall Street Journal announced that "Family Life Breakdown in Negro Slums Sows Seeds of Violence—Husbandless Homes Spawn Young Hoodlums, Impede Reforms, Sociologists Say"; the Washington Post reported that "the Los Angeles riots reinforce the President's feeling of the urgent need to help restore Negro families' stability." Moynihan encouraged such conclusions by pointing out the dramatic rates of female-headed families and illegitimacy in Watts, and by offering his customary warnings about the dangers of unchecked masculinity. In a 1967 article, Moynihan reflected that "Watts made the report a public issue, and gave it a name."
Watts also made him into an instant riot expert. Embittered by the avalanche of protest over the report, Moynihan left Washington to head the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Harvard Joint Center for Urban Studies, where he spent the next several years designing a plan of expert first aid for the country's crisis-ridden cities. Central to his new public authority was the real desperation of federal, state, and local administrators to find anyone who might help. During the Detroit riots, in the summer of 1967, Moynihan was urgently called to that city by a mayor in need of advice. That fall, Life produced the following solemn headline: "A Troubled Nation Turns to Pat Moynihan."
Even more than timing, the fear and angry reaction that ghetto riots provoked in white Americans seemed to vindicate Moynihan's perspective as well as erase any remaining hopes that the conscience of white America could be moved in antiracist directions. Deep reserves of feeling that black men were especially disordered in attitude and uncontrollable in behavior had been fortified by experts' emphasis on irresponsible, nonmarital sexuality, illegitimacy, and the burgeoning literature on black "matriarchy." These reserves were obviously much easier to tap than the "American Creed," if the latter even existed at all. Hadn't Moynihan at least offered a plausible explanation for this moment of crisis? What was rioting, after all, if not convincing proof that black families had twisted the masculinity of their sons to the point of extreme irrationality and violence?
Moynihan's solution, too, rang true for many. The transformation from marginal, defiant loners to integrated and responsible breadwinners would be produced by upward mobility, a move which required money but whose essence lay in wholesale changes of attitude and loyalty. As one Moynihan observer put it, "In the lower class, they don't take care of property; in the working class they do. In the lower class, the men don't work; in the working class, they're trying to get overtime. It's the difference between the rioter and the cop." Just how large policy-makers thought this attitudinal gap was, and how profoundly implicated in it were postwar investigations of the sources of prejudice among whites and personality damage and gender nonconformity among blacks, can be seen in the work of the Kerner Commission, the federal government's major response to ghetto riots after 1965.