In 1965, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/webid-meynihan.htm , which attempted to address the inhumane effects of slavery on the black family. Forty-two years later, the insidous effects of this so-called report still paints a picture of the black family as being headed by some all-powerfull Black Female Matriarch with the black family as a matriarch-controlled tangle of pathology. That black women have had no power whatsoever in this country to wield over anyone was lost on so many people who read this report and came to the conclusion that all the ills that affected the black race had to have stemmed from some dominant, subjugating power that black women never had.
It would be in the best interests of all black people, especially black women, to read this report again if they read it in past years, and if they have not, to definately read it. Come away with whatever conclusions that you may, but, it is not black women who have created the system that has attacked and tried to destroy the black family. It is not black women who control the outside forces that have wreaked so much havoc and destruction on the black family.
Here is my assessment of the Moynihan report, and some of the excerpts that to this day, still echo of a report that sought more to lie about the ravaging effects of systemic institutionalized racism and sought to put the blame of black people’s condition on the backs, and shoulders, of black American women:
“Keeping the Negro “in his place” can be translated as keeping the Negro male in his place: the female was not a threat to anyone.”
Wow. The black woman was never a threat to anyone. Hmm. Must be me, or I know my black history better than anyone out there.
The black woman was always a threat to the white slaver/segregationist establishment. Black women fought against the institution of slavery, fought against white women during the suffragette movement, fought against lynchings, fought against inhumane labor conditions, fought against mass gang rapes committed by white men against black women and girls, fought for black men to receive the right to vote with the 15TH Amendment, fought against the segregation of the armed forces during WWI and WWII.
During Reconstruction, black women viewed black men getting the right to vote not as an individual right for black men only, but, as a collective right for the entire black community. Black women also gave armed defense support of political meetings and polling places. Black women’s presence at polling places was a sign of the need for collective protection. And there were many black women across the South who like the black women of Charleston, South Carolina during Reconstruction, who were seen carrying axes or hatchets in their hands hanging down at their sides, their aprons or dresses half-concealing the weapons to defend their male relatives right to vote in elections. (1)
I guess that’s just those lazy, pathetic black women; they’ve never fought against ANYTHING in this country, in this world, so that’s why they are so NON-THREATENING.That’s why the white man wanted to keep anti-miscegenation laws on the books because he hated the valiant effort that black women did to fight against the continued degradation of black women and girls.
The white man (and woman) feared the lazy non-threatening black woman because she refused to lay down and allow the white man to create and proliferate the controlling images of lasciviousness and moral laxity against black women, that the white men used against black women and girls.
That black woman, hmm, hmm, hmm. So, non-threatening.
“When Jim Crow made its appearance towards the end of the 19th century, it may be speculated that it was the Negro male who was most humiliated thereby; the male was more likely to use public facilities, which rapidly became segregated once the process began, and just as important, segregation, and the submissiveness it exacts, is surely more destructive to the male than to the female personality.”
Wow, more new revelations to me.
So, let me get this straight:ONLY BLACK MEN SUFFERED UNDER SLAVERY AND SEGREGATION.Not those worthless ol’ black women. Sure, that’s right. Black women did not suffer from humiliation, from segregated public facilities (since they too had to use public facilities when they left the house to go across town via mass PUBLIC transportation, you know those things called trolley cars, buses, etc. to get to their “Miss White Missus wage-slave-domestic jobs), black women did not suffer the humiliation of “Colored Only Waiting Room” PUBLIC RESTROOMS which unlike White Men’s Restrooms and White Ladies Restrooms, were meant to be used by BOTH BLACK MEN AND BLACK WOMEN as if those black men and women were animals not fit to have their own separate public toilets. Black women did not suffer from not being addressed as, “Mrs.”, “Miss”, or “Ma’am”. Black woman did not suffer from being physically debased and from continuous rape and sexual coercion by white men AND white boys. Black women did not suffer from being called bitch, whore, slut, gal, nigger wench or black bitch. No, black women managed to avoid such hateful degradations.”segregation, and the submissiveness it exacts, is surely more destructive to the male than to the female personality.”Yes, that’s those black females, nothing harms them. Oh, I forgot, black females are not human. They are considered more sub-human than black men. Yeah, I forgot that. Must always remember that black women having to suffer from BOTH SEXISM AND RACISM really don’t have any validity in this country in the eyes of white men, white women OR many black men.Black women. The “slaves of slaves”.Bad enough that the white man and woman have tried to destroy black women and girls. Just as bad when black men buy into the lie of the myth of the “Black Matriarchy”.Facing facts anyone with humanity and intelligence knows that there is no historical record of any such thing as a matriarchy among black women. Let alone a matrifocal or matrilineal society among black American women.Merriam-Webster‘s definition of a matriarchy: 2. a system of social organization in which descent AND INHERITANCE are traced through the female line. Now, where do black women show where they have a system of passing down any inheritance to their daughters? True matriarchies do not exist, except in extremely rare conditions, somewhere in the world. Now, true patriarchies, those most definitely exist.Just because some white man said that black women have a system of matriarchy (they do not) never made those slanderous lies true.Moynihan was just as ignorant and sexist as any man looking from the outside in on the black family at the time this so-called statement was issued.So, the “case for national action” was no longer to concentrate on the EXTERNAL MACHINERY OF RACISM AND DISCRIMINATION, but on the internal problems of the black family, which resulted from the vestiges of slavery and segregation, and rampant racism when affirmative action was white.—as if the two (racism and discrimination against the black family) were unrelated.”A fundamental fact of Negro American family life is the often reversed roles of husband and wife”, Moynihan noted, stating that the black wife was “dominant”, supposedly just bringing the poor black man down, when it was the continued effects of racism and discrimination that were harming BOTH BLACK MEN AND WOMEN that was having such vicious effects on the black family.What hould have been questioned was why MEN, rather than WOMEN, seemed less able to fulfill family obligations under the pressure of racism and discrimination? Why is it that with the hell of a history that black women had in this black-race hating country, why is it that black women did not fold and crumble with all the abominations they suffered? Why is it that black women wouldn’t take nothing for their journey; wouldn’t give up nor give in with all they had to prevail against?Why?
Guess what Moynihan concluded:
Black men, obviously being more HUMAN than black women, suffered more and unlike the mule-of-the-world-superhuman-black-woman-who-has-no-human-feelings, he, the black man, was more devastated than any black woman could ever be.
The reason for this had to do, or so Moynihan concluded, with the inherent nature of the male species: “The very essence of the male animal, from the bantam rooster to the four-star general, IS TO STRUT,” was Moynihan’s “scientific” conclusion.
Wow. Strutting men. Yep, that sure gets your children fed. That sure gets your children educated so they can go on to college. Yep. Strutting gets all the black communities problems solved. That’s as insidious as saying that a woman primping in front of the mirror gets her children prepared for a life of confronting and challenging racism in this racist society. Wow, whatever people do, please don’t take away the poor males rights to strut; must not let that happen. It would be a horrible and dreadful day, since facing up to the rigors of life’s challenges are what make us into MEN or WOMEN.
In response to the so-called matriarchy slanderous lie hurled at black women, what black women and men had was a NON-TRADITIONAL FAMILY/NON-WHITE PATRIARCHAL FAMILY SYSTEM. A family of communalism, where everyone pitches in and supports the family, not one certain person (husband, wife) shouldering the whole load by themselves. And could you blame them? Survival among formerly enslaved black men and women was very much dependent on the work and contributions of EVERY household member for black men to even think of dismissing the contribution of black women’s work, however meager or low-paying, which would have been stupid, not to mention, suicidal. After slavery was abolished, freedom made black women and men more dependent on each other. The white man took away job opportunities from the black man, allowing him only menial jobs that paid practically nothing. The black woman he allowed the most menial and lower-paying jobs possible: domestic, maid, cook, etc. What was the black woman supposed to do? Allow her family to starve because the white man wanted to continue his attack and destruction on the black family? So, I guess those black men who were real men who stayed at home and tended to the children, those black men who cared for their children while their black wives WORKED LOW-PAYING JOBS, WHILE THEIR BLACK WIVES WORKED TWO OR MORE JOBS to help make ends meet, those were some real sorry black men, eh? Those black men who worked more than one job to add income to the family, those black men who stayed with their families and did not desert them because those black men did not have high-faluting jobs, those black men who knew their true manhood meant staying with your family through hell and high water—-I guess in many people’s eyes those were not real black men.
Probably because those black men did not believe in strutting. Probably because those black men believed in staying with their families and taking care of them, no matter what it looked like to the outside world looking in on something they could never understand.In any case, many black people at the time this report came out challenged the use of the term matriarchy, WHICH IMPLIES FEMALE DOMINANCE AND MALE SUBORDINATION WITHIN THE FAMILY. I hardly consider those black men who worked at the jobs they did, stayed with their families and cared for them as being dominated and subordinated.Only a dead inside fool would believe such a thing of a black matriarchy among black women and the black family. In fact, what was considered a matriarchy was in reality something else.
“Whereas the majority of white families are equalitarian, the largest percentage of Negro families are dominated by the wife.”
If anything, white families had nothing resembling an egalitarian relationship. White men forbade their white wives to work, except mainly in secretarial/office-clerical jobs, when and if the white wife did work. White men did not take up the duties of the home when the wife had to work. The black wife worked not because she wanted to, but because she had to. Unlike the white wife, the black wife’s meager wages were pooled with her black husband’s meager wages in order for them both to stay above sinking and drowning in an economy that had stacked the deck against the black family centuries ago. Unlike the white wife, the black wife did not have her husband’s money to fall back on. White women then, as now, could depend on their white husband’s salaries to live and thrive; not so for black women. Even today, many black women work at minimum wage jobs and have to work two jobs just to survive, but, not thrive, the way many white women are still able to do.
Even if a white wife works part-time in the 21ST Century, she is not only paid more than the black woman, she has her husband’s higher-paying salary to keep the white family afloat. Because of the deprivation caused when affirmative action was white (rampant segregation in union jobs in the South, states rights to keep the choicest employment in the hands of white men, whether or not the white man was qualified for the job or not), served to hinder the economical advancement of the black man, the black woman and the black family.
“Historically, in the matriarchal Negro society, mothers made sure that if one of their children had a chance for higher education the daughter was the one to pursue it.”
Black families knew for decades and generations that employment for black women would be allowed rather than employment for black males, from the racist white society. Even though many of the jobs that black women have had in the past, and even now in the present century, still pay low wages. Black families then as now, knew that if they were to educate one of the children it would fall on the shoulders of the daughter. Yes, many black women obtained domestic, maid, cook jobs, and only in the middle to late 1960s did black women begin to make inroads into higher paying jobs and careers. Make no mistake, black women who did go to college mainly ended up in secretarial and teaching jobs, just the type of jobs that were being vacated by white women in the late 1950s to early 1960s. Since white society refused to allow black men gainful employment (stevedore, longshoreman, construction work, etc.) that they were only so happy to give only to white men, this economic violence hurt the black family terribly both economically, with the wage gap and the wealth gap. And those diaparities of economic violence are still affecting the black family detrimentally in the 21ST Century.
Despite black male economic instability, Joyce Ladner at the time wrote: “It could indeed be argued that much of the ‘strength’ of the Black woman comes as a result of the sustained support she receives through her male partner.” (2) Black men helping around the house, with the children, between jobs—something no high-and-mighty white man would be caught dead doing.
Even in slavery, Angela Davis asserted, that the black woman “was in no sense an authoritarian figure [and she still is not]….On the contrary, she herself had just been forced to leave behind the shadowy realm of female passivity in order to assume her rightful place BESIDE the insurgent male.” (3)
Got that, Moynihan? The black woman stood by the black man and did not stab him in the back, nor use him, nor abandon him. The black woman was never allowed to revel in her humanity, her femininity—–HER WOMANHOOD. The white man sought so hard to destroy all of that in her but he could not, and for the black woman not bowing and bending to the sadistic mistreatment of the white man, the white man has never been able to forgive the black woman for her standing strong against the white race in all the perverse cruelties they could dish out to the black race. The white race has never been able to forgive black women for surviving the vicious sexual barbarisms of slavery and segregation. The white race has never let up on their relentless crusade to destroy the black woman, and they never will. They will always go the distance to fight against the vile horrible black woman who just won’t lay down and fall before the feet of Massa and Missus, nor let Massa and Missus have the last word on black people’s survival. Black women stood by the black race through all kinds of psychotic white racist mistreatment.
Guess that’s those ol’ non-threatening matriarchal black women for you.
That the black woman made decisions that affected the family, did not mean she was a matriarch, but that it was because men often deferred to her greater knowledge about certain things, especially the bureaucratic structure with which many families had to deal. You must remember that black women were the bridge between the black community and the white community. Black women had to work as domestics in white households, something that would have been unthinkable with a black man working as a domestic in a white household. And because of the type of work the black women was forced into, she was able to become more knowledgeable about the white world in ways the black man could not.
The black woman was around the white man, the white woman and the white children in a way the black man could never be, since black women worked for the white family and saw up close the real world of white families.
Sorta flies into the face of the lie that the black man was more exposed to the daily humiliations of segregated public places and aspects of life than the black woman.
That Moynihan’s report was written to drive a wedge between black men and women also shows up the continued use of the old divide and conquer concept—-if you can’t kill them all, then work on pitting them both against each other. Keep them so busy fighting amongst themselves, that they will lose sight of what is really harming them—white supremacy that creates and perpetuates disparities of economical, educational, legal, financial, political, residential and social violence.
The tenacity of black women is something to be very proud of, not something to be hated, disparaged and vilified.
Keep in mind, that while white women were making flags and doing bits and pieces of some social work, black women have participated in the total black liberation struggle. Furthermore, their assertiveness was part and parcel of a history that had deprived black men of their ability to protect and provide for the family since slavery.
But, if that assertiveness had been translated into power and dominance, then why did Robert Staples, a black sociologist, state that black women earned an annual wage of $2,372 in 1960 compared to $3,410 for white women AND $3,789 for black men? (4)
Writer Albert Murray also criticized Moynihan’s lie/report thesis: “Moynihan’s figures provide for more evidence of a MALE EXPLOITATION of females, than of females henpecking males. . . .Negro family instability might more accurately be defined as a cycle of illegitimacy, matriarchy and female victimization by gallivanting males who refuse to or cannot assume the conventional [based on the white patriarchal family structure] domestic responsibilities of husbands and fathers.” (5)
Though I would have to question why would any black person want to model their lives on the white race. With all the destruction that the white race has done to every race on this planet, emulating white people should be the last thing on the minds of black people. What had worked for black families was something that whites had disparaged for generations. Only when they saw that this non-traditional concept could help white families, then they sought to appropriate and commodify it to suit their white families.
Moynihan himself was shocked that so many people tore apart his report. He stated that this report concerned only a small segment of the black population, and not the entire race as a whole. Oh, really?
Then why did this so-called report become part and parcel a representation of the entire black race?
Moynihan suffered from a stupid misunderstanding of the black family and the shouldered responsibilities that black women were forced to deal with at that time. And guess what Moynihan’s suggestion was for resolving the problems that plagued the black family?
Yep, you guessed it.
Moynihan concluded that black family stability could only be achieved if black men could “strut”, even, if need be, at the expense of black women. This was his program for eradicating black poverty.He believed, with further analysis of the report, “that jobs had primacy and the government should not rest until every able-bodied Negro man was working EVEN IF THIS MEANT THAT SOME WOMEN’S JOBS HAD TO BE REDESIGNED TO ENABLE MEN TO FULFILL THEM.” (4)[Emphasis mine.]Never mind that black women earned less than black men [still true], that college-educated black men earned less than high-school-educated white men [still true], that the average two-income black family earned less than the ONE-INCOME white family [still true].No.According to Moynihan the thinking was that just make black men the lords of their own castles and everything would be alright. To get to this utopia, of course, black women would somehow have to slow down, become less achievement-oriented, give up all the independence they acquired because of the burdens they’ve shouldered, burdens put on them by white society. Black women were expected to give up their independence and all the resilience they developed from living in a sexist, racist society that sought to destroy both them and black men at every turn.The Moynihan report was not so much racist as it was sexist.But, given the time when this report was written, and that males of that period were in revolt against all women who sought to assert and better themselves, it is no wonder that black women 40 years later still have to fight the lie/myth of the “Black Matriarchy”.No such thing has ever existed in the black family/community.And anyone who believes that there is a black matriarchy either does not know the history of black women in America, does not comprehend the brutalizing effects of racism on the black family, nor the savage effects of sexism on black women.Anyone who still believes that black women have a matriarchy will believe anything instead of the truth that was right there in front of them all along.It is not black women’s striving to keep their families intact against almost inhumane odds that should be attacked, but, the huge disparities in social, educational, economic, legal, political and environmental savage inequalities that continue to be produced due to institutionalized systemic structural racism.It is the white patriarchy that destroys everyone.It is not black women destroying anyone.
The continued source/problem is still directly related to what is and still is at the heart of black women’s condition in present day society, as it was in the past:
No one seems to want to acknowledge that black women suffer from a DOUBLE OPPRESSION, racism and sexism, ergo, that which is shared by ALL black Americans and that which is shared by most women. Every economic, social, legal, political index shows up the powerlessness of black women in American society. A consequence of this double jeopardy AND powerlessness is the INVISIBILITY of all black women.
Much of what is important to black Americans is not VISIBLE or important to whites, and much of what is important to women is not visible to men. White men wrote all the history of the so-called peculiar institution; white men kept all the records and gave their slant on what a slave thought and felt, never caring how slavery truly degraded and harmed the enslaved human beings who suffered under it. White men are the ones who created the controlling images of Jezebel, Mammy, Sambo, Rastus, Tragic Mulatto and Sapphire. White men created and wrote all the lies against black people.
And just as white people wrote most of the antebellum slave records, so did black American males write just about all of the antebellum slave records left by former enslaved black people.
To both white male historians and black male historians, the enslaved female’s world was more than just peripheral; the enslaved female’s world did not exist as meriting validity, recognition or humanity. Enslaved women were everywhere (visible), yet nowhere (invisible).
And by this understanding of how little value black women had in the eyes of both white men and black men, if you are a black woman, you don’t exist in anyone’s eyes, you are unimportant to them at least until only when your activities somehow involved both white men and black men.
No one expects women to be assertive, aggressive, strong and prevailing. That is considered a non-female trait, but, black women had no choice but to develop such traits, because such traits kept her alive, such traits and character/personality developments gave her the strength to go on and live through such horrors of daily mass gang rapes from ALL men, gave her the strength to deny her suffering so that her children could eat; gave her the strength to defy mobs that came to her family’s door looking to mete out death to her family, lynch mobs that sought to drink the blood of her sons, her father, her brother, her daughters.
Yes, there are many people within, and without the black race who would love to believe that all the women are white, and all the blacks are men—–BUT SOME OF US ARE STILL BRAVE. Black people are not just only black men; black people are black women AND black men, and black children.
Black women have had enough to contend with from white men and women.
There is no question that black women have suffered tremendously from our double oppression of racism and sexism, but, we were never superwomen, we were never inhuman Amazons. The unrelenting effects of both racism and sexism—-disease, mortality, depression—-have certainly taken their toll on black women’s physical and mental health, but, black women have fought mightily against white terror and exploitation that has, and continues to try and destroy the black family. Yes, black people lived and practiced an alternative family lifestyle. A lifestyle that was based on equality, a lifestyle that was based on egalitarianism. That white people could not understand that, especially when this report by Moynihan was written, says just as much about white racist America as it does about black America. That any black person, man or woman, would want to emulate white people defies logic. That any black person would want to imitate a race of people who have committed the worst kinds of aberrations and perversity’s is beyond comprehension. That any black people would work to uphold white patriarchy is beyond unfathomable.
Black women are not the enemy. The enemy was always the white man and the white woman. The enemy still is the white man and the white woman. And to that must be added all the non-black races/ethnicity’s that have bought into the worship of whiteness, and the destruction of blackness.
Black women do not need for black men to war against them. Black women do not deserve the wrath and assaults that tear apart and distance black women from black men.
Black women need black men’s help and support.
If black women can give help and support to black men through slavery, the failed history of Reconstruction, through Jim Crow segregation, then surely, black men can give black women help, back-up, understanding and solidarity.
Or is that too much to ask of black men?
As for the Moynihan report, it still pollutes the world with its disinformation, its misinformation, its lies, its myth.
It is time for black people to create their own report, their own agenda. Enough of letting others outside of the race have the last word on what black people can and should do for themselves.
Until the lioness learns how to write, history will continue to be written by the hunter.
1 .Leon F. Litwak, “Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery”, New York Vintage Books, 1980, pg246.
2. Joyce A. Ladner, “Tomorrow’s Tomorrow: The Black Woman”, (Garden City, NY.: Doubleday, 1971), p. 273.
3. Angela Davis, “Reflections on the Black woman’s Role in the Community of Slaves”, BLACK SCHOLAR (December, 1971), p. 14.
4. Robert Staples, “The Myth of the Black Matriarchy”, BLACK SCHOLAR (November-December, 1981), p. 32.
5. Albert Murray, “White Norms, Black Deviation”, The Death of White Sociology”, Joyce Ladner, ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), p. 104.
– (1-5): “When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America”, by Paula Giddings, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1984.
– “Arn’t I A Woman?:Female Slaves in the Plantation South”, by Deborah Gray White, W.W. Norton & Company, 1999.