Now, on the surface, this would appear to be a silly statement. I mean, who am I to call into question the conclusions of a Ph.D. at Columbia who has clearly put enough work into his project and his career that he has wound up in front of the U.S. Congress, right? But my concerns are fairly simple and straight-forward.
I first started doing this kind of analysis fifteen years ago when I was neck-deep in a dissertation I didn't ultimately finish. The dissertation had to do with the way sociological writings about race can purport to be saying something fresh and even radical, but that the words and sentence structures chosen can actually deliver the same old message anyway. For example, if I write, "There are 365 churches in Cholula, Mexico," the statement reads without particular moral or historical impact. It reads as if the people of Cholula must surely be very religious people, especially if you understand that Cholula is not that big of a city. If, on the other hand, I write, "Spanish conquerors forced the indigenous people of the city to build a Catholic church on the site of each of 365 pyramids present when the Spaniards arrived," the reader is more likely to arrive at an entirely different understanding of the matter.
Dr. Mincy, at least according to the article I read, is making a number of problematic mistakes in interpreting the available data that will lead policy-setters awry, if allowed, in reference to a situation about which he is right to be massively passionate.
Census data is telling us that half of all young African-American men are unemployed and that roughly 30% of them will do time in prison. Further, these same statistics tell us that, of the 40% of African-American men who drop out of high school, 72% are jobless and they are twice as likely to go to prison as their high school graduate counterparts. These statements, as horrible as they sound, border on "ho-hum" for anybody who lives in a low income neighborhood. Driving down the street where I live, it seems as if there are more young Black men standing around every day and with an ever-increasing law enforcement presence accordingly. This is not new news.
So why is Dr. Mincy in Washington? Because of how he's interpreting the data, that's why. In other words, he is saying what the administration, leaders, academics, and social policy pundits want to hear. He's blaming the situation on single parent families, which are primarily headed by women.
"Living with a single mother increases the likelihood of dropping out of school," he is quoted as saying. "The effects of single parenting on dropping out of school are larger, the longer a child is in a single-parent home, and larger for boys than girls."
Let's see if I can write this loudly enough for Dr. Mincy to hear it all the way inside his ivy-covered office at Columbia: "It's not the single-parenting...er...Doc-tor! It's the lack of income!!!" I'd like to see Dr. Mincy raise a child (or several) on the minimum wage -- or less -- in the year 2007 in the U.S.A. All the corroborating statistical data is available for this perspective, as well. Women make about 75 cents on the dollar as compared to men. In fact, if an African-American man can get a job, Census data tells us that he's going to make more, on average, against what White men make, than women do -- even European-American women. Additionally, the single-parent woman who receives anything, averages very little more in child support than $300 per month (not per child, but at all). About a quarter receive nothing. And the unemployment ocean in which Black men are drowning is certainly not helping this much.
Let's make this as clear as possible. If women -- all women, and most particularly all women of color -- were paid a living wage for the work they do and supported with the practical necessities of life (such as affordable housing, transportation, and day care); if all fathers were held fully responsible for their participation in the economic lives of their children -- and helped to accomplish that (regardless of whether or not they are presently "tapping that"); and if all children, and most particularly children of color, were supported with universal physical and mental health care, a fully-funded educational process, and a rich and enriching selection of activities outside of school, then Black men would not be flocking into jail, starting in their early teens. This is NOT -- hear me, now -- a function of their mothers being SINGLE. (He-llo!) If it was, we could just line folks up in two's, marry 'em off, and solve the problem.
Dr. Mincy does throw in the "secondary" issues of bad schools, institutionalized oppression in the form of racism, and the disappearance of millions of jobs as a result of a manufacturing economy that has been steadily shriveling since the 1970's, but ultimately he points to the "experience of welfare reform" as the light at the end of the tunnel. And there we have it: the reason he's the one who's testifying.
When Clinton shoved through his promised decimation of the welfare system in the U.S. on his way out the door, everybody in the field of social service knew the new policies were going to be disastrous in their repercussions. The so-called "principle" sounded good. Women -- who had become "dependent on the system," it was said -- would be "helped" and "encouraged" to get off welfare by having their assistance pulled. It was the equivalent of throwing a five-year-old in a pond and telling her to swim or die. Forget racism (which discriminates against her and has taught her to see herself as incapable and unworthy, in any case). Forget the lack of jobs and the fact that more -- at every level -- are exported daily. Forget the fact that we can afford billions of dollars a month to kill babies all over the world, but we can't afford to feed and educate them in our own communities. And forget that she cannot do anything about any of these things. Just throw her in the water and ignore the cries of the babies hanging on -- for dear life -- around her neck.
So, Dr. Ronald Mincy appears to be the new Dr. William Julius Wilson (the African-American academic who received a major Ford Foundation research grant and became in the early nineties the President of the American Sociological Association for holding that the destruction of the inner city was the fault of middle class African-Americans who moved out). Shame on you, Mincy. Enjoy the rarified atmosphere up there in Washington, but don't ever forget that, when the dust settled on the plantation, regardless of where he was living, even the House-Man was Black.