Lawrence Mead, a long-time proponent of welfare reform, is a professor of politics and public policy at New York University. On July 21st this year, an ill-advised article he had written, ‘Poverty and Culture’, appeared in the academic journal Society.If Mead were wrong, then other scholars would publish articles pointing out the errors. They would publish evidence of serious multigenerational poverty being caused by racism, if such evidence existed.
The article began by asking, “Why do so many Americans remain destitute… even when jobs are available?” According to Mead, the answer is not “social barriers, such as racial discrimination or lack of jobs,” but rather “cultural difference.” Noting that “the seriously poor are mostly blacks and Hispanics,” he argued that such individuals have not internalised Western norms of individualism. As a consequence, he maintained, “they are at a disadvantage competing with the European groups—even if they face no mistreatment on racial grounds.”
Regarding the claim that “black social problems” are due to “white oppression,” Mead argued, “By that logic, the problems should have been worst prior to the civil rights reforms in the 1960s.” Yet in his reading of events, “The collapse of the black family occurred mostly after civil rights rather than before.” Hence Mead not only suggested that Western culture is better than non-Western culture, at least when it comes to getting ahead in America, but also that higher poverty rates among blacks and Hispanics are attributable to factors other than racial discrimination. As you can imagine, this message was not warmly received.
That is not what happened. The publisher was pressured to retract the article. It had reveal unmentionable truths.
Considering what theories could be given, this academic article was not particularly offensive. It could have said that Blacks have low IQ or are genetically inferior. It did not.
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