Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche, 1880-1996

Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche, 1880-1996

Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche, 1880-1996

Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche, 1880-1996

Synopsis

A groundbreaking exploration of the social construction of race that has much to teach both liberals and conservatives

For over a century, the idea that African Americans are psychologically damaged has played an important role in discussions of race. In this provocative work, Daryl Michael Scott argues that damage imagery has been the product of liberals and conservatives, of racists and antiracists. While racial conservatives, often playing on white contempt for blacks, have sought to use findings of black pathology to justify exclusionary policies, racial liberals have used damage imagery primarily to promote policies of inclusion and rehabilitation.

In advancing his argument, Scott challenges some long-held beliefs about the history of damage imagery. He rediscovers the liberal impulses behind Stanley Elkins's Sambo hypothesis and Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Negro Family and exposes the damage imagery in the work of Ralph Ellison, the leading anti-pathologist. He also corrects the view thatthe Chicago School depicted blacks as pathological products of matriarchy. New Negro experts such as Charles Johnson and E. Franklin Frazier, he says, disdained sympathy-seeking and refrained from exploring individual pathology. Scott's reassessment of social science sheds new light on Brown v. Board of Education, revealing how experts reversed four decades of theory in order to represent segregation as inherently damaging to blacks.

In this controversial work, Scott warns the Left of the dangers in their recent rediscovery of damage imagery in an age of conservative reform.

Excerpt

In the late nineteenth century, as the disciplines professionalized and university-trained experts asserted their authority over knowledge, those who opposed the entry of blacks into the mainstream of American society dominated the image of the African American. These racial conservatives operated primarily from within a biological framework and argued for the innate inferiority of people of African descent. The African's biological makeup, it was argued, limited his or her ability to create or be assimilated into an advanced civilization. Racial conservatism was limited by neither region nor discipline. In the North as well as the South, biologists, physicians, and race psychologists pointed out the physical differences that explained the alleged cultural and intellectual . . .

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