Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Toward a Black Habitus: African Americans Navigating Systemic Inequalities within Home, School, and Community

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Toward a Black Habitus: African Americans Navigating Systemic Inequalities within Home, School, and Community

Article excerpt


Fifty years ago, sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan sparked a national debate with his notorious Moynihan Report (1965), which argued that the fundamental problem of the Negro was not systemic inequalities, but, rather, the Black family structure that continued to produce a "tangle of pathologies" within the Black community (The authors use the terms, Black and African American interchangeably). While Moynihan briefly touched on issues of the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow Laws, and concentrated poverty, his research suggested that female-headed Black households were the main cause of a cycle of Black poverty in the United States. Moynihan asserted that the "matriarchy" in Black families emasculated Black male identity by preventing men from acquiring the education, training, and apprenticeship they needed for full employment (Massey & Shapiro, 2009; Rainwater & Yancey, 1967; Swan, 1974).

Over hundreds of years, African Americans have encountered different ideologies that have legitimized and naturalized enslavement, confinement, and other forms of racial oppression, while simultaneously being blamed for their own racial plight. The Moynihan Report further legitimized this because it supported Lewis's (1961) earlier thesis of the culture of poverty, which suggested that poor people sustain their own poverty-their values, norms, and practices cause them to perpetuate intergenerational poverty. Today, there remains a deeply held view that African Americans experience racial disparities because of their own cultural practices (Patterson, 2006). The recent deaths throughout the United States of unarmed African Americans have rekindled this view, which places the fundamental blame on African American families and their communities (Sanneh, 2015). In this current zeitgeist, people proclaim a self-help ideology (Kelley, 1997) that suggests:

* African Americans are at fault for their own poverty,

* African Americans are the main reason why the educational system is not working for them, and

* African Americans create an environment for over-policing and police brutality. Even more troubling is that some teachers, administrators, police officers, and policymakers-the social actors on whom Americans most rely-have consented to these arguments to grapple with and resolve racial disparities in the United States.

While the blame-game continues, the everyday lived experiences, voices, dynamics, frustrations, hopes, and actions of African Americans have not been fully acknowledged by the social actors within this discourse. In other words, the habitus of African Americans-which connects systemic inequalities to their own cultural practices, logics, and actions-is not fully addressed in these debates (Dancy, 2014; Young, 2004a). This discourse has not adequately traced the distinct journeys of African Americans in their schools and communities that reflect systemic inequalities and shed light on sense-making and actions in these communities. Therefore, this article illuminates the negative associations of the Black body; the systemic inequalities in Black homes, schools, and communities; and the sense-making that mediates performances by exploring the Black habitus of African Americans.

The journeys of African Americans in the United States continue to be subjugated knowledge (Collins, 2000; Foucault, 1980), which results in unacknowledged systemic inequalities and devalued voices, experiences, and performances. The historic subjugation of the Black body occurs when it is associated with being subhuman, inferior, deficient, primitive, lazy, unintelligent, and hypersexual (Bogle, 2001; Davis, 2013; Harris-Perry, 2011). Moreover, the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow laws, and the construction and maintenance of concentrated poverty, have further produced distinct paths for African Americans. Their separate and unequal educational experiences in segregated schools (Kozol, 2013; Orfield et al. …

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