Culture of Poverty and Related Racist Ideology

1. The concept of the culture of poverty was invented by Oscar Lewis:

"by the time slum children are aged six or seven, they have usually absorbed the basic values and attitudes of their subculture and are not psychologically geared to take full advantage of the changing conditions or increased opportunities that may occur in their lifetime"

-- O. Lewis, "The Culture of Poverty." In D.P. Moynihan (ed.) On Understanding Poverty: Perspectives From the Social Sciences. New York: Basic Books 1968, p. 188.

"The Moynihan Report": Daniel Moynihan, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, Office of Policy Planning and Research, United States Depart of Labor, March, 1965.

2. The main obstacle for eliminating poverty among Afro-Americans is the "Negro family":

"At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family. It is the fundamental source of the weakness of the Negro community oat the present time....There is considerable evidence that the Negro community is in fact dividing between a stable middle-class group that is steadily growing stronger and more successful, and an increasingly disorganized and disadvantaged lower-class group." Reprinted in L. Rainwater and W. Yancey, The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy, Cambridge: M. I. T. Press, 1967, pp. 51 -2.

3. The main problem with the "Negro family" is that it is more often headed by women. Moynihan doesn't offer jobs to single mothers, just husbands:

"In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is so out of line with the rest of American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole." (p. 75)

Edward Banfield, The Unheavenly City, New York: Little Brown,1970.

4. "Lower class" means "can't delay gratification"

"[An individual] is lower class if he is incapable of conceptualizing the future or controlling his impulses and is therefor obliged to live from moment to moment." (p. 48) Banfield claimed that around 15 % of the urban population, but between 20 and 40% of the nonwhites, is lower class. (pp. 266-268).

5. The lower class person likes slums

"The lower-class individual lives in the slum and sees little or no reason to complain. He does not care how dirty and dilapidated his housing is either inside or out, nor does he mind the inadequacy of such public facilities as schools, parks, and libraries: indeed, where such things exist he destroys them by acts of vandalism if he can. Features that make the slum repellent to others actually please him." (pp. 62-63)

6. Lower class poverty is caused by the psychology of the lower class person

"Lower-class poverty, by contrast, is "inwardly" caused (by psychological inability to provide for the future, and all that this inability implies). Improvements in external circumstances can affect this poverty only superficially: One problem of a "multiproblem" family is no sooner solved than another arises. In principle, it is possible to eliminate the poverty (material lack) of such a family, but only at great expense, since the capacity of the radically improvident to waste money is almost unlimited. Raising such a family's income would not necessarily improve its way of life, moreover, and could conceivably even make things worse." (p. 126)

7. The lower class person can not be trained

"The lower class person cannot as a rule be given much training because he will not accept it. He lives for the moment, and learning to perform a task is a way of providing for the future. If the training process is accompanied by immediate rewards to the trainee-if it is "fun" or if he is paid while learning-the lower-class person may accept training. But even if he does, his earning power will not be much increased, because his class outlook and style of life will generally make him an unreliable and otherwise undesirable employee." (p. 139.)

8. Social problems cannot be solved without getting rid of the lower class

"So long as the city contains a sizable lower class, nothing basic can be done about its most serious problems. Good jobs may be offered to all, but some will remain chronically unemployed. Slums may be demolished, but if the housing that replaces them is occupied by the lower class it will shortly be turned into new slums. Welfare payments may be doubled or tripled and a negative income tax instituted, but some persons will continue to live in squalor and misery.

New schools may be built, new curricula devised, and the teacher-pupil ratio cut in half, but if the children who attend these schools come from lower-class homes, they will be turned into blackboard jungles, and those who graduate or drop out from them will, in most cases, be functionally illiterate. The streets may be filled with armies of policemen, but violent crime and civil disorder will decrease very little. If, however, the lower class were to disappear--if, say, its members were overnight to acquire the attitudes, motivations, and habits of the working class--the most serious and intractable problems of the city would all disappear with it."(p. 210 - 211)

9. The "culture of poverty" line continues in K. Auletta, The Underclass, Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1999 (revision of 1982 edition) and William J. Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, The Underclass, and Public Policy, Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1987, although these guys claim that they are different from Banfield. See Rosenthal article on W. J. Wilson

-A. R. Jensen, Educability and Group Differences, New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

10. There are both genetic and environmental causes that make black children less "educable":

"In view of all the most relevant evidence which I have examined, the most tenable hypothesis, in my judgement is that genetic, as well as environmental, differences are involved in the average disparity between American Negroes and whites in intelligence and educability..... success [of the approaches Jensen recommends] in improving the benefits of education to the majority of Negro children, however, may depend in part on eventual recognition that the distribution of educationally relevant abilities are not mainly the result of discrimination and unequal environmental conditions.... The purely academic goals of schooling have been so strongly ingrained in the thinking and in the values of our society that radical efforts will probably be called for to modify public education in ways whereby it can more effectively benefit large numbers of children who have limited aptitudes for traditional academic achievement." (pp. 363 - 5)

James Q. Wilson, and Richard Herrnstein, Crime and Human Nature, New York: Touchstone, 1985.

This is the culture of poverty plus biological determinism, used together.

11. Crime must have a partly genetic explanation:

"... criminal behavior, like all behavior, results from a complex interactions of genetic and environmental factors.... But we do know enough to be fairly confident that criminal behavior cannot be explained wholly by reference to the social circumstances in which an individual finds herself or himself."

12. Correlates and causes of criminality:

"Criminals are more likely than noncriminals to have mesomorphic body types ["heavy-boned muscularity"] ... , to have fathers who were criminals even in the case of adopted sons who could have not know their fathers ..., to be of somewhat lower intelligence..., to be impulsive or extroverted, ... and to have autonomic nervous systems that respond more slowly and sess vigorously to stimuli.... The biological factors whose traces we see in faces, physiques, and correlations with the behavior of parents and siblings are predispositions toward crime that are expressed as psychological traits and activated by circumstances. It is likely that the psychological traits involve intelligence and personality, and that the activating elements include certain experiences with the family, the school and the community at large. (pp. 66, 70, 103)

12. A "culture of poverty" - I. Q. connection:

"The typical crimes of less intelligent offenders are often crimes with an immediate payoff.... The evidence suggests that low test scores are in fact associated with impulsive crimes." (p. 165)

13. The inherited predispositions of personality and intelligence lead to crime, including "culture of poverty" stuff like "inability to discount the future":

"The offender offends not just because of immediate needs and circumstances, but also because of enduring personal characteristics.... Criminal behavior runs in families because variation along its controlling dimensions have both genetic and environmental origins. The genes may express their influence at any point of the model of criminal behavior, just as the environment may. The strengths of various reinforcers, the time-discounting rates, the opportunity costs of legal punishment, the likelihood of success in crime or noncrime, the social consequences of a certain physique or face-all of these potentially criminogenic variables are rooted in individual characteristics shaped by both inheritance and experience.

Bits from R. J. Herrnstein, and C. Murray, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, New York, Free Press, 1994

14. Low I. Q. is a bigger disadvantage in school than coming from the lower class, but that is bad, too:

"…the disadvantage of low IQ outweighs that of low status. Youngsters from poor backgrounds with high IQs are likely to get through college these days, but those with low IQs, even if they come from well-to-do backgrounds, are not.... Meanwhile the results emphasize the need for more open exploration of a topic that has been almost as taboo in some circles as IQ: the possibility that "lower class" in its old-fashioned sense has an impact on how people behave." (p. 143,151)

15. Black/ White differences in I. Q. is at least partly due to genes:

"We have already explained why the bias argument does not readily explain the ethnic differences and also why we say that genes may be part of the story.... Our own appraisal of the situation is that Jensen's main contentions regarding Spearman's hypothesis are intact and constitute a major challenge to purely environmental explanations of the B/W difference [that is, the black/white difference in cognitive performance on IQ tests]." (p. 312 and ??)

16. Given genetic and cultural factors, schools cannot produce or come close to equality:

"…the school is not a promising place to try to raise intelligence or to reduce intellectual differences, given the constraint on school budgets and the state of educational science....

Adoption at birth from bad environments to good environments raises cognitive functioning, especially in childhood…. we want to return to the state of affairs that prevailed until the 1960s, when children born to single women--where much of the problem of child neglect and abuse originates--were more likely to be give up at birth....just a minority of students has the potential to become "an educated person" as we are using that term. It is not within everyone's ability to understand the world's intellectual heritage at the same level, any more than everyone who enters college can expect to be a theoretical physicist by trying hard enough. At every stage of learning, some people reach their limits." (pp. 414, 415-6, 444)

17. More "culture of poverty stuff":

"It will be agreed that the underclass cannot be trusted to use cash wisely. Therefore policy will consist of greater benefits, but these will be primarily in the form of services rather than

cash.... Over the next decade, it will become broadly accepted by the cognitive elite that the people we now refer to as the underclass are in that condition through no fault of their own but because of inherent shortcomings about which little can be done." (p. 523, page ?)

E. O. Wilson, "Human Decency is Animal," New York Times Magazine, Oct. 12, 1975.

18. Women will never be equal to men in business, government and science:

"In hunter -gatherer societies, men hunt and women stay home. This strong bias persists in most agricultural and industrial societies and, on that ground alone, appears to have a genetic origin.... My own guess is that the genetic bias is intense enough to cause a substantial division of labor even in the most free and most egalitarian of future societies.... Thus, even with identical education and equal access to all professions, men are likely to continue to play a disproportionate role in political life, business and science."

E. O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1998.

19. Racism and patriotism are inborn and will remain forever:

"[Genes] bias cultural evolution towards the conventions that express the universal moral codes of honor, patriotism, altruism, justice, compassion, mercy, and redemption. The dark side of the inborn propensity to moral behavior is xenophobia [racism, hostility to foreigners]. Because personal familiarity and common interests are vital in social transactions, moral sentiments evolved to be selective. And so it has ever been, and so it will ever be.... People .... are quick to imagine themselves victims of conspiracies by competing groups, and they are prone to dehumanize and murder their rivals during periods of sever conflict.... The complimentary instincts of morality and tribalism are easily manipulated. " (p. 277)

20. Comic relief? Nope, a clear model for most of his claims:

"Human beings also posses an innate aversion to snakes, and, as in the chimpanzee, it grows stronger during adolescence. The reaction is not a hard-wired instinct. It is a bias in development of the kind psychologists call prepared learning." (p. 86)