31 Toward a black Social Science

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Black Separatism And Social Reality : Rhetoric And Reason, Raymond L. Hall editor, Publisher New York : Pergamon Press, [c1977.] Black Nationalism --United States. Pan-Africanism. Article by Ronald Walters; Toward a Black Social Science pg 263-270 Leyburn Library FOLIO E185.6 .B63 1977 http://www.sfasu.edu/pubaffairs/Nov1998/10HallLecture.html


*Toward A Black Social Science *


Whether or not one believes in the possibility that there exists a body of knowledge about black life which can be disciplined and made useful in the survival and development of black people depends. upon many factors. Among them are (1) a determination that such knowledge can be disciplined and (2) a determination that in such a disciplined state, the knowledge when applied to actual problems the community faces will be useful in the solution.

For years both black and white scholars denied that the "stuff' of black life constituted a respectable enough body of knowledge to even bother about recording for posterity. Recently, however, there has been a recognition of this gross oversight and a grudging admission that perhaps there is such a thing as black history (after all, a people have only to have existed to have a history). This was an important admission because (in addition to the protest by black students) it was this small bit of intellectual awareness that was a major factor that led university faculties to vote in favor of adopting Black Studies in the last few years. Once having established such programs, it was easy to see, from a perusal of some sample curricula that the humanities were legitimate because blacks have produced some of the most original art forms the country has had and in some areas constitute the most dominant and dynamic forces existent today. But there is definitely no black science and no black social science.

Secondly, another question arises when those involved in black education assume that the application of the knowledge of African history and culture is essential to black progress. Most whites and blacks still do not believe this! Standing in the residue of program after program fashioned by so-called "experts" to reconstruct the black community, using white social science, these doubters know that something is wrong but refuse to believe that there is some efficacy in their own black being, some black power which, when added to other relevant factors, constitute the necessary ingredient for the solution. It is all the more confusing when solutions are not found because white social science has acquired a reputation for its "social change" orientation and the development of "intervention" strategies.

One source of this reputation has been the operation of white social science in the Third World. After World War II,
* Reprinted by permission of the author.
when many countries in Africa and Asia were becoming inde­pendent, there were many social scientists studying the problem of the transition of "old societies" into "new states"1 (a process commonly called modernization) and the factors which impeded such a transition. Some of the lessons of this experi­ence were that significant change depended either upon (1) the operation of powerful incentives or (2) the application of selec­tive force. In any case, white social science may have discovered these laws but it still has not been able to control the factors that lead to development or modernization in spite of the fact that many such "new states" have Western social scientists and technicians in every ministry of their governments.

The reputation has done little to bring about results in the domestic scene in the United States as well. Part of this failure is political in the sense that no matter how relevant the infor­mation gathered, priorities of the politician are usually different because the modernization process in this country is taking place with a black minority. None other than Daniel Moynihan, after chronicling the failure of the political management and the functions of social scientists in the construction of the OEO Program, exhibits his own ambivalence about the role of social science.

But is there something called social science, a body of knowledge, a methodology that men of quite disparate politics and temperaments will nonetheless agree upon, that can contribute to the formulation of policy? I will propose that the answer is a limited but emphatic yes. 2
Then he poses a somewhat analogous question further on, and he suggests an answer.
What institutional role may the social sciences expect to play in public affairs? The answer seems clear enough. The role of social science lies not in the formulation of social policy, but in the measurement of results. 3

What seems here to be not only ambivalence but downright contradiction believes the proof of a powerful missing ingredient


  1. Black Separatism and Social Reality

in the study of black life which would be useful in both the formulation and evaluation of policy within this specific range of problems. Besides the ambivalence manifested by such social scientist, other causes, of the dysfunction of white social science may be accounted for by three prime factors: (1) an ideological bias, (2) a structural bias, and (3) a methodological bias.

The ideology of social science planning for social change is rooted in the diverse theories and assumptions of the nature of the' problems they address. Because they have no familiarity With the real culture from which these problems arise, they have created something synthetic - a "culture of poverty,,4 thesis to explain the reality of why black and a significant number of white people are poor in this country, as if by this single factor analysis they could also satisfactorily analyze all the roots of black oppression. One element of this ideology is that the poor are poor because they are bad managers of resources, and they, therefore, should have resources managed for them and "services" provided. The theory goes on, if an individual is adept at providing his own services, he will learn how to accumulate and utilize resources and will get on in this society. Under this ideology, black people are seen as children for whom the system (upon which they must depend) has to provide. This view, it should be noted, is not far from the "childlike" thesis of the nature of black people provided us by social scientists like Stanley Elkins who studied black slavery. Never once have the theorists who have followed this line of reasoning stopped to consider how, it was that in the Depres­sion, for example, during the darkest period this nation faced since slavery, black people were able to manage resources. How was it that a people who lived on the very margin of existence were able to survive by hustling, by adapting their diet so as to make a delicacy out of the leftover waste of a pig, and how they shared even that with others. Considering the nature of the opposition black people have faced historically, someone must have been managing some resources somewhere.

There is also an administrative or structural bias concerning the way in which ideology is translated into strategy.6 "Services" are structured to be available in ways that are suitable to those dispensing them. They are available at certain hours (which mayor may not be the hours of highest need in the community) and at certain places (which may be inacces­sible to those needing the services); and they are dispensed in certain ways (which are dehumanizing to the recipient). But even these problems would seem minor if a person were able to leave a service center having been truly aided in some way. In fad, there are scores of cases in, evidence which detail the breakdown of such systems of services and their failure to deliver the services originally provided for.

There have been some recent administrative experiments designed to make the delivery systems .more efficient, such as Program Planning Budgeting Systems,7 but this method seems more applicable to institutions dealing in "hardware" and physical resources than it does in planning for delivery of human resources of the "software" variety. It has been and always will be difficult to quantify need beyond the most elementary material levels.

The problem of administrative methodology can be traced to' social science research methodology in part. The sum of it can be found in the doctrine of "scientism"8 - that the sum of what we believe must be right and, therefore, factual. These "facts" then become the basis upon which theories of black life are shaped into ideologies, which are shaped into strategies, which are shaped into programs. Rather than examining the substance of the consensus they reached as representative of a narrow area of truth which has limitations for them qualified by their collective backgrounds and experiences as white people, they have gone a step further and made their theories take on the quality of universal norms. That the sum of white experiences (and therefore theorizing) does not add up to black "fact" or reality can be seen in the following (and I hesitate to call it this) "analysis" by an American sociologist.

[The Negroes] were without ancestral pride or family tradition. They had no distinctive language or religion. These, like their folkways and moral customs were but recently acquired from the whites and furnished no nucleus for a racial unity. The group was without even a tradition of historic unity or of racial achievement. There were no historic names, no great achievements, no body of literature, no artistic productions. The whole record of the race was one of servile or bar­barian status apparently without a point about which a sentimental complex could be formed.9
This study, published originally in 1927 (and reissued recently in the wake of the panic publishing on blacks) gives the impression of some authority, as the author cites 33 separate pieces of "consensus" for the "facts" in the chapter from which this quote was taken. Some of the pieces of evidence he generally cites are from white and black authors and, no doubt, today one could take the same sources and manage a "modern" interpretation of the nature of black life. This suggests, at least to this writer, that the business of utilizing methods in arriving at the truth which appears to be objective (for Reuter had one of the best reputations of his day for objectivity) often does little more than yield to "voguism" in the social sciences.

One author has located what he thinks to be the reason for this problem in the fact that research has been oriented toward the prejudices of the discipline without the researcher under­standing or purposefully hiding the fact that his finds are oriented toward his personal prejudices as well. The person is important because he has tended to hide behind the shield of "ethical neutrality," and this has enabled him to obviate the moral implications of his works. In fact, other prejudices derived from the institution he serves and the profession (discipline) of which he is a part assist the researcher in developing the shield between himself and the subject. 10

The university or research institute has become a con­venient place from which to sally forth occasionally to gather data, then to return to its sterile atmosphere to cogitate fan­tasies about their validity based on one's. own narrow experi­ences using methodology that has its own inaccuracies and eccentricities. One also uses the resources of the university to produce results - the computer, the time off, the research grants, and the research assistants are all valuable supportive aids in this work. The other important thing about the uni­versity is (besides the fact that such researchers are not accountable to the people they research) that researchers are supported and reinforced in the disciplinary characteristics of their work by it. The department or other administrative unit.

has come to know and anticipate what the needs of various social science divisions will be in terms of resources and is adept at searching" through the various foundations and govern­ment agencies for sources of support; at the same time, the black social scientist in the same unit has to fend for himself. There is also remarkably little internal ferment in these disci­plinary units on the question of the nature of the discipline (the methodological argument aside), little cross fertilization with others, and a certain smugness about the legitimacy of these disciplines outside of the occasional salvoes from the "radical" professor on the left. Such attitudes make the research and the discipline mutually adaptive, reinforcing systems.

The results of the default of researchers, hiding behind the ethical neutrality we spoke of, together with the individual who has purpose in his distortion of the truths of black life, is that white social science has been ineffective with respect to the solution of black problems, it has become a weapon in defense of white interests, and an instrument of black social control.
Information gathering systems or research methods always promise the existence and use of some system of social control. It is not only that the information they yield may be used by systems of social control, but that they themselves are systems of social con­trol. II [Emphasis mine]
The evidence for this continues to mount but includes such items as the widespread use of drug therapy on so-called "hypersensitive children."12 It is within the realm of this writer's own personal experience to have witnessed (and reported to the black community) the existence of white psychiatrists pronouncing black children "mentally retarded" or "mentally disturbed," which classified these children for special classes and special programs where they became guinea pigs for researchers who experiment with amphetamine injections, supposedly to make them "manageable."

The psychologists and psychiatrists are currently pushing the concept of "mental health" in the black community despite the fact that concepts they are peddling come out of white psychological experiences.13 Many of these concepts are "individual-oriented," which is a strategy counter to the historic lessons of black survival (and future survival) which was and still is in terms of group dependence. The American "rugged individualist" ideology places a great deal of emphasis on indi­vidual effort, but what would have happened if the black man had tried to stand alone to endure or to escape from slavery; and what will happen if the black man tries to stand alone today and be defined as a human being outside of his blackness in this country? That is right, he would really be crazy! Finally, if one reads the military Riot Manual which is published by the Department of Defense and pays particular attention to the sections dealing with individual and group behavior, it is clear that these control agents are paying a great deal of attention to the social scientists and to the research that has been done on black behavior.' 14 In fact, agencies like the Department of Defense spend millions of dollars annually on such research, and the so-called leading social scientists in universities all over the nation participate, as a recent governmental report will indicate.15

Toward A Black Social Science 265
These facts are crucial when one considers that the balance of such activity and information is in the hands of the decision makers and, hence, the decision enforcers. Very recently the State of Massachusetts wanted some expertise on the perfor­mance of the State's Racial Imbalance Law as it was coming up for a review. The Education Commissioner turned to the Harvard School of Education and contracted for a study which will no doubt give the decision makers (not the black community) a basis on which to decide the matter compatible with the interest of the State. Parenthetically, one of the reasons the political system in the black community is so weak is that the monopoly of information about the way the system works, and not incidentally about the black community, is in the hands of white decision makers. What we need, therefore, is a black controlled and black-informed social science that will yield the desired strategies for social change commensurate with the texture and aspirations of life of black people..

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