'Understanding Black Youth': Its Cultural Vibrancy And Its Challenges

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The statistics look grim. The high school graduation rate for young black men is between 50 and 60 percent, a third of all black men in their thirties have a prison record, only 20 percent of black youth who are not in school are employed.

But those statistics don't tell the whole story, according to Harvard University sociology professor Orlando Patterson.

Orlando Patterson (Stu Rosner)
Orlando Patterson (Stu Rosner)

Patterson says that same community has strong traditionally American values — from a love of country to a sense of personal responsibility, to a belief in God. And, he says, this same community is also responsible for some of the world's most vibrant popular cultures, from music to dance to fashion. So how to explain that disparity?

Is it because of systematic racism or is it something inherent in the culture? Patterson argues it's a combination of both cultural and structural factors in the new book, "The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth," that he recently co-authored with Ethan Fosse.

"There is no such think as black culture. The black population is remarkable for the heterogeneity of its cultures. And most of those cultures are fine," Patterson tells Here & Now's Robin Young. "80 percent are either middle class or working class. In fact, often they are very conservative in some of their values ... However there is also street culture."

Patterson says that even though the minority of African-Americans identify with the street culture — which he says is violent — policy makers and law enforcement have generalized that to all African-Americans.

"There is no doubt that we have a serious institutional problem with the police, and that has to change," Patterson said. "One way or another, we have to terms with the fact that the inner city is plagued by chronic violence. It's partly cultural and it's partly social. But cultures can change."

From The Cultural Matrix edited by Orlando Patterson with Ethan Fosse. Copyright
© 2015 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Used by permission. All
rights reserved.


This segment aired on March 19, 2015.


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