Monday, February 23, 2015

Can Reforming Culture Save Black Youths?

In a new book, Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson explores the way in which culture can be used to understand and improve the lives of young African Americans.

 (From The

Considering recent tragedies and protests involving black youths, the police and the legal system—along with the centuries of devastation wrought by racial bias—a work exploring the impact of culture is both timely and welcome. Though we are far from achieving a post-racial society, what Ralph Ellison called conscious culture can point a way.

Culture—“that which separates the behavior of Homo sapiens from other species”—is so fundamental, Patterson proclaims, that “the question, then, is not whether culture matters but how.” He begins the 688-page anthology with an account of the concept, which he explains as two processes that dance. The first is shared “ideas, narratives, metaphors, and beliefs, formal and informal rules or norms, and specific as well as ultimate values.” The second is how these apply in social interactions with others, where individuality and creativity can be exercised “within limits set by practical rules of engagement that take account of status, power, and context.”

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