I happened coincidently to be reading, over the past several days, Sue Fishkoff, The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch, when I read Juan William's disheartened recitation of the familiar facts about the disintegration of American family life, especially the Latino and black families. As Williams' Wall Street Journal article today, "The Tragedy of America's Disappearing Fathers," says, of special concern to him, over 70% of black children are born out of wedlock. The absence of the father in the mother-headed household has devastated, especially, the psychological and social development of black boys and young men. The social chaos of boys deprived of the disciplined guidance of loving fathers is in evidence all around us.
As readers of this blog are aware, the disarray of the black family, society, and culture is a major theme of my conservative social concerns about America. Living in a middle-class African American neighborhood, knowing my neighbors, where most households have the two biological parents and the father is strong, employed (or now retired), and caring, I can observe the positive effects of the intact black family with middle class economic status. Children graduate from college and enter the work force. Teaching is popular among the women and young men often enter the military or private business. They grow up avoiding crime. The families are nodes of extensive kin networks, some of the families present in Sprawling Suburb for three generations. There is race pride of course, but there is, more, family pride.
Fishkoff portrays the incredibly successful Chabad-Lubavitch movement in America in the last half of the twentieth century. The movement is a Jewish revival movement, historically led by charismatic, learned, spiritual Rebbes. Young members of this fundamentalist Hasidic movement, after some years of education and training, venture out on missions across the world to bring lapsed Jews back to appreciation and observance of strict Orthodox Judaism. The movement originated in Russia and came to America in the second great Jewish diaspora. It is built on two powerful foundations, the Orthodox Jewish family, which is paternalistic, and the Rebbe, to whom each member has a personal spiritual connection.
The fruit of these foundations is that the young Hasidic missionaries have tremendous self-confidence and faith in their mission. Often they are the only open Jews in the communities where they are sent by the movement. They are supported by the central movement only for a year; after that, they have to support their missionary work themselves through donations raised as they bring Jews back to Judaism. They endure poverty, grueling hours of selfless dedication to their cause, and everywhere meet great success. Combined with their spiritual outreach, the members of the faith do not practice birth control, so their families grow regularly, providing no respite from the 24/7 demands on their lives.
Jews raised in secular households with little knowledge of Judaism, beyond Passover, come into the new synagogues and community centers to re-establish the roots of their being. We are friends with our local Chabad Rabbi, his wife, and family. My wife, who is a typical Jew brought back to Judaism, is an active member of the congregation. The Rabbi and his wife, the Rabbetsin, perfectly exemplify the personal inner strength and resolve of the revived Jewish tradition and strong family structure. I have watched the Rabbi bring his new born son to Shabbat services in the living room of his rented, sparsely furnished, house, holding him as he sings the Hebrew prayers and recites and explains the meaning of the observances about which the beginner audience is unaware. The women sit in the living room separated from the men by a divider. They will occasionally get up and help the Rebbetsin with her chores of preparing the Sabbath eve meal, then return to the service. In the beginning there were perhaps a half dozen young families at the services, with babies or infants to be held and fed. Now, the Rabbi has had to rent new quarters to house the fifty or so families that regular attend and support the synagogue. All of this social development is drenched in the power of family love, the loving and caring father working, at historically ordained tasks, along side his equally dedicated and loving wife, and the love of Judaism, with its message of a loving God who cares about the Jews, mediated through the spiritual illumination of the Rebbe in Brooklyn.
To this humanity reaffirming vision, Juan Williams' article contrasts, nearly in despair, the sociological facts of the disintegration of the black family over the past sixty years. Young black men and women are drenched, not in spiritual uplift, but by the ugliest gangster culture America has seen, where violence and ill-gotten wealth of a few pop media and sports stars, with their displayed bling, are idolized and women are sexually exploited, used, abused, and discarded by men who feel used, abused, and discarded by their own social institutions.
Black society looks something like the physical destruction of German and Japanese cities; but, in this case, it is not the firepower of white European and American armies that caused the damage, but the complete collapse of bourgeois values in black majority culture. It was the "black power" movement of the 1960s that encouraged--demanded--that blacks abandon their "mainstream" values, which the burgeoning middle class had adopted in imitation of the white middle class, and endorse black power collectivist themes--black nationalism, victimhood and empowerment narratives, racist politics, and, for a minority of blacks, the Nation of Islam. It was a disasterous choice, which must be laid completely at the feet of the black sponsors of black power and their radical white supporters. It was the death of nearly all that was of worth in black society.
The contrast between the success of the family-based and religion-based Hasidic movement and the existential failure of black society is the contrast between spiritual illumination and materialistic philosophy, between God and Marx. Some of us had initially great hope that Barack Obama would provide the leadership to lead the African American people back to the truth about themselves and authentic faith in themselves, away from the demagoguery of racist separatists and class-warfare Marxists like Reverend Wright. It remains an open question whether Obama has the personal strength to go to the black community and ask them to return to the middle class bourgeois values, still cultivated by the small, surviving black middle class and its intact families. He spent two decades immersed in this hateful, black liberationist, abomination of Christianity; he might truly not believe in bourgeois values. So far in this campaign, it appears that, though he is a gifted politician, he has not figured out how to provide this leadership, if he wants to do so. Perhaps he is afraid of alienating some of his enthusiastic support among black voters; but authentic courage is, in recognizing the need, to take the risk and see the project through. There is a real possibility that Obama will be president. If he could accomplish one thing as president, I would ask him to accomplish the revival of black bourgeois values, reconstitution of the black family, reinstatement of values such as the worth of monogamy and having children within marriage, and the importance of the father in the home, loving and caring for his children.
Update. June 15, 2008. Here is Barack Obama's father's day speech at Apostolic Church of God, Chicago, on this father's day.
Update. July 9, 2008. Discussion of Jesse Jackson's angry protest of Obama's candid talks.