Harvard Sociology Professor Orlando Patterson Explores How Culture Can Improve the Lives of Black Youth


Jamaican-born Orlando Patterson, a Harvard sociology professor since 1969, likes to tackle big issues. Slavery and Social Death and Freedom in the Making of Western Culture, two of his most acclaimed works, traverse centuries and continents. Now he’s confronting the issue of culture and black youths. In the newly released The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth, Patterson and more than 20 other scholars drill down to focus on the contemporary state of young black people in the United States.

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.”

A diagram of the processes of culture that Patterson presented in his 2014 paper “Making Sense of Culture” was, unfortunately, not included.

Patterson and his fellow contributors wrestle with hip-hop culture; the values of disconnected youths; continuity and change in neighborhood cultures; street violence and relations with city police; gender relations and class distinctions; barriers to entry in the workforce; religious and social organizations; and family programs.

Click here to read more

Source: The Root | 

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