Kenneth Clark has been so frequently celebrated in public that one scarcely knows by now just which of his burdens may be more difficult for him to bear—the weight of his collected honors or the authority that has been settled upon him by the gracing touch of officiality. For a long time Clark has professed psychology at the City University of New York, but his career was launched on a larger public stage some twenty years ago, when he was called in as an expert witness in the litigation surrounding Brown v. Board of Education. That case involved, of course, the challenge posed against the policy of assigning students to separate schools on the basis of race. When the Supreme Court reached its decision in Brown, it declared that segregated education was “inherently unequal” even if the facilities in the separate schools were essentially comparable, and it claimed that its finding in this respect was “amply supported by modern authority” in the field of psychology. Where the Court found this “authority” most importantly was in a statement that Clark had drafted for the Court, and among the references it cited, the most prominent place was given to one of Clark's own publications.

For Clark, this was the moment when his voice, decisively, carried; and with this kind of recognition he was, in effect, “established” by the Supreme Court. A host of other honors quickly followed, and Clark became the black social scientist most thoroughly recognized by institutions outside the black community. He was made a member of the Board of Regents of New York State, a member of the Board of the Rand Corporation (in New York), and a trustee of the University of Chicago. He was named a consultant to the State Department, to publishers, corporations, and educational institutions; he was installed as president of the American Psychological Association; he was placed on the boards of the most influential foundations; and along with everything else, he has been covered many times over with honorary degrees. Hardly a grant may fall to earth, it seems, without his knowledge; hardly an event may take place in the black community without the benefit of his interpretation. In short, he is the one whom the New York Times calls first when anything of consequence occurs in the black community, and on more than one occasion he appears to have called in the Times himself when he has had something important for the community to hear.

In his latest book,1 Clark is pleased to tender, once again, some things useful for the public to hear, and he is willing to lay them out with a full hand, with none of those petty reservations that may be the mark of a small nature. George Eliot once wrote of a character in one of her novels that he particularly enjoyed his occasional visits to the local billiard hall, where he could “taste the old flavor of discourse about . . . things in general, considered from a point of view which was not strenuously correct.” And now, after a steady career of writing reports on research and offering projects to society for its better ordering, Clark too has allowed himself a certain release from the meaner forms of strictness and restraint. He has given us, as it were, a collection of his papers and speeches on the road. The occasions for these papers are often public and ceremonial—e.g., Clark's receipt of an honorary degree, his inauguration as president of the American Psychological Association. They are moments when a tremor of style is expected and one might feel freer to speak in a more personal vein, without footnotes or shadings. One need not feel any special strain on these occasions to render a perfect justice to those with whom one disagrees—for Clark, men like Daniel P. Moynihan, Edward Banfield, Christopher Jencks, David Armor, Daniel Bell, and Nathan Glazer—and so Clark strikes out then in rather unmeasured assaults on what he calls a “new breed of social science mercenaries.” Some, he says, “will be flagrant and direct in their for-hire role in exchange for rewards of prestige, publicity, and power.” Others will take a slightly different route and become “polysyllabic apologists for the status quo.”

Was Bruno Bettelheim somewhat reserved about the studies claiming to show that the separation of students by race brought about damages to personality? Well, it merely confirmed for Clark that “those who attempt to use the methods of social science in dealing with problems which threaten the status quo must expect opposition and even retaliation.” Of the substance of Bettelheim's criticism Clark says nothing; for some reason his disposition has been to believe that anyone who indulges a measure of doubt about the arguments he has put forward under the mantle of social science must either feel personally insecure at the prospect of social change or must be opposed to the advancement of blacks.

None of this, of course, is much better or worse than the kinds of things we have come to expect now in our public discourse, and we might be inclined then to take in these essays with a fair sense of the occasions that produced them and simply read Clark here with a proper discount.2 And yet, even though many of these papers are affected with a political flavor, they are not so widely different in tone or content from the most important pieces that Clark has written over the years. Those other works have not generally been distinguished, in their bulk, by a concentration on hard research; they have not shown any inclination to deal in a more careful and sensitive way with the arguments of others; and they surely have not displayed any larger measure of judiciousness or sobriety in their treatment of evidence. These are not, as flaws go, very far out of the ordinary in political men. But Clark has prided himself on being something quite different from the typical public man, who shapes his language and his character to the idiom of the streets. In speaking of the Negro intellectual, Clark has warned that

he cannot confuse his role with that of the politician or the mass leader. He cannot hope to be successful by imitating or adopting their techniques or their slogans. He certainly cannot appeal to the man in the street through the uncritical use of slogans, emotional phrases, and other devices which have been found effective in arousing the emotions and allegiances of the crowd. . . .

Clark's own claims to leadership rest, as he has made clear, on his credentials as a social scientist—as a man who would bring to questions of justice certain skills of analysis, certain qualities of reflection and understanding that have been cultivated best in a career of scholarship. The plain question, though, is: How good has that social science actually been? Clark has staked his position in public on his record as a social scientist who has sought to reach, with his science, to the most important questions; and it is on the strength then of that record that his claims must finally be judged.


When Clark was called in as a consultant in Brown v. Board of Education, he was asked to offer what evidence he could on the point that racial segregation might be the cause of psychological damage to Negro children. With the help of two other colleagues, he reviewed the literature in social psychology, and he drafted a short summary report that was eventually signed by thirty-two other colleagues in the social sciences.

In no instance, precisely, were Clark and his colleagues able to pick out a study that tested the effects of segregation on the educational performances or disabilities of black children. Nevertheless, he and his colleagues offered their professional opinion that segregation was likely to produce psychological damage in Negro children. When the Court reached its decision in Brown and claimed the support of “modern authority” in psychology, it drew most importantly on the report that Clark had drafted. Of the six references that the Court made to research in psychology, five had appeared in the bibliography that Clark and his colleagues had attached to their statement, and the first item cited by the Court was one of Clark's own publications. That was a report Clark had written for a White House conference on children,3 and it was the principal work that he had leaned on himself in composing his statement for the social scientists. But that work, in turn, was largely another survey of the literature in the field. As far as original research went, there were only a few papers by Clark that were listed in the bibliography, and there was only one project of Clark's own undertaking that was mentioned in the body of the report. Once again, though, that work, brief as it was, became the pivot that governed the direction of the entire report.

The research that formed the basis for Clark's findings, and which he was able to pyramid into a national reputation, came down, finally, to five short papers that he and his wife, Mamie, published between 1939 and 1950. They were, on the whole, modest affairs. The earliest three in particular were rather unmatured works, and the Clarks came to express their own reservations about the precision and conclusiveness of these studies.4 It was in the two papers published much later that the Clarks reported on the project that would turn out to be the most important for them in the testimony for the Brown case.5

The Clarks focused in their study on a sample composed entirely of Negro children who ranged in age between three and seven. A little more than half of them were in segregated nursery and grammar schools in Arkansas, while the remainder were in racially mixed schools in Springfield, Massachusetts. In one test the children were given four dolls that were identical in every respect except that two were brown with black hair, while two were white with yellow hair. In the questions that followed, an effort was made, first, to determine whether the children understood that the dolls represented separate races, and then to elicit from them some indication of their own preferences. The children were told to give the investigator the doll: 1) that they liked to play with or liked best; 2) that was a nice doll; 3) that looked bad; 4) that was a nice color; 5) that looked like a white child; 6) that looked like a colored child; 7) that looked like a Negro child; and 8) that looked like themselves.

In a second part of the study; children were asked to color in a set of line drawings that included a boy, a girl, a leaf, an apple, an orange, and a mouse. Each child would color the mouse first, in order to establish that the child had a reliable sense of color. After that initial screening, the children were asked to color the boys or girls the color that they themselves were, and then, on a fresh set of drawings, to color them the color that “you like little boys (or girls) to be.”

In the coloring test, very high proportions of the children from ages five through seven identified themselves as “colored” (the range extended between 80 and 97 per cent), and there were no significant differences between the children in Northern and Southern schools. A somewhat lower portion, though (72 per cent), recognized the brown doll as “Negro,” and for some reason an even lower proportion of the children in the doll test (66 per cent) identified themselves with the colored doll. But the more interesting results arose out of the expressions of preference. In almost all age groups, and in both regions, the preferences ran strongly in favor of the white dolls. Overall, 67 per cent preferred to play with the white dolls; 59 per cent thought the white doll was the “nice” one; and 59 per cent thought the colored doll looked “bad.” There was a tendency for these preferences to drop off gradually in each age group after the age of four, so that, by the seventh year, quite as many of the children favored the colored as favored the white doll.

But if the differences became blurred eventually among the age groups, they began to sharpen when the sample was divided by region. A larger majority of the children in the North tended to favor the white dolls (72 per cent, as opposed to 62 per cent in the South); but while even the children in the South were inclined toward the white dolls, they were much less disposed at the same time to reject the colored ones. (Seventy-one per cent of the Northern children thought that the colored doll looked “bad,” while only 49 per cent of the Southern children shared that view.) The differences were even more pronounced when it came to the coloring tests. When asked to fill in the drawing with the color they preferred little boys or girls to be, 70 per cent of the Southern children showed a preference for brown, while only 36 per cent of the children in the North expressed that preference. Forty-four per cent of the Northern children conveyed a preference for white, while that choice was registered by only a quarter of the children in the South.

When the children were asked about their reasons for rejecting the colored doll, two of the children in the South remarked “’cause he is a nigger.” It was rare that anyone said that the colored doll was “dirty”; most of the children spoke, rather, of the prettiness or ugliness of the dolls. Still, many of the children were evasive in their answers, and in some cases they were clearly strained by the prospect of defining their racial character and connecting themselves, explicitly, to a color. As the Clarks reported, “two children ran out of the testing room, unconsolable, convulsed in tears.” In the Northern group, a seven-year-old with light skin tried to explain that he was actually white, but that he had received a heavy suntan in the summer. The gesture merely confirmed, though, for the Clarks, the things that the boy already knew. By the age of five, they concluded, most Negro children could not escape a realistic sense of their own racial character, and they had absorbed the notion that to be colored in America was the mark of an inferior status.


But then to what, exactly, did these findings point? There was the need, said the Clarks, for “a definite mental hygiene” and a program of education that would “relieve children of the tremendous burden of feelings of inadequacy and inferiority.” There was no mention here of integration of the schools as the remedy for the problem that was disclosed in the study, and the omission was not inadvertent. What the study suggested most strongly was that black children esteemed themselves less for their blackness; and in that want of esteem, that sense of being stamped instantly with a lesser worth, one may indeed find a certain burden or injury, especially for younger children. But in all strictness, the Clarks had not established in their own study that the schools were the principal (or even an important) source of those things in the society that inculcated in black children an awareness of inferior standing; they had not shown that these attitudes of the black children were in any way related to disabilities in learning; and clearly they had not demonstrated that the injuries were likely to be redressed through the racial integration of the schools. In fact, if the injury were shown in the tendency of black children to reject their blackness, then it was the children in the North, in the less segregated settings, who had exhibited these injuries to the greatest degree.

It was not until after the Brown case had been settled that Clark took note of this embarrassment in the data—this discrepancy between the thesis he had been arguing and the evidence that had allegedly supported it. On the surface, he allowed, the evidence might indeed suggest that black children in the North suffered the greatest injuries; but that interpretation, he insisted, was “superficial.” The fact that black children in the South did not reject their own color to the same degree as black children in the North did not mean that the children in the segregated schools had escaped injury:

The apparent emotional stability of the Southern Negro child may be indicative only of the fact that through rigid racial segregation and isolation he has accepted as normal the fact of his inferior social status. Such an acceptance is not symptomatic of a healthy personality. . . .

This was, several years before Catch-22, a minor advance on the times. The Negro child showed injury to his personality either way—if he rejected his color or if he accepted it. This kind of flexibility might be quite admirable at times, but it only raised here a serious question about the grounds on which the decision in Brown had been justified. In the statement that Clark helped to draft for the social scientists, the explicit emphasis was placed on “enforced” segregation. Clark and his colleagues professed to speak only in relation to that kind of segregation that “results from or is supported by the action of any official body or agency representing some branch of government.” It was one thing if private citizens brought about a pattern of racial separation through a host of private, uncoordinated acts; but it was far worse when the state took up that practice of exclusion, raised it to the level of principle, and then held it up to the public with the force of law. In the Brown case, the comment was made by the federal appellate court in Kansas that “The impact [of segregation] is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group.” The court went on to argue that “a sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn,” and this theme was picked up quite readily by the Supreme Court. But in the light of the evidence that the Court had available, that was a rather speculative point. It could hardly compare in its firmness, or in its elementary force as a constitutional point, with the recognition, established in common understanding, that a separation of races ordained by the state placed the stamp of inferior rank on a whole class of citizens. That understanding had been put forth nearly sixty years earlier by the first Justice Harlan in his dissenting opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, the case that was finally overruled by the Court in the Brown decision. As Harlan wrote: “The arbitrary separation of citizens, on the basis of race . . . is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution.” In view of the Constitution, he said, “in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”

Clark's writings, then, were largely irrelevant or unnecessary to any judgment that the Court was in a position to reach in the Brown case. One could understand, of course, why the Court might have been anxious, in this very important case, to reach out for any shred of testimony that was sympathetic to its course. But if the judgment of the Court had really turned on anything as contingent as Clark's empirical findings, it would have been open at any time to revision as soon as someone came forward with findings that ran in the other direction. The decision would have been imperiled, for example, as soon as one discovered a group of black students who had gone to all-black schools, but who had suffered no manifest injury to their self-esteem or to their capacity to perform academic work. The claims of the Negro children in the Brown case had more to do, finally, with the conditions of their citizenship than with any statistical patterns that showed up from time to time among black students.


As we noted earlier, Clark and his colleagues had insisted in the Brown case that they were not strictly “concerned with such segregation as arises from the free movements of individuals.” And yet, along with many others, Clark began to interpret the Brown decision as though it had done far more than forbid a state to establish in public law a separation between the races: he came to read the decision in later years as though it had actually mandated the presence of blacks and whites in the same schools. One moved on then to the use of compulsory process in order to insure that any school had enough whites or blacks to offer meaningful integration or to avoid, as the saying went, racial “imbalances.” But what proportions were adequate? Was the goal 50-50, 60-40, 70-30? The decision in Brown furnished no guidelines here, as indeed it could not.

The closest thing we have to evidence on this point came with the famous Coleman report and the re-analysis of the data that was carried out later at Harvard. As David Armor reported, in comparing standard tests, in none of the schools surveyed in the Coleman study did the average of blacks in black schools exceed the average of blacks in schools where the black enrollment was between 1 and 25 per cent.6 Of course, all of this is affected by the likelihood that blacks in predominantly white schools have a somewhat higher social standing than blacks who attend predominantly black schools. Beyond that, there is a good deal that is problematic in starting out from these findings toward conclusions in constitutional law. Still, Clark had used data of this kind in the past; they did seem to support, in their tendency, a policy of integration; and therefore it is interesting that Clark held back from using these data, because he resisted the conclusions that came out of the Coleman report. The Coleman report found that while certain attributes of the schools, such as the “verbal ability” of teachers, could be important in accounting for the gains of black students, they were not nearly as important as the class backgrounds of the other students in the school. The sense arising here was that black students from lower-class backgrounds could benefit substantially from being placed in a setting in which most people around them would reflect the motivations and aspirations of the white middle class.

To Clark, though, that represented the theory of “cultural deprivation”—that black students could advance only if they were thrown in with whites and exposed to a culture of “achievement”—and he sharply rejected that inference. He was inclined, too, to think that so-called “compensatory or educational enrichment programs” were merely parts of the “related technology” of the cultural-deprivation theory. He was more convinced now than ever that the real fault lay in the “efficiency” and commitment of the schools themselves. The schools in New York, for example, had been dominated by teachers and administrators who lacked empathy for black children and who simply assumed at the outset that these children were marked for failure.7 The importance of integration now for Clark was that, in putting whites in the same classrooms with blacks, it would elicit a certain seriousness and effort on the part of teachers that black students alone were not likely to see.


Clark's conviction on this point has been grounded in a syllogism of sorts, or a turn of reasoning, that is at best embarrassing, and which any social scientist adorned with civility as well as competence will probably refuse, out of politeness, to believe that he meant. In Pathos of Power, Clark argued that the relatively weak performance of black children in the schools was due mainly to the schools themselves, and that assessment was confirmed, he thought, by:

  1. The concretely demonstrated psychological fact of the normal curve in the distribution of human intellectual potential, personality characteristics, motivation, and other personal characteristics believed to be related to academic performance.
  2. The modifiableness of human beings.
  3. The fact that normal human beings who are taught, motivated to learn, expected to learn, and provided with conditions conducive to learning, will learn up to or near the limits of their capacity.

The argument moves in this passage in a misleading way, by softly juxtaposing two separate meanings of “normality”—the normality of curves or statistical distributions, and the normality we usually have in mind when we speak of “normal” human beings. To the statistician a “normal” distribution is a special kind of smooth, symmetrical curve, which represents the frequency with which certain traits appear in a population. If we assume, for example, that the size of feet is “normally” distributed, we would expect, say, among women, that the largest number would have sizes around seven and eight, and that we would get a peak somewhere in that region in a curve drawn from one end to another along the scale of sizes. We would probably find then that the curve tapers off as we move, on the one side, toward sizes that are smaller than five or six, and, on the other side, through sizes that are larger than nine or ten. This is the configuration, roughly speaking, that we usually describe as a bell-shaped curve. There is far more to it, of course, than that, and those people who work seriously with statistics have something very precise in mind when they speak of “normal” distributions. It is quite different from the sense of “normal” as we use it in our ordinary language to designate things that conform to a typical or usual pattern. The difference in meaning is not to be treated casually, and it can be disregarded only at the risk of fostering some serious confusions.

In Clark's case, the initial mistake is worked into a larger pattern of misdirection. For one thing, it is not quite a “demonstrated psychological fact” that certain characteristics related to academic performance are distributed “normally” in nature. What has been demonstrated, rather, is that we have the means of contriving standard tests (for IQ's, for example, or verbal ability) that will yield “normal” distributions. Distributions of this kind may facilitate comparisons among people who take the tests, and for some of the purposes they are designed to serve (such as making selections within a pool of applicants) they are not wholly barren of value. At the extreme ends of the distribution—among the best, that is, and the worst—the discriminations may even be reliable enough to put one's money on. But these tests or measures could be fashioned just as easily to produce a “bimodal” distribution—that is to say, a distribution with two peaks or centers—as they could to produce a curve that bulges in the middle.

Yet even if it were true, as Clark says, that the qualities associated with academic performance were distributed “normally” within the population, it still would not follow that the people we refer to as “normal” human beings would arrange themselves, in their academic performance, in a “normal distribution.” The sweep of the normal curve takes in the rare and extreme cases as well as those cases that cluster near the average. Even if we defined “normal” human beings as those that fall within a certain distance from the mean on any given matter, it is not clear why those people cannot be divided, say, for the most part, between two or more dominant centers. For example, even if we assumed that the population in the public schools were composed entirely of “normal” children, it could still be, in some places, a highly polarized population, which consisted predominantly of the very smart and the very dull. Children could arrange themselves in a normal distribution without marking any particular progress in education; and if they did not happen to line up in a normal distribution, it would still not be apparent on its face that the schools were more responsible than any other agency in determining the way in which the students were finally distributed in their test scores. The wit of the children themselves and the influence of their families may have their own, irreducible roles to play in these outcomes. If this is still a somewhat tricky matter to absorb, that may be due in large part to the fact that it does not arise in public very often. Those people who understand the technical meaning of a “normal” distribution are not apt to confound it with the distribution of “normal” human beings; and still less, of course, are they likely to make that jumbling of the two a foundation of their public: policies.


But even if we put aside all these churlish considerations—even if we allowed Clark to rest secure in his conviction that the principal trouble lies in the poor performance of the teachers—the issue, when cast in those terms, would still not have anything to do with integration. There were other means of searching out people who were genuinely interested in working with black students, and if the central problem were really “empathy,” an economical strategy would have been to recruit mainly black teachers for the job. That may account, in fact, for the encouragement Clark offered to the movement in New York to “decentralize” the schools, and it may also explain the support he gave to the governing board of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district during the late 1960's in its fight with the teachers' union. In the prospect of placing the schools under the control, at all levels, of black leadership, he apparently found the promise of a more “empathic” regimen for black children. But the schools under decentralization did not spur any dramatic gains for black students, and Clark grew disenchanted with the way in which the scheme lent itself to the intrigues of local politicians. That was an outcome, however, that anyone with political sense was able to foresee, especially if he knew anything about the history of decentralization in the schools of New York City. But whatever the hopes that were held out in the plan of decentralization, it should have been evident that, from the logic of its structure and the spirit of the men it was bringing forward, the one thing it had no promise of furthering was racial integration.

More recently, Clark has come out again for extensive busing in the New York schools for the sake of achieving full “desegregation.” By desegregation he now means a ratio of blacks to whites in each school that matches the ratio of blacks to whites in the school system as a whole. As things presently stand, that would mean a white minority of about 33 per cent within each school. But of course there is not the slightest evidence to suggest that proportions of that kind would have any particular educational value; and to argue for the creation in each school of a racial composition that reflects the system as a whole is to drift into the most serious deception yet. For on the one hand it would promise, as the badge of its soundness, the results that would in fact occur if pupils were distributed among the schools in a thoroughly color-blind way. But on the other hand, it would seek its ends through a system of assignment that was based explicitly on race, and which had to be repugnant therefore, at its root, to the firmest principle that came out of the Brown case.

For the most part, then, Clark seems to be animated in his public moves by the simple recoil of his disappointments over one scheme or another, and by a notable want, on his own side, pf political insight or prudence. But prudence in its proper sense depends on the perception of right principle, and the very source of Clark's problem is that, twenty years after the judgment in Brown, he has still not been able to settle on the reasons that explain that original decision, or to set forth in a plausible way the design of education that it ultimately commanded.


For Clark, it was the disinterest of the social scientist, as well as his knowledge, that comprised his claim to lead. But Clark has warned, more recently, too, that “scholarly objectivity” must not fall into the kind of detachment that fosters “moral relativism.” That is to say, it must not slide into the persuasion that judgments over values are essentially matters of the most subjective, personal taste, and that they can be valid therefore only in relation to the person or culture that accepts them. And yet, in the writings he has diffused to a larger public, Clark has shown, in fact, a very pronounced strain of moral relativism. Quite apart from the flashes of rhetoric, Clark has preserved at critical times a posture of neutrality in relation to some of the most important questions that are raised in the black community. At precisely the moments when he has had the chance to teach, he has left us in doubt as to how seriously indeed he is willing to commit himself to the understanding that a certain kind of life—certain patterns of obligation and restraint, even certain modes of making a living—are not merely adaptive, but in some decisive sense better. The ambivalence that Clark has shown, in principle, on this question has affected in yet another way the analysis he has drawn about the central problems of the black community.

Clark's most important statement on the condition of lower-class blacks in the cities appeared in 1965 with the publication of Dark Ghetto. That essay centered on Harlem, and it extended the analysis that was put forth a year earlier in Youth in the Ghetto, which was published under the auspices of Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU). Clark was, at the time, the acting chairman of the Board of Directors of HARYOU, an organization that was set up as a possible agency for the anti-poverty program, and one gathers that he was also the principal author of this major report. A few years later Clark was commissioned to study the “community action programs” that were established under the war on poverty in twelve cities. It was his claim that the “community action programs” owed their inspiration to the design that was set forth in Dark Ghetto, and his assessment of the results appeared in 1969 in A Relevant War on Poverty, produced in collaboration with Jeannette Hopkins.

As one moves through these works, however, the sense of the main problem becomes elusive. By 1969, Clark and Hopkins played very strongly on the powerlessness of the poor—by which they meant, at various times, either the distance of the poor from political power or the inability of the poor to bring about a dramatic change in their lives. But by the end of their study, the authors became convinced that the poor were incapable of exercising power on their own. If anyone did have the skills that were needed to organize a community and move it coherently toward a common purpose, he was not very likely to be poor. Politics could certainly be used as a means of mobility and a source of income, but any group that was sufficiently cohesive and disciplined to make its way in politics was likely to make its way in private business as well. By and large, it appeared, people were poor for reasons that had little to do with their hold on political power.

As they went on, then, Clark and his colleague became far less certain as to what the strategy in the war on poverty actually was, and so instead of evaluating the programs, as they were charged in their commission to do, they simply told their assistants in the field to rank the programs in the twelve cities by any criteria they separately chose. As it turned out, many of the rankings were similar, but they were based, it was clear, on reasons that were inconsistent, and the result was to render the conclusions unavoidably suspect. The authors finally commented, as if in passing, that “It remains, nonetheless, a relevant and important challenge in social analysis to determine the specific factors or pattern or combination of factors which would help in differentiating between anti-poverty programs that work and those that don't.” At this moment of high reflection it seemed to escape their notice that it was for that job, after all, that they had already taken the money. This was, as we used to say, good work if you can get it.

It was arguable, of course, that poor blacks were poor because they lacked money; but they were poor, more fundamentally, because they had been subjected to systematic patterns of discrimination and because they were concentrated in places that were virtual breeding grounds, as Clark said, of social “pathologies.” This was the “ghetto,” as Clark understood it, as an enveloping culture of poverty and a powerful force in itself of social disintegration. It was a place characterized by extraordinarily high rates of homicide, drug addiction, venereal disease, illegitimacy, and the break-up of families.

Clark believed that some of the more destructive tensions in lower-class life could be abated, the pattern of social “pathology” could be broken, if the society offered greater means for the male in the ghetto to prove his manhood by sustaining a family. In that way, he suggested, one might undercut the transient sexual relations and the casual breakdown of families that become marks of virility and male power. Who is to say that an argument of that kind does not carry some truth? But then the question one has to ask is: Why should the breakdown of families have continued apace and even increased in the 1960's when blacks were making notable gains in employment and mobility, and when the means of sustaining a family had improved considerably? Clark himself conceded that the roots of these “multiple pathologies” did not lie primarily in unemployment; “in fact,” he wrote, even “if all of its residents were employed it would not materially alter the pathology of. the community.” Nor did the source of the problem lie in the frustrations of bad housing. Housing could indeed raise morale, but still, he argued, it did not necessarily affect the more fundamental attributes of economic status, broken homes, and lower aspirations.

But once we have acknowledged these places where the evidence becomes equivocal, it becomes ever more reasonable to consider that many of these “pathologies,” such as illegitimacy, may be affected at least in part by the moral conventions or the culture of the local community. In that case, it would not be unrealistic to suppose that these problems may be compressed or enlarged in some degree by the local climate of opinion and the things that public men teach. A leadership that sought to restrain problems like illegitimacy would be compelled then, in the first instance, to affirm something in public about the superior dignity of that way of life, of those habits of obligation and commitment, that have been identified more widely as “middle class.”

And yet that is an understanding that Clark seemed to find too embarrassing or too impolitic to join. As one would expect, he was not more anxious than anyone else to condemn sections of the black community; but whatever the motive, his inclination was to hold back in a posture of detachment. Instead of commending the character of middle-class life, he observed that middle-class communities simply had different pathologies of their own—more “alienation,” perhaps, and suicide, and different forms of crime (“white-collar crime,” for example, like embezzlement)—and he professed himself to be uncommitted on the question of whether one set of pathologies was really any better or worse than the other. Yet Clark did suggest that blacks should exchange the pathologies of the ghetto for the pathologies, say, of the suburb—“because,” he said, “the middle-class culture, whatever its frustrations, still remains the norm for personal achievement of the ‘good life.’” It would appear then at best to be a matter of aligning oneself with the conventions that seem to be necessary for success in this society. As Clark has written in another place, the values and standards of the middle class “may be worth having and are saleable in the larger society, which is dominated by the middle class.” And there, one infers, is the long and short of the matter.


In the slack of this kind of detachment, a clever man may begin to discover one or two saving points in any number of things that have borne, perhaps all too unevenly in the past, the reproach of common opinion. Clark suggests, for example, that there is something to be said at the margins even for illegitimacy for the sake of understanding it a bit better:

In the ghetto, the meaning of the illegitimate child is not ultimate disgrace. . . . The girl loses only some of her already limited options by having an illegitimate child; she is not going to make a “better marriage” or improve her economic and social status either way. On the contrary, a child is a symbol of the fact that she is a woman, and she may gain from having something of her own. . . . [There is a] desperate yearning of the young for acceptance and identity, the need to be meaningful to someone else even for a moment without implication of a pledge of undying fealty and forgiveness [Dark Ghetto, pp. 72-73].

Against the mitigating tones of this portrait, there comes to mind very crisply one of the interviews that were taped with residents of Harlem and reproduced in Youth in the Ghetto:

Now some guys that walk around and say, man, well I knocked this chick up, and now I'm putting her on the welfare, and I knocked this chick up and now I'm putting her on the welfare. You know, some of these guys, there's a name for them, they call them the home relief pets, you know, the home relief pets, and all he does is goes around whenever the check date comes up he goes around, you know, and he gets so much from each one of the women, and he shortens the money [Man, about 27 years of age].

One might almost suggest that Clark had become a kind of “polysyllabic apologist for the status quo” in illegitimacy. And yet no one who has reviewed his writings can be left with many doubts on the matter of his feelings, overall, about illegitimacy. He would have the problem dissolved, and he would count a reduction in the rate of illegitimacy as one clear sign of improvement in the condition of the black community. But at some point one's unweighted feelings will simply not be good enough. When it becomes evident, for example, that problems such as illegitimacy and drug addiction will not yield to the application of social-welfare measures alone, our willingness to consider other measures of public policy will depend on the gravity with which we regard these problems as real problems. The call for a remedy, after all, implies a wrong to be corrected, and it is a matter of some consequence, then, that as Clark comes to the point of judgment over policy, he comes also to weaken in his surety that there is anything, really, in problems like illegitimacy that strictly deserves condemnation. And so, in Youth in the Ghetto, Clark and his colleagues finally came to the judgment that, while many of these “pathologies” were serious, they were not serious enough to warrant any special emphasis in a remedial policy. It was their estimate that an emphasis on “‘building a better life’ for the unhappy young people in question . . . is more likely to accomplish desired ends than too narrow a concern with the [problem at hand], be it gang fighting, drug use, or unwed motherhood.”


But as Clark himself has recognized, problems like the instability of families or the epidemic of drug use may acquire a momentum of their own, and they may persist in the face of rising employment. In fact, the relation to unemployment may even be the reverse of what has often been expected. It may be rather hard to induce a young man who is unskilled to accept a legitimate job paying about $100 a week when he can make far more than that selling drugs on the street. Once again, Clark did not have very far to look for some fairly vivid testimony. In one of the interviews reported in Youth in the Ghetto, a “warlord” in one of the few active fighting gangs was asked why he did not “go downtown and get a job.” He laughed at the man who asked the question and said:

Oh, come on. Get off that crap. I make $40 or $50 a day selling marijuana. You want me to go down to the garment district and push one of those trucks through the street and at the end of the week take home $40 or $50 if I'm lucky? Come off it. They don't have animals doing what you want me to do. . . . I'm better than an animal, but nobody protects me. Go away, mister. I got to look out for myself.

It is a reflection of the times that we have come to need economists to convince us, with arcane formulas and statistical correlations, that potential criminals are indeed influenced by the relative costs and benefits involved in choosing illegitimate over legitimate occupations. One hardly gets the sense, though, in Clark's writings on the ghetto, that law enforcement may ever have even a marginal relevance in restraining some of those problems that concern him. Clark's disposition on these matters was brought out rather clearly on the question of heroin. In Youth in the Ghetto, Clark and his collaborators spoke sharply of the “degradation” that came along with addiction to hard drugs. But apart from recommendations for psychological counseling and some hints of vigilante action in the neighborhoods, the authors strongly preferred the possibility of legalizing the use of heroin and morphine. It was their hope that, by removing the legal penalties, they would reduce some of the excitement that made these drugs more attractive, and that the problems of crime would recede if one did away with the laws that “created” the crimes in the first place.

By this stratagem, of course, one could “solve” the problems of crime that surround prostitution, the numbers racket, and a variety of other local industries that feed into underground networks. But we have an ample fund of evidence by now in matters ranging from gambling and abortion to the regulation of heroin in other countries, and we know enough at least to suggest that the use of heroin will not decline under a program of legalization. Nor, for that matter, will the structure of illegal operations disappear. The general tendency of legalization is to encourage an expansion of the practice that was formerly constrained, in large part, simply, because the legal restrictions have been removed, but also because the moral inhibitions have been swept aside from things that were previously regarded as forms of “vice.” These activities are likely to expand then far beyond their present level, until they consume a larger portion of the resources of the community and draw off people and investment from other callings. The question for anyone who would offer policies to the black community is, How would one regard the prospect of that expansion? Would it be, in general, a good or bad thing for the black community if, thirty years from now, it continued to have a disproportionately large share of the addicts and pimps and numbers runners, and a disproportionately small share of skilled workers, doctors, and professional men? Even if the standard of living had gone up markedly—as it would—would one be willing to say also that things had “improved” in the black community?

If that seems, to Clark, one of those hopeless metaphysical questions that no one, ultimately, can judge, it is nevertheless a question that must be faced daily, in a more personal way, by parents in the black community. In this respect, there was a suggestive account three years ago in the New York Times of how the police managed to uncover a massive narcotics operation that centered on Pleasant Avenue in Harlem. At the height of its activities, the business was described as a “multi-kilo a week operation,” and in tracing out the network the police had the benefit of some extraordinary intelligence. They were given important names and addresses; they were told how the heroin was being distributed to western Harlem, the Bronx, and New Jersey; and they were even told where the heroin was hidden in particular shops that were used as “covers.” The information was furnished at some risk by the father of a young man whose friends were deeply involved in the operations, and who had been urging him to come in with them as a courier at $3,500 a week. From all we could imagine, the offer must have been nearly irresistible when set against the alternatives, say, of going on with school and establishing oneself in a respectable situation. At some point, apparently, it was clear to the father that the only way he could stop his son from throwing in with his friends was to take the steps that were necessary to destroy the narcotics ring itself. And with that in mind, he finally went to the police.

If Clark cannot say, in principle, that legitimate occupations are generally better, in themselves, than things like peddling drugs or running numbers; if he has some trouble saying that a family life based on commitment and preserved at certain weak moments by the additional supports of law is generally better as a context for raising children than the conditions of illegitimacy—then he has nothing to say, really, to those people in the black community who are every day making the decisions that are truly important. And for those who would make the right decisions, even when it means at times running against the current, he is a source of no support.


In Dark Ghetto, Clark recalled his involvement with what was referred to as “the Group,” a small band of educated blacks who were prominent in government and the professions. They were brought together by their interest in politics and the affairs of the black community, but after a while they began to lose heart over their own lack of influence; their morale began to ebb until, finally, it seems, they drifted apart as a group. At some point it must have occurred to these men that their own legitimacy was suspect because they were not, after all, just like most Negroes in their educations, their professions, or their styles of life, and so they did not represent the community in any simple descriptive sense. If they had a claim, however, to represent the community in some other sense, that was a case that remained to be made; and it was against that background that Clark came to offer his own brief for the social scientist as a leader of the community.

In the first instance, Clark's case for the social scientist was bound up with what he called the “strategy of truth.” By that he meant the systematic analysis of social problems by trained professionals, men who could make use of their knowledge to clarify the facts about our social problems, and in clarifying the facts, sharpen the recognition of our duties. Without the search for truth, he said, “none could proceed toward democratic ends.” In this perspective, the power of the social scientist seemed to be predicated on his ability to offer reasons—or “give an account” of himself—to the people he would represent. But that argument had to give way eventually to the “realism” Clark affects about the character of public life, and to the hard estimate he has made of how much, in politics, the art of giving reasons is really worth. As he has written most recently, his inclination now is to believe that “the acceptance or rejection of [the] facts, knowledge, advice [of the social scientist] is determined by the degree to which these are compatible with the prevailing power-determined point of view.” The “strategy of truth” has receded, then, as a realistic matter, and it has been replaced in Clark's writings by a rather different theme.

In A Relevant War on Poverty, Clark and his colleague recalled a “poor people's convention” held in Washington in 1966, which broke down into a carnival of meanness and disorder. Sargent Shriver walked out, saying that he would not “participate in a riot,” and Roy Wilkins called it a spectacle of “self-degrading bad taste and language.” The authors thought, however, that the judgment was too harsh, and they offered in a gentler way that “The language of the poor and their representatives is likely to be more direct, blunt, and accusatory. The etiquette of indirection, circumlocution, or equivocation does not seem to operate for the poor in their communications with officials.” What they went on then to suggest is that “this lack of ability [on the part of the poor] to make contact with power sources dictates . . . their need for surrogates”—that is to say, “professionals who have the training and skills to identify with and to help the poor.”

Now it may well be that the higher reaches of business and government contain, in increasing numbers, men who respond readily to the vocabulary of social science. But it may also be, as Clark has suggested elsewhere, that leaders in business and government (men, for example, like David Rockefeller or John Whitney) would simply prefer to deal with men like themselves—responsible, cultivated, educated men—rather than with the grosser variety of streetcorner militants. They may prefer to deal, in short, with men like Kenneth Clark.

Clark has settled in quite comfortably now with this second argument about the mission of the social scientist; but as he has done that he has grown ever less disposed to meet those requirements he set forth himself for the social scientist, and which establish his legitimacy, as a “surrogate,” for the community he would presume to lead. He has not been particularly fastidious in dealing with evidence; nor has he addressed himself in a patient and demanding way to the grounds of principle on which his own teachings rest. These failures remain in the end the enduring source of Clark's problem as a social scientist and as a public man.

1 Pathos of Power, Harper & Row, 179 pp., $7.95.

2 This volume contains, after all, the modest proposal that stunned Clark's colleagues in the American Psychological Association when he sprung it on them in his presidential address—viz., that in order to prevent the “absurd and barbaric use of power,” those men who would aspire to positions of national leadership and the control of nuclear weapons should be subjected to “the earliest perfected form of psychotechnological, biochemical intervention.” Some of these essays, clearly, are even more bizarre than their occasions warranted.

3 “Effect of Prejudice and Discrimination on Personality Development,” prepared for the Mid-Century White House Conference on Children and Youth (1950); revised and reprinted in Prejudice and Your Child, Beacon Press (1955 and 1963).

4 See “Segregation as a Factor in the Racial Identification of Negro Pre-School Children,” Journal of Experimental Education, vol. 8 (1939), pp. 161-63; “The Development of Consciousness of Self and the Emergence of Racial Identification in Negro Pre-School Children,” Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 10 (1939), pp. 591-99, especially p. 597; and “Skin Color as a Factor in Racial Identification of Negro Pre-School Children,” Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 11 (1940), pp. 159-169, especially p. 168.

5 “Emotional Factors in Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children,” Journal of Negro Education, vol. 19 (1950), pp. 341-50; and “Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children,” Readings in Social Psychology, ed. T. M. Newcomb and E. L. Hartley (1947).

6 See Armor in Mosteller and Moynihan (eds.), On Equality of Educational Opportunity, Vintage Books (1972), p. 197.

7 It was observed in Youth in the Ghetto that “Public school teachers in New York City come largely from the city colleges, which have a dominant pupil population from a culture which prepares the child from birth for competition of a most strenuous type. . . . The competitive culture from which the bulk of the teachers come, with the attendant arrogance of intellectual superiority of its members, lends itself readily to the class system within the school, . . . which in effect perpetuates the academic preeminence of the dominant group” [p. 202].

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