Beware of Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: The Tale of A Progressive Professor Who Forgot To Hide Her…
Kayla Renee Parker

Strong piece. You are a very powerful and courageous writer. Two factual corrections: 1) Herbert Gutman, was a historian, not a sociologist. 2) The argument he was making was in The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom was a bit more nuanced than “most black families were headed by two parent households” (although that is an important part of it). The big takeaway of the book is that despite the enormity that black people faced during the slavery — horrors like sexual violence, the auction block, and the larger regime of terror that upheld the wicked institution — archival sources show that in the face of all of those destructive forces, African Americans sought to keep their families together (and largely succeeded doing so).

Gutman was white and writing in the sixties and seventies but his book is considered a foundational antiracist account of African American history. He was arguing against a racist argument that existed in both academic history and larger American society that slavery had left permanent psychological and cultural damage on black people that left them still damaged. The most famous example of that argument is Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. Moynihan’s report, which built on E. Franklin Frazier’s argument from the 1930s, said that poor black people were caught in a “tangle of pathology” (crime, out of wedlock childbirths, single mother headed households). The premise of the Moynihan argument was that black people were taught not to value having families or taking care of their children because slavery taught them not to. Gutman wrote explicitly against the Moynihan argument that there was something wrong with black people.

All that to say, Far from being racist, Gutman’s work is a foundation for how modern scholars write about the history of slavery. His work emphasizes the agency and resilience of black people and after his book was published we see a new generation of scholars, both black and white, tell bigger and broader histories of slavery and freedom that center the experience of black people.

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