In 1962 Clark was called upon by the Kennedy administration to serve as chairman of the Harlem Youth Opportunities project, a forerunner of the War on Poverty program. His planning document for the project, titled "Youth in the Ghetto: A Study of the Consequences of Powerlessness and a Blueprint for Change," received national press attention. The document was published at a time when little or nothing could be found in the social science literature to help a student understand the realities and complexities of the ghetto, Clark said. His two years of work on the project became a starting point for his 1965 book, Dark Ghetto, a work he described as "a study of the total phenomena of the ghetto," and "the cry of a social psychologist." To write the book, Clark returned to Harlem as an "involved observer" using "the real community, the market place, the arena of politics and power" as his laboratory to "confront and seek to understand the dynamics of social action and social change."
Explanations Clark's social science activist methodology took many forms, according to Layli Phillips, writing about Clark in the book Defining Difference, Race, and Racism in the History of Psychology. "Black activism has historically derived its distinc-tiveness from its singular focus on contesting and subverting the dehumanization and external social control of black people," Phillips contends. Characterizing the civil rights activism of the mid-twentieth century as a "decolonial struggle," Phillips points to Clark's activist methodology beginning with his days as editor of the Howard University student newspaper Hilltop, which he transformed "from a social register to a political organ," to his media sophistication as host of the highly rated 1963 Public Broadcasting Service series Negro Protest. In the program Clark hosted conversations with Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Baldwin, helping to bring the ideas and challenges of these social activists to the mainstream consciousness. Clark also used his training as a social scientist to turn the dominant racist ideology and its spokespersons against the dominant power structure, according to Phillips. He did this through the use of traditional social-scientific research methodology that challenged the academic racism of other social science researchers.
In his systematic approach to the study of the Harlem ghetto, Clark used many traditional social science methods, including observation, tape recordings, and individual and group interviews. Clark sought to discover what the personal and social consequences of ghetto life were, not only for those who lacked the power to change their status, but for those who have the power but are unable or unwilling to use it for social change.
Writing in Pathos of Power, Clark addressed his fellow social scientists: "I ask of them that they share with me the belief that their choice in this use of their intelligence and their training brings with it an obligation to develop the behavioral sciences with that clarity, precision, and sensitivity required for an effective moral technology." Clark challenged social scientists to engage in a "disciplined human intelligence" that includes moral and ethical concerns in their approach to social psychology. This, Clark contends, is "absolutely necessary for the ultimate practicality— the survival of the human species."
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