I’m not the biggest fan of Juan Williams. Too often he plays the role of court jester on Fox, allowing the right-wingers to use him as their liberal punching bag. But what he has written about the ills within black culture holding back an entire generation of black Americans, is dead on. As is Bill Cosby.
“I’m not denying systemic racism,” he explains, striking out at all the civil rights leaders and intellectuals who say he is closing his eyes to the power of a racist system by calling on poor black people to take more personal responsibility for their neighborhoods, their children and schools. “I’m not denying that [systemic racism], never have. I’ve lived it. I don’t need to show you a card about what has happened to me.”
Then he does a U-turn. Cosby connects attempts to make him a pariah in the black community, with his earlier riff about the history of the government abandoning black people. The souls of black Americans have long been abandoned, he begins. Black people are taught not to believe in themselves, and told they can’t be the hero in the movies. He talks about children being abandoned. They are abandoned by being left at risk in neighborhoods where there is gunfire; children are abandoned in schools that are no good; abandoned at home because parents are absent. Suddenly, Cosby returns to his experience of being abandoned after speaking out. He is talking back to the critics.
“You don’t tell me that I’ve made a lot of money, and I’ve become a multi-millionaire and I forgot where I came from,” he cries out as the crowd begins to give him sustained applause. “You don’t tell me I’m a billionaire who is making fun of poor people. If I didn’t like you, I wouldn’t say a damned thing.”
Now the audience is standing, giving Cosby a standing ovation.
“I mean isn’t that fair? If I didn’t love you, I’d say, ‘Keep on doing what you’re doing, you’re doing just fine…’ and next year I’d see 86 percent of you dropping out of school, ‘cause you are doing a wonderful job.”
The audience, still standing, is now laughing and clapping.
“But if I love, if I love you, I’m crying, I’m in pain,” he says, and now the audience is giving up “Amen” and “Hmm-Hmm.” It is call and response, like a church testimonial, a prophet coming in from the wilderness.
As Cosby and others have indicated, there’s an immediate backlash when people choose to illuminate the problem and get started talking on a solution. It’s an internal backlash, because for years the simple response was to blame everything outside and pay no attention to the internal thought process that is inhibiting too many young black men and women from even having the mental capacity to straighten up and fly right.
The issue isn’t solely money. It’s cultural. I’ve got a close friend who’s family never had any money. He’s asian, and english was not his family’s first tongue. And while the prejudice towards asians has never reached the level facing blacks in America, it’s not as if he’s a white person and the benefits that bestows on people even today. But he came from a culture where there is a maniacal belief in academics. To not try and succeed is to bring shame on you and your family. There’s no widespread cultural belief that the best path to success is getting an NBA contract, as there is with too many black Americans (and no, this isn’t a strawman, I’ve seen it with my own two eyes). He’s now a doctor. Nobody handed it too him, he didn’t have time to blame the rest of the world for his problems. Yes, the deck is stacked and we must all fight to level the playing field – but it still is no excuse.
Just two generations ago, black Americans were being hosed and shot and hung for using a water fountain. But in 2006 it’s supposedly mean, elitist, harsh, etc. to say we ought to straighten up and fly right while shaming the erosive culture being held up as a way out? Bull. By comparison to those not-so-long-ago days, we’re on easy street now.