Click here to Print |
May 17th saw several gatherings commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court's school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education. But the event held in Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Hall will be the one to be remembered because of Bill Cosby's remarks that won him scathing criticism from some in the black community.
For years I've argued that most of today's problems many black Americans face have little or nothing to do with racial discrimination. For the most part, the most devastating problems encountered by a large segment of the black community are self-inflicted. Bill Cosby mentioned several of them such as black parents who'll buy their children expensive clothing rather than something educational, poor language spoken by many children and adults, and criminals who prey on the overwhelmingly law-abiding residents of black neighborhoods. After Cosby's remarks some in the audience laughed and applauded but, according to the Washington Post, the black "leadership" in attendance, the head of the NAACP, the head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the president of Howard University were "stone-faced."
In a recent column, my colleague Thomas Sowell explained, "Bill Cosby and the black "leadership" represent two long-standing differences about how to deal with the problems of the black community. The "leaders" are concerned with protecting the image of blacks, while Cosby is trying to protect the future of blacks, especially those of the younger generation."
Bill Cosby and I differ in age by one year - I'm older. We both spent part of our youth, in the 40s and 50s, growing up in North Philadelphia's Richard Allen Housing project. Being poor then was different from being poor now. My sister and I were rare among Richard Allen's residents. Our parents were separated but nearly every other kid lived in a two-parent household. Black teen pregnancy was relatively rare and just a tiny fraction of today's. During those days, many residents rarely locked their doors until the last person came home. Hot summer nights saw many people fearlessly sleeping in their yards or on their balconies.
Today, less than 40 percent of black children live in two-parent families, compared to 70 and 80 percent in earlier periods. Illegitimacy, at 70 percent, is unprecedented in black history. Between 1976 and 2000, over 50 percent of all homicides in the U.S. were committed by blacks and 94 percent of the time the victim was black. These are devastating problems but are they caused by racism and will spending resources fighting racial discrimination solve them? Don't give me any of that legacy-of-slavery nonsense unless you can explain why all of these problems were not worse during the late 19th and early 20th centuries at a time when blacks were much closer to slavery, much poorer, faced more discrimination and had fewer opportunities.
With all the opportunities available today, unavailable when Cosby and I were youngsters, black youngsters who dedicate themselves to academic excellence are attacked both verbally and sometimes physically for "acting white", being "Oreos" and "brainiacs". California Berkeley Professor John McWhorter says that, "Insidious anti-intellectualism is the prime culprit in the school-performance gap between whites and blacks, which cuts across class and income lines." He adds that the rap music culture "retards black success by the reinforcement of hindering stereotypes and by teaching young blacks that a thuggish adversarial stance is the properly authentic response to a presumptively racist society."
In at least two important ways black America is a study of contrasts. By any measure, as a group black Americans have made the greatest gains, over some of the highest hurdles, in the shortest span of time, than any other racial group in human history. At the same time for a large segment of the black community these gains are elusive and will remain so under the current civil rights vision. Bill Cosby's bold comments might be what's necessary to get an honest and fruitful discussion going within the black community, and for that we all owe him thanks.
Walter E. Williams
May 31, 2004
Return to Articles Page