The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, September 19, 2005

Cosby on Black America

Yeah, I know we've been over this and over this.  but I want my people--and that means ALL PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL, to win.  I know, or believe, that I have special insight into those who are impoverished, a visually identifiable ethnic minority, creative, lonely, or strive to be physically fit, because those have been, in the course of my life, my challenges.  So I speak to those things.  I'd bet we all fit into one of those categories!  I just got this e-mail, and it deals with the question of what the poor owe themselves.  I'll make it clear again: I wouldn't mind a society where each and every citizen was entitled to the level of food, shelter, medical care, and education that that is now available to inmates in state penetentiaries.  Why?  Because all they have to do to get it is rape or murder YOU.  So let's remove the lower level of Maslow's heirarchy from their motivations for violence, but at the same time keep the real goodies for those with higher levels of focus and commitment.  But that's just my attitude.  Until that world arrives, the best solution for each of us, as individuals, is to live our lives as we wish the entire world would operate.  And that means that, as did my own mother, we must each take responsibility for our families--even as we open our hearts to be charitable to our neighbors.  Yes, it's a careful balance.  But I see no other answer.  "The Man" simply will not rescue us.  But I have found that, if I take the lion's share of responsibility for my life, helping hands are available.

 Jackson Invites Cosby 
  I had never seen the Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson cry in public. And 
  he's seldom upstaged. Until, Bill Cosby came to town. 
  Last week Jackson invited Cosby to the annual Rainbow/PUSH conference 
  for a conversation about controversial remarks the entertainer offered 
  May 17 at an NAACP dinner in Washington,D.C.That's when America's 
  Jell-O Man shook things up by arguing that African Americans were 
  betraying the legacy of civil rights victories. 
  "The lower economic people," he said, "are not holding up their end in 
  this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for 
  their kids -- $500 sneakers for what? And won't spend $200 for "Hooked 
  on Phonics!" 
  Thursday morning, Cosby showed no signs of repenting as! he strode 
  across the stage at the Sheraton Hotel ballroom before a 
standing-room-only crowd. Sporting a natty gold sports coat and dark 
glasses, he proceeded to unload a laundry list of black America's 
self-imposed ills. 
The iconic actor and comedian kidded that he couldn't compete with the 
oratory of 
the Reverend but he preached circles around Jackson in their nearly 
hour-long conversation, delivering brutally frank one-liners and the 
toughest of love. The enemy, he argues, is us: 
  "There is a time, ladies and gentlemen, when we have to turn the mirror 
  around." Cosby acknowledged he wasn't critiquing all blacks-just "the 50 
  percent of African Americans in the lower economic neighborhood who 
  drop out of school," and the alarming proportions of black men in prison 
  and black teenage mothers. ! The mostly black crowd seconded him with 
  choruses of " Amens." 
  To critics who pose, it's unproductive to air our dirty laundry in 
  public, he responds, "Your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 
  every day. It's cursing on the way home, on the bus, train, in the 
  candy store. 
  They are cursing and grabbing each other and going nowhere. And, the 
  book bag is very, very thin because there's nothing in it." 
  "Don't worry about the white man," he adds. "I could care less about 
  what white people think about me . . . let 'em talk. What are they 
  saying that is different from what their grandfathers said and did to 
  us? What is different is what we are doing to ourselves." 
  For those who say Cosby is just an elitist who's "got his" but doesn't 
  understand the plight of the black poor, he reminds us that, "We're
  going to turn that mirror around. It's not just the poor-everybody's 
  Cosby and Jackson lamented that in the 50th year of Brown vs. Board of 
  Education, our failings betray our legacy. Jackson dabbed away tears as 
  he recalled the financial struggles at Fisk University, a historically 
  black college and Jackson's Alma mater. 
  When Cosby was done, the 1,000 people in the room all jumped to their 
  feet in ovation. Long after Cosby had departed, I could not find a 
  dissenter in the crowd. But in the hotel corridor I encountered a 
  vintage poster for sale that said volumes. The poster, which advertised 
  the Million Man March, was "discounted" to $5 Remember the Million Man 
  In 1995 Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan exhorted "a millio! n 
  sober, disciplined, committed, dedicated, inspired b lack men to meet in 
  Washington on a day of atonement." In 2004, perhaps all that' s left of 
  that call is a $5 poster. We have shed tears too many times, at too many 
  watershed moments before. While the hopes they inspired have fallen by 
  the wayside. Not this time. Cosby's plea to parents: "Before you get to 
  the point where you say 'I can't do nothing with them'-do something 
  with them." 
  Teach our children to speak English. 
  When the teacher calls, show up at the school. 
  When the idiot box starts spewing profane rap videos, turn it off. 
  Refrain from cursing around the kids. 
  Teach our boys that women should be cherished, not raped and 
  Tell them that education is a prize we won with blood and tears, 
  not a dishonor. 
  Stop making excuses for the agents and abettors of black-on-black 
  It costs us nothing to do these things. But if we don't, it will 
  cost us infinitely more tears. 
  We all send thousands of jokes through e-mail without a second thought, 
  but when it comes to sending messages regarding life choices, people 
  think twice about sharing. The crude, vulgar, and sometimes the obscene 
  pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of decency is too 
  often suppressed in school and the workplace. 

And to this I say, "amen."

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