Monday, May 24, 2004

Bill Cosby's Right

First of all, I will admit that I am a white, upper-middle class woman. I didn't grow up in the concrete jungle, but I am the product of one of the most racially mixed suburbs in the Chicago area, so I know at least a little bit of whence I speak. I also spend one night a week working with teen girls who are incarcerated in the juvenile detention system, so I'm at least clued in to Ghetto: its' culture, its' code of honor, its' priorities, if my connection to these young women counts for anything. And it's left me agreeing, albeit amazedly, with Bill Cosby's comments, spoken at a Washington DC rally commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, are right on the money:

As Cos tells it, we ain't learnt nothin' yet

"Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal," he said Monday night. "These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids - $500 sneakers for what?

"And they won't spend $200 for 'Hooked on Phonics.' ...

"They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English," he said. "I can't even talk the way these people talk: 'Why you ain't.' 'Where you is.' ... And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. ... Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. ... You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!"

Of Course, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and NAACP legal defense fund head Theodore Shaw were present at the event, and Shaw made the pointed comment (to paraphrase) "that most people on welfare are not African-American, and many of the problems his organization has addressed in the black community were not self-inflicted".

It should be noted that at no point in the speech did Cosby specifically claim that blacks alone were those he saw fit to admonish.

The girls I volunteer with are Black, Caucasian and Hispanic, and they are the first to acknowledge that screwed up priorities are colorblind, and that the things their parent(s) by them, if they buy them anything, are often impulse purchases. This would seem to bear out Cosby's claims. Gifts are bought to satisfy a temporary need or to soothe hurt feelings, not to foster intellect or encourage ambitions beyond sports stardom (this goes for all groups).

Secondly, if the NAACP thinks that the problems in the black community are not, at least in part, self-inflicted, then their purpose is in fact a ruse.

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke and wrote very movingly about the role of racism in holding blacks back.

* He did not absolve Americans, regardless of color, of their own transgressions or failures in race relations.

*He did not absolve whites of judging others on the color of their skin: he implored us to look at who people were and what they made of themselves, first and foremost.

*He did not absolve black men, women and children of their part in creating the characters upon which they would, in a just world, be judged.

This is how I understood his speeches and writings, and Mfume and Shaw's statements lead me to wonder how out-of-touch the organization he once headed has become.

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