By now we've all heard Bill Cosby's remark that "Lower economic (black) people are not holding up their end in this deal."
Most would agree that little of what Cosby said about poor blacks was politically correct. It was, however, 100 percent right. More to the point, Cosby did something that few black leaders seem willing do: deal publicly and honestly with issues that rip our community apart. That was important not just because of the absence of anything resembling political correctness (black people are not supposed to discuss our community's shortcomings), but because it prompted vigorous discussion about issues that have plagued black America for far too long.
Consider for a moment, as Cosby did, the alarming disparity in graduation rates between white and minority students. According to a recent report conducted by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard and the Urban Institute, only 50 percent of black high school students graduated in 2001. By contrast, 75 percent of white students obtained their high school diplomas that year. This is a problem. Plainly, someone needs to start talking about the harm we are inflicting on ourselves.
In particular, we need to start talking about the disintegration of the black family. This is as frightening as anything that's happened in our time. Seventy percent of black babies are born to unmarried parents. In effect, transient couplings have replaced the institution of marriage in black America. These "transient couples" are often children themselves and lack the means to provide material support for their family. Abuse and neglect follow.
Many children in abusive households go on to become violent abusers themselves. Countless others will simply never learn how to be responsible, loving parents. The cycle of abuse and neglect will affect child welfare and self-esteem issues for an entire generation of black Americans. We cannot pretend this is not happening. Nor can we lay all the blame at the feet of the white man.
And that's really all Cosby was saying: family and education are the bedrock of our lives. We can't ignore it when these areas are in crisis. Nor can we transfer the blame onto others. Sadly, it seems as though somewhere along the line we lost faith in our ability to deal with our problems. Many of us don't talk openly about our community's shortcomings for fear that this will only nourish the forces of intolerance. Let's not give ammo to the bigots, most of us reason. (That would explain why Howard University has refused to release transcripts of Cosby's speech.)
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