Bill Cosby conducted his own shock and awe campaign recently at festivities celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of education school desegregation decision.
He used his remarks to an audience of who's who of the black political establishment to redirect attention from political and legal victories of the past to the dismal social reality of the present. Cosby crossed the line by laying out the tragic state of affairs of inner city black life today and then accused blacks themselves for being responsible for the mess.
One can only imagine the gasps throughout an audience for whom being black is not just a condition but also a profession. These are folks who have built careers finding explanations for every black social malady except the irresponsible behavior of individuals themselves.
The premise that being born black and poor in America is a dead end has defined black politics for the last half century. Black political careers have been built on peddling the message that the American dream is a white dream and that the only way blacks have a prayer of making it in America is through government intervention.
However, more than his words, Bill Cosby's life challenges these premises. In the midst of the turmoil of the 1960s, Cosby, born black and poor, was making it in America.
As a stand-up comedian in the early sixties, he was making all Americans laugh with his insight and cleverness and not with cheap vulgarity. In 1963, a year before the Civil Rights act was passed, he was standing in as host for Johnny Carson on America's most popular late night talk and variety show. By 1965, when the political class dreamed up affirmative action as the necessary formula for black success, Cosby became the first black to star in a predominantly white television drama series, "I Spy."
I have often made the point that the civil rights movement after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. amounted to a politicization of Dr. King's moral crusade. What happened is ironic. What after all is racism but the treatment of human beings as objects? Dr. King's plea that character, not race, be the guiding principle of human relationships was an appeal to elevate humanity and appreciate the uniqueness of every individual.