On May 17, 2004, during the NAACP’s 50th anniversary celebration of Brown v. Board of Education — the 1954 Supreme Court case that ended government-mandated racial segregation in public schools — featured speaker Bill Cosby surprised the audience of limousine liberals.
Instead of a canned speech about the benefits of Brown and how far blacks had come since segregation, he led with a righteously indignant censure about wasted opportunities in the post-civil rights movement era, including criminality, illegitimacy, drug abuse and other pathologies that have eroded poor black communities.
This is what’s known in the vernacular as airing dirty laundry.
National Public Radio senior correspondent and FOX News political analyst Juan Williams has committed the same sin in his new book, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America — and What We Can Do About It. Williams exhorts so-called black leaders to return to the days when leadership had meaning and purpose beyond corporate shakedowns, scandals, and outdated rants about the sins of white people.
Influenced by Cosby’s resounding and still-reverberating speech, Williams argues that poor blacks are not holding up their end of the Brown deal. With the enormous changes effected through civil rights legislation, blacks today have opportunities those who came before them couldn’t even imagine. Poor blacks aren’t poor because of white racism; they are caught up in a culture of failure, and the current crop of black leaders helps perpetuate the cycle.
Black leaders must stop painting blacks as powerless victims, says Williams, and use their energy and resources to help poor blacks equip themselves to compete in a global economy, which has little regard for historical (and outdated) racial grievances. Today’s leaders “misinform, mismanage and miseducate by refusing to articulate established truths about what it takes to get ahead: strong families, education and hard work.”
In a fluid prose style, Williams provides a panoramic view of post-slavery black leadership, which emphasized high moral character, hard work and self-sacrifice, revealing a sharp dividing line between leaders like Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, and corrupt post-civil rights “leaders” Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and big-city mayors like Marion Barry.
Blacks did not make enormous gains during their struggle for full citizenship and equal justice by playing put-upon victims. They made those gains by harnessing the power to control their own destinies. Williams writes:
“A streak of self-determination rises at every turn in the history of black American leadership. But since the stunning success of the modern civil rights movement … the strong focus on self-determination has faded, at the moment when its impact could have been the most powerful. In its place is a tired rant by civil rights leaders about the power of white people.”
Swaying — let alone straying — from the party line seems to be the only taboo left in black America. High crime and out-of-wedlock birth rates were accepted as normal long ago. Williams breaks through the taboo and offers common sense advice and solutions.
I’ll dub one solution the “avoid-poverty” formula, echoing Williams’s sentiments: Graduate from high school, get and keep a job before marrying, get married, and don’t have babies until after you’re 21 and married. Williams notes the poverty rate for the black man or woman who follows this formula is 6.4 percent, compared to the current black poverty rate of 21.5 percent.
But the avoid-poverty formula sounds too simple for some. It’s also devoid of whites-as-oppressors language. Simple solutions that have served black Americans well, including the courage to face hardships, the dignity to withstand insult and persist despite obstacles, and a commitment to sacrifice for the next generation are of little interest to black leaders focused on white guilt, “oppression,” and dollar signs.
Williams quotes Booker T. Washington, a former slave who knew all about oppression and had actual grievances against white America: “We should not permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities.”
That is the vital yet simple message of Enough.
Excerpted from an article that appeared in The Washington Examiner. Visit La Shawn’s blog at http://lashawnbarber.com.