Bill Cosby's words enrage, but also enlighten

Posted: Jun 08, 2004 12:00 AM

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.

Unfortunately, the defining ideas of post-King black politics had more in common with racism than the humanism of King. The politics of categories and quotas returned human beings to the realm of objects. Values and responsibility were taken off the table and victimization and blame became the themes. It is no wonder that during the last 40 years, the inner city black family has all but disintegrated, and inner city communities have become defined by crime, drugs, disease, promiscuity and abortion.

Truth ultimately always has its way, and more and more blacks, particularly young blacks, are seeing it. They want to recapture their humanity and want to be liberated from the prison of racial politics. Polls show movement of young blacks away from the political establishment, with more and more defining themselves as politically independent. Consider Al Sharpton's disastrous presidential bid. Being black just isn't a political platform anymore.

Sharp eyes in the leadership of both political parties should see the opportunities here. A tight presidential race is upon us and swing votes in a handful of states can make all the difference. For increasing numbers of blacks, business-as-usual party politics simply amounts to a battle between which party's status quo will be preserved. Neither is of much interest to those already disenfranchised.

Political candidates of both parties should listen to the truth of the street, made clear and public by Bill Cosby. Today's challenge in black America is the restoration of humanity and the recapture of personal responsibility. Platforms that capture this theme will capture the hearts and minds of those in the inner city who can help decide who occupies the White House next year.

Let's talk about schools that respond to the discipline and creative forces of the market place. Remove the heavy hand of government from education, allow parental choice, and citizens of all colors will respond. Let's start telling the truth about a bankrupt Social Security system that systematically prevents low-income workers from saving and accumulating wealth. Allow Americans of all colors to opt out and use these funds to open their own personal retirement accounts. Let's fix a bureaucratized health care system that minimizes individual control over their funds and choices.

And let's keep faith, family and values, not politics and government, at center stage.

Thank you, Bill Cosby, for telling the truth. America is listening.


Star Parker is president of CURE, Coalition for Urban Renewal and Education ( ). She is the author of "Uncle Sam's Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America's Poor and What You Can Do About It."